Jul 1, 2008

The Best Possible Shield

Interview by Sergei Balashov and Andrei Zolotov, Jr.
Russia Profile

Scientific Director of the All-Russian Experimental Physics Research Institute, Academician Radiy Ilkaev, is widely perceived as Russia’s top nuclear physicist. Having headed the country’s prime nuclear research center for 12 years, before taking on his current role, he has overseen one of the most important periods in the history of the institution, as it underwent major transformations while adjusting to a rapidly changing environment. Ilkaev shared his view with Russia Profile on the purpose of nuclear weapons, the development of Russia’s nuclear industry and the recent geopolitical trends that affect it.

R.P. How relevant are nuclear weapons today? Would it make sense to invest more money in general purpose armed forces instead?

R.I.: Nuclear weapons have always played a key role in the defense of the country. General purpose forces were severely weakened following the collapse of the Soviet Union, so the role of nuclear technology has increased disproportionately since that time. The Soviet army numbered around 7 million, but now it is down to about a million. These are incommensurable numbers, when compared to those of NATO members and other strong developing nations. If we want to ensure that nobody ever attacks us and never tests our general purpose forces, which have a limited capacity, then it is essential for us to have weapons of deterrence. Like any strong state, we must have weapons with which we can lead a regular local or regional war, but there can be no full defense without nuclear weapons. Having scientists, experts and the state care about nuclear weapons is a priority of the highest magnitude.

R.P. How would you rate the current state of Russia’s nuclear forces?

R.I.: I can clearly say that the nuclear forces of the Russian Federation are wholly preserved and are in absolute order. I believe that there is no question as to their battle preparedness and combat efficiency. The state efficiently, successfully, and skillfully provides all the necessary support. The country’s highest-ranking officials fully realize the key role that nuclear weapons play in the military effectiveness of the country. You can say that this is a common public viewpoint: today, any person understands that the country’s defenses would not be whole without nuclear weapons.

R.P. Are nuclear payloads being modernized?

R.I.: Today, everything necessary is being done to strengthen their security and reliability, and to improve their use in accordance with the plans approved by the state, the government, the Ministry of Defense, and the Russian Atomic Agency. This is not a stagnant complex, but rather one that is evolving and living a very dynamic life. New missile systems are also appearing, such as the Topol, which has been successfully added to our arsenal.

R.P. What tendencies can you note in the area of ammunition development?

R.I.: The most important factors for nuclear ammunition are security, reliability, and accuracy. I would especially point out accuracy. If you increase this characteristic twofold, then the effectiveness of your weapon increases to the third degree, in this case eight times over. This allows us to make more intellectual, cleverer ammunition. The implementation of the latest technological achievements allows us to make the tested payload more effective and more formidable.

R.P. According to some reports, the United States is developing a lightweight nuclear weapon, suitable for use in the field. Does Russia have any similar developments?

R.I.: Questions about whether or not to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons are in the hands of the highest authorities, that is, those of the commander in chief. In my personal opinion, the relevance of this decision is determined by some rather specific circumstances. Our military may develop a need for a tactical payload of a certain magnitude, in the course of an analysis and review of the country’s capabilities in certain aspects of warfare. If there is such a situation, then the required nuclear weapon will be developed in the shortest time possible. We have such an opportunity because we have retained all necessary personnel and technology, and a number of the technologies have been advanced significantly. We are prepared to respond to any challenge and to develop weapons that will ensure our military advantage in any conflict.

R.P. By what means were you able to preserve the staffing potential in such difficult times for the country?

R.I.: Of course, the situation was very grave, but we always told our specialists that these were temporary difficulties. As professionals and patriots, we had to continue the work under the circumstances at hand. On the other hand, we utilized all mechanisms of support for the scientists, including international cooperation, contracts, and a sufficiently large difference in wages. For key professionals, we tried to maintain an acceptable salary level, which took a lot of effort. The result has been positive—we have not actually lost any meaningful specialists, and we preserved the technologies, which are passed down hand to hand. In the early nineties, we had a much reduced influx of young people, which was in part caused by the fact that society and the state did not fully understand the role of the work that we were conducting. But those days are over, and we have long ago switched from the process of survival to the process of sustainable development.

