The nine nuclear-armed states continued to engage in conduct in 2022 that was not compatible with the TPNW’s prohibition on developing, producing, manufacturing, or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons. Two further states not party—Iran and Saudi Arabia—were again recorded as states of concern.
Most nuclear-armed states brand their ongoing development and production efforts as ‘modernisation’, but their actions go well beyond simple maintenance and sustainment operations. In reality, every nuclear-armed state is actively engaged in the development and production of new nuclear delivery vehicles and/or warheads, in addition to upgrading their existing nuclear capabilities. Growing international tension is fuelling this trend.
Some modernisation programmes are prompted by the nature of the 21st-century nuclear arms competition, as states continuously seek to negate their adversaries’ advantages, but others are simply an inherent feature of persistent planning for the indefinite retention of nuclear arsenals. Given the long timelines typically associated with weapons development, states often begin planning their follow-on systems more than a decade before they are eventually inducted into service. This dynamic—coupled with the tremendous influence that weapons contractors, lobbyists, and financial institutions have on governmental nuclear policy decisions—makes it extremely difficult to reduce the scope of a country’s nuclear modernisation programme.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor collaborates with the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project to estimate and analyse global nuclear forces. The following summary of the nine nuclear-armed states is intended to be a snapshot of each country’s primary nuclear developments in 2022. It is not an exhaustive overview.
The United States is in the midst of a wide-ranging modernisation programme to upgrade or replace every nuclear warhead and delivery system in its nuclear arsenal. The cost of this programme could reach up to US$2 trillion, and it is expected that this will serve to maintain nuclear weapons in the US nuclear arsenal through most of the remainder of this century.
In 2022, the United States released an unclassified version of its long-awaited Nuclear Posture Review, which formally announced the eventual retirement of the B83-1 gravity bomb and the cancellation of the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N) proposed by the Trump administration. However, the status of the SLCM-N remains unclear, as Congress may decide to override the executive branch and fund the system anyway.
In 2022, the United States also displayed the B-21 Raider heavy bomber, which will eventually replace the current B-2 nuclear bomber. The B-21 will be equipped to carry the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile and the B61-12 gravity bomb. The B61-12 began mass production in 2022 and special airlift planes were certified in late-2022 to be ready to deliver the bomb to bases in the United States and Europe in the near future.
Russia is currently in the late stages of a decades-long modernisation programme to replace all of its Soviet-era nuclear systems with more modern ones. This includes both long-range strategic and a large inventory of shorter-range non-strategic weapons.
In 2022, Russia conducted the first test-launch of its newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), known as the RS-28 Sarmat, and the missile has now entered serial production, although more tests will be needed before it becomes operational. Upgrading of silos to receive the new missile is progressing. The first silos of a second regiment with Russia’s new Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle reportedly began its alert duty.
Also in 2022, the Russian Navy accepted its sixth improved Borei-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN)—the Generalissimus Suvorov—for sea trials, and was expected to begin deploying the vessel in early 2023.5 The Navy is expected to receive the remainder of a total of 10 Borei boats over the coming years, in addition to several special-purpose submarines that will be able to launch Poseidon nuclear torpedoes.
China’s nuclear stockpile is expected to increase significantly in the next decade, though its arsenal is still expected to remain significantly smaller than that of either Russia or the United States. In 2022, China continued rapid construction on all three of its new solid-fuel missile silo fields and additional liquid-fuel missile silos further south, totalling more than 350 new silos. This development, coupled with other elements of its nuclear modernisation programme, indicates that China aims to dramatically increase the size of its nuclear arsenal. In 2022, the US Department of Defense estimated that China’s nuclear stockpile could grow to more than 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 if its current pace of growth continues.
The United Kingdom has committed to a comprehensive nuclear modernisation programme that includes replacing its SSBNs, re-entry bodies, and warheads. This programme is expected to keep nuclear weapons in the UK military arsenal until at least 2065. In 2022, the United Kingdom continued to incorporate its existing warheads into the US-supplied Mk4A re-entry body with enhanced targeting capability, advance its new warhead programme, which is based on the United States’ planned W93 warhead, and build its next generation of Dreadnought-class SSBNs.
France is modernising both of its nuclear delivery systems—its submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs)—and has also recently begun a programme to build a new fleet of SSBNs, known as SNLE 3G. This programme is expected to keep nuclear weapons in the French arsenal until at least 2070. It is also planning to build a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Israel is modernising its arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles and may be upgrading its plutonium and warhead production facility. In 2022, Israel continued its significant construction effort at its Dimona nuclear weapons facility, which is likely to be associated with a life-extension campaign.
India is in the midst of completing and operationalising its nascent nuclear triad, and is modernising its existing nuclear forces to place increased emphasis on prompt missile launches. In 2022, India test-launched its new Agni-V near-ICBM, and is preparing the missile for operational deployment. India also completed the development trials for its new Agni-P medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), which will likely replace older shorter-range Agni missiles. Unlike earlier versions of Agni missiles, both the Agni-V and the Agni-P will be deployed in new mobile canister systems, which will reduce the time required to launch the missiles in a crisis because they can be transported with the warhead installed. India also completing its second SSBN (INS Arighat), which might become operational in 2024.
Pakistan is in the midst of building a nuclear triad, placing particular emphasis on developing several short-range, tactical nuclear-capable weapon systems specifically designed to deter large-scale conventional strikes against or incursions into Pakistani territory. In 2022, Pakistan continued the development of its new dual-capable Shaheen-III MRBM, and conducted a successful test-launch of the system in April.
North Korea appears to be focusing its nuclear development on deploying new types of shorter-range, solid-fuel missiles to potentially enable a strategy of regional nuclear warfighting. In 2022, North Korea tested several new types of missiles, including hypersonic glide vehicles, tactical ballistic missiles, and the likely first successful full flight of its new Hwasong-17 ICBM. North Korea is also increasingly practicing high-volume salvo launches; in November, for example, North Korea fired 23 missiles in a single day, with one landing less than 60km from South Korea’s coast.9 It is uncertain which of North Korea’s many missiles are nuclear-capable.