Aby June 26th, 2007
Due to their overwhelming destructive power, nuclear bombs have become a political tool rather than military weapons in this era. Continuing the Soviet legacy, Russia continues to be the leader in the size of nuclear warhead stockpile and delivery capabilities. United States of America comes at a close second, followed at a distance by the People’s Republic of China. Although this triad share close trade ties with each other, they are considered military rivals, mainly due to their political alignment and spheres of influences.
The largest nuclear explosion - the Tsar Bomba test of 1961 (Click on video to play)
Russia - Russia (ex- Soviet Union) has the distinction of successfully developing and testing the first fusion based nuclear bomb in 1949. It also developed and tested the most powerful nuclear bomb till date - the Tsar Bomba in 1961 with an yield of 50 Megatons (the Hiroshima bomb Little Boy yielded 0.013 Megatons). The current Russian nuclear stockpile is estimated to be 17000 warheads of which 7200 are believed to be operational and deployed. The nuclear warheads can be fired from bombers, silo or mobile truck launched ICBMs and submarine based SLBMs.
United States - The United States of America is the first country to develop and test a successful nuclear bomb in 1945 (Manhattan test). It is also the first and only country till date to use nuclear bombs on human cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The first megaton bomb the Ivy Mike was also tested by USA in 1952 with an yield of 10 Megatons. The current US nuclear stockpile is about 9900 warheads of which about 5500 are operational. United States possess stealth bombers, silo launched ICBMs and submarine launched SLBMs as nuclear weapons delivery systems.
China - China began to develop nuclear bombs after repeated nuclear threats and blackmail from US and UK over the Taiwan and Hong Kong crisis’s respectively. It tested its first fission based nuclear bomb on 16th October 1964 dubbed as the ‘596‘ test. China’s first hydrogen bomb was successfully tested on 17 June 1967, with an yield of 3.3 Megaton. China’s current nuclear stockpile is significantly smaller than US or Russia - at an estimate of 150 to 200 warheads. However the exact number is not known due to PRC government’s secrecy concerning China’s military capability. China can deliver nuclear bombs using silo and mobile launched ICBMs and submarine launched SLBMs. It does not emphasise on bombers as nuclear bomb delivery systems despite having a few nuclear capable bombers.
The Conclusion - USA and Russia currently possess the largest nuclear stockpiles which are the remnants of the Cold War arms race. Both USA and Russia have the capability to cause irreversible mass devastation of the human race on this world using their nuclear weapons stockpile and delivery system. The People’s Republic of China can cause significant damage or either Russia or USA however it cannot destroy them with its small nuclear stockpile (which is used mainly as a political tool for deterrence). As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and signatories to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, their nuclear stockpiles do not evoke apprehension as much as those of Pakistan or (possibly) Iran’s does.
More Information and Resources
- Nuclear Weapons Archive - A guide to nuclear weapons
- Russia’s Nuclear Capabilities - News piece by The Telegraph, London
- Nuclear Missile Forces - US vs Russia vs China
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- Nuclear Missile Forces - USA vs China vs Russia
- China’s MAD Nuclear Deterrance Against USA
- India vs China on Military Strength - Conventional and Nuclear
- United States vs China - Consequences of a Nuclear War
- The Future of Nuclear Deterrence Between US and Russia