R.P. When did the turning point occur?

R.I.: The situation varied in different sectors at different times. Before Perestroika, we accepted 185 young professionals a year, and over the past six years we have accepted 250 annually. In the early 1990s, it became clear that unless we take action, sooner or later, the future of the institute will be challenged. We adopted a work program with the younger generation, entered into contracts with more than 15 universities around the country, and created departments in the Sarov Physics and Technology University. All of this has allowed us to reverse this situation. The aging of the Institute was halted. Now, about 30 percent of our employees are younger than 33 years old—this is a good, normal situation, and we are maintaining it.

R.P. What is the average salary at the institute today?

R.I.: It varies greatly—one for scientists, another one for workers. Despite the fact that 2007 was a difficult year, we managed to raise the average salary by 18 percent, and this year we want to raise it by no less than 31 percent. We are watching how the country and the region are developing. We have the opportunity to attract young professionals, but it is already evident that unless we solve the housing problem for them, then we will have difficulties. We have an affordable housing program which last year concluded the construction of three residential buildings. The price of housing is constantly growing, so we need to maintain a high level of compensation, so that the youth have an opportunity to participate in this program.

R.P. Recently, more countries are declaring their nuclear status. Will it be hard to maintain the regiment of nuclear non-proliferation?

R.I.: When we say that there are new countries with nuclear weapons, we must understand that the nuclear potential of these states is very low. Moreover, they most likely have very primitive devices, which cannot pose a threat to our country. We must understand very clearly that this matter is not a military one but rather political, and when a country announces that it is in possession of nuclear weapons, the intention can be understood as “do not touch me—I am a nuclear power.”

R.P. In what areas do you maintain international cooperation?

R.I.: We have scientific relations with virtually all nuclear laboratories worldwide. We are collaborating with three nuclear laboratories in the United States—Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sunday [Sandia?]. We have close ties with the commissary for nuclear energy, and its military branch, which is responsible for nuclear weapons in France. We have a scientific connection with the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics and with our counterparts from Great Britain. Together with the Americans, we are holding joint experiments in high density and particle energy physics, insofar as they do not deal with secret information and address topics on which we openly publish in scientific journals. Without this strong scientific foundation, we cannot keep the very high level of all the scientific and technical issues of Russia’s nuclear arsenal maintenance. Our overseas colleagues are world leaders in many areas. They have the most powerful computers and the most powerful nuclear facilities, so, of course, we are very interested in maintaining relations and seeing how they address these challenges. I believe that for a scientist to work in isolation is both unacceptable and impossible.

R.P. Are any of your developments used for peaceful purposes?

R.I.: From the very outset, we created several civilian units. Several hundred of our employees work for Gazprom. One of our shops makes drills for drilling wells and for retrieving oil from hard to access wells. We have a small diamond processing factory, and now we have begun to create a technology park within five kilometers of Sarov—the only Military Industrial Complex technology park in the country. Presently, there are already 15 companies operating there. We believe that the technology park should enable us to commercialize civilian technology. After some time and with some goodwill, we will achieve a breakthrough that is critical for all the “closed cities.”

R.P. Will the “closed” status of Sarov be revisited?

R.I.: This will be determined by the development of our state. If issues surrounding security, protection of materials, and protection of technologies are resolved, then sooner or later, access to the residential part of the city will be increasingly easy and liberal, which is essential for the city’s development. Anything that must be protected will always be protected very strictly, with the use of the most modern scientific and technological means available.

R.P. What are the prospects for the country’s nuclear forces for the next 20 years?

R.I.: Nuclear weapons, both now and in 20 years, will play a vital role. We have all the advanced technologies, so it is meaningless to abandon this very powerful deterrent. If you start to shift to non-nuclear precision weapons, you have to calculate what borders we have and in how many different directions we need to deter possible aggressors—this brings exorbitant expenses. In my opinion, strategic nuclear weapons are the best kind of protection for Russia.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful interview! Thanks for posting it on the blog, Frank.

