Russia Flexes “Nuclear Muscle” To Warn US & Europe; Flaunts Bombers, ICMBs, Subs & Hypersonic Weapons

Russia announced on June 11 that its forces had begun the second round of drills to simulate the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons with Belarusian troops. Not only Europe but Russia is also threatening the US with its ‘nuke muscle’ as its Kazan nuclear-powered submarine is stationed a mere 90 km from the US coast.

Just 90 Miles Off Florida, Russian Hypersonic Missile-Armed Warship, Nuke Submarine ‘Flex Muscle’ Very Close To USA

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) published a video of the second stage of the exercises of non-strategic nuclear forces. The footage shows an Iskander missile system being driven to a field and having its missiles raised. Beside them were Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range supersonic bombers and MiG-31 supersonic interceptors equipped with Kinzhal missiles.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced the two-stage tactical nuclear drills on May 6, asserting that they were a reaction to “provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials regarding the Russian Federation.”

Russia has been accusing the US and its European allies of arming Ukraine with weapons worth billions of dollars, some of which were being used against Russian territory. Such acts were bringing the world dangerously close to a nuclear conflict.

Earlier in May, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, issued an order for an unexpected examination of the country’s non-strategic nuclear weapon carriers. Although Minsk does not possess any nuclear weapons, it consented to host Russian tactical warheads on its soil last year, triggering concerns about a renewed nuclear threat in Europe.

The first stage of these joint nuclear drills was conducted in May 2022 and involved “practical training in the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” including nuclear-capable Kinzhal and Iskander missiles.

As the Russian forces kicked off the second stage on June 11, the MoD stated, “The exercises are aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of units for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and Belarus to unconditionally ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The second phase comes just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia did not need to deploy nuclear weapons to win the war in Ukraine: It was Russia’s strongest message that the bloody conflict would not turn into a nuclear exchange.

However, he added a caveat that Russia could still carry out modifications to its nuclear doctrine, which outlines the conditions under which such weapons could be used.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has repeatedly engaged in nuclear saber-rattling in what the analysts believe is a desperate attempt to deter the West and keep it at bay. The tactical positioning of nukes in Belarus and the drills are viewed as yet another attempt to threaten Ukraine and its partners in NATO that have unveiled new arms packages and allowed strikes in Russian territory with Western-origin arms.

On its part, the West has accused President Vladimir Putin of “saber-rattling” and undertaking a “continuation of Russia’s irresponsible behavior”. The US reportedly put together contingency plans in the event of a potential Russian nuclear attack, as previously disclosed in a CNN report.

While officials and analysts don’t perceive an immediate nuclear threat from Russia, the drills and Russia’s alleged nuclear brinksmanship are being keenly watched.

While a lot is known about the Iskander ballistic missiles, especially in the wake of their transfer to Belarus, here is a look at Russia’s nuclear-capable aircraft inventory that poses a risk to Ukraine and its partners in NATO. It may be noted that most of these aircraft have been used by Russia to conduct conventional strikes on Ukraine.

Iskander Ballistic missile
File Image: Iskander Ballistic missile

Russia’s Nuclear-Capable Combat Aircraft

  • TU-95 Bear

The Tupolev Tu-95 is a massive strategic bomber and missile vehicle with four turboprop engines. It was first flown in 1952, went into service with the Soviet Air Forces’ Long-Range Aviation in 1956, and saw combat for the first time in 2015.

It forms the backbone of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ long-range strategic bomber fleet and is anticipated to remain in service until 2040.

Tupolev Tu-95 – Wikipedia

It is the only strategic bomber powered by propellers still in use today. Because the tips of the propeller blades move faster than sound, the Tu-95 is one of the loudest combat aircraft. Its characteristically swept-back wings are angled at a 35° angle.

The bomber has been upgraded several times since it was first introduced in service and has been extensively used against Ukraine in the ongoing war. The VKS currently widely deploys the Tu-95MS variant, which has now been upgraded to the more lethal Tu-95MSM.

  • Tu-160 White Swan

The Tu-160 is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing, nuclear-capable heavy strategic bomber, and airborne missile platform. The fastest bomber in service as of 2024, it is the biggest and heaviest variable-sweep wing aircraft ever flown and operated by the Russian Aerospace Forces’ Long Range Aviation.

Russia has started upgrading the Tu-160 bomber to the Tu-160M variant. According to reports, the Tu-160M has nuclear (X-102) and conventional (high-explosive, cluster, volumetric detonating) X-101 family cruise missiles. It has 12 slots for these missiles. In what was interpreted as a strong message from Russia, President Putin took a 30-minute flight on Tu-160M strategic bombers and called the aircraft safe and excellent in February this year.

  • Tu-22 Backfire

The Tupolev Design Bureau produced the supersonic, variable-sweep wing, long-range strategic, maritime strike bomber, or Tupolev Tu-22M, during the 1960s. The Tu-22M was used in long-range maritime anti-shipping operations by Soviet Naval Aviation and missile carrier strategic bombing missions by the Soviet Air Forces (VVS) during the Cold War.

File: Tu-22M3

Currently, Russia is extensively using the Tu-22M3, an upgraded variant of the aircraft, to carry out long-range conventional attacks on Ukrainian cities. The bomber is expected to remain in service along with the Tu-95 and Tu-160 until the next-generation bomber, PAK-DA, is inducted. One of these bombers was claimed to have been shot down by Ukraine.

  • Su-24 Fencer

The Sukhoi Su-24 is a supersonic, all-weather tactical bomber developed by the former Soviet Union and known by its NATO reporting name, Fencer.

The aircraft has twin engines and a variable-sweep wing, and its two crew members are seated side by side. The aircraft was projected as unique as it was the first plane from the USSR to have an integrated digital navigation/attack system.

The aircraft has seen combat over the years and is fielded by Russia and Ukraine in the ongoing war. The Sukhoi Su-24 was originally designed to carry an RN-28 tactical nuclear bomb, but it is used to conduct conventional strikes by Russia and Ukraine.

Sukhoi Su-24 – Wikipedia

The Su-24s in the Belarusian inventory have reportedly been modified to carry nuclear weapons. “Some time ago, me and Putin announced in St. Petersburg that we were going to modify Belarusian Su-24 aircraft so they could carry nuclear weapons. You think we were just shooting our mouths off? It’s all ready!” President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus said in August 2022.

  • Su-34 Fullback

There have been reports that the Su-34 Fullback fighter bomber was modified to launch a long-range cruise missile capable of carrying a conventional or nuclear warhead. Although the reports did not name the newly integrated long-range cruise missile, analysts predicted it could likely be the Kh-101, a stealth missile capable of carrying a conventional or nuclear warhead. The nuclear-armed variant is Kh-102.

Sukhoi Su-34 – Wikipedia

The Su-34 Fullback is a twin-engine, twin-seat, all-weather supersonic medium-range fighter-bomber/strike aircraft extensively deployed by the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) to carry out air-to-ground strikes and bombing runs on Ukrainian forces.

The Su-34 is also equipped to fire the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, which can be armed with a nuclear warhead.

  • MiG-31 Foxhound 

The MiG-31 is a supersonic interceptor aircraft developed by the Soviet Air Forces through the Mikoyan Design Bureau as a replacement for the earlier MiG-25 “Foxbat.”

It has the distinction of being among the fastest combat jets in the world. The MiG-31K variant of the aircraft is the designated carrier of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, which can be equipped with a nuclear warhead.

MiG-31 equipped with Kh-47M2 Kinzhal – Wikipedia

According to reports, the MiG-31BM can also carry the Kh-47M2 nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile, which has a claimed range of more than 2,000 kilometers at a speed of Mach 10.