As the Russian nuke labs begin to recover from their darkest days with the liberation of Russia's oil wealth, the American nuke labs seem destined to repeat the dismal Russian experience into a long decline.

As Sig Hecker recently told Congress, working at LANL now feels very much like being at a "prison"!

How ironic that our political "leaders" are destroying the US nuke labs through mis-management and neglect while the Russian labs are returning to a vibrant future.


Several quotes stood out in this interview with Radiy Ilkaev, including these gems:


** "Having scientists, experts and the state care about nuclear weapons is a priority of the highest magnitude."

((Compare that with what you see here in the US!))


** "The country's highest-ranking officials fully realize the key role that nuclear weapons play in the military effectiveness of the country. You can say that this is a common public viewpoint: today, any person understands that the country's defenses would not be whole without nuclear weapons."

((Meanwhile, back here in the US, policies are being shaped more and more by loony liberal outfits like LASG, CCNS, and POGO. To make things worse, we are managed by a totally dysfunctional DOE/NNSA that is run by a bunch of bureaucratic idiots who dole out nuke labs contract to quick-buck, for-profit corporations!)


** "Despite the fact that 2007 was a difficult year, we managed to raise the average salary by 18 percent, and this year we want to raise it by no less than 31 percent."

((Wow! LANL has seen only 2% raises over the last few years. Nothing says "you're important to us and want you to stay" like than a 31% raise! I'm jealous of these lucky Russian scientists.))



While the Russian nuke labs go through a vibrant re-birth, our US nuke labs are slowly sinking into oblivion and neglect. The US nuclear research labs, once the crown jewels of US research, are quickly becoming as bankrupt and broken as the whole US economy.

Anonymous said...

Just curious, Dr. Ilkaev, but do you have any H1-B type job openings for well trained US nuclear scientists?

Anonymous said...

"Wow! LANL has seen only 2% raises over the last few years. Nothing says "you're important to us and want you to stay" like than a 31% raise! " (10:57 PM)

Yeah, I know the feeling. That's why I've recently decided to stay on as Director at LANL for a few more years. Those fat 30% raises I keep getting are great. Thanks, LANS Board of Governors!

-Mikey

Anonymous said...

"Despite the fact that 2007 was a difficult year, we managed to raise the average salary by 18 percent, and this year we want to raise it by no less than 31 percent."

Sounds terrific until you look at the Russian inflation rates current and for the past 10 years. Inflation rates of 15-20% can take a toll.

Anonymous said...

But their raises were higher than inflation; LANL's TSM raises have been less than inflation for years.

Anonymous said...

Forget the raise and inflation issue. The big difference between Russian and US nuke labs is that the nation of Russia seems to really value the work of their scientists at these labs and wants to keep them happy.

It feels nice when you're working at a national lab where people appreciate your work. There is zero appreciation by most of Congress for the work done at LANL and LLNL. Instead, they seem intent on destroying these labs, in spirit if not in actuality.

Anonymous said...

Frank, that first post sure seems like drive-by linking spam to me, even if the comment is true.

Anonymous said...

When I first read this by RSS feed, I saw the part about salaries, and just knew the self centered assholes at LANL were going to focus mostly on that part. No wonder this place is going down the toilet.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have specified the self- centered assholes on this blog, which are in no way representative of LANL as a whole.

Frank Young said...

7/2/08 1:13 PM,
Thanks, it was spam and I've deleted it.

Anonymous said...

Some how I knew that this excellent article would focus only on the topic of raises for lab personnel. IMO, there's a lot more substance in the article worthy of serious LANL comment than complaints that say I'm worth more than my employer pays me.

Frank Young said...

To restart the discussion I will suggest an additional question I wish the interviewers had asked. Perhaps other blog readers also have such questions.

Mr. Ilkaev, if you had the opportunity to replace your country's warheads with American RRWs, would you do it?

Anonymous said...

"Mr. Ilkaev, if you had the opportunity to replace your country's warheads with American RRWs, would you do it?"

R.I.: Why we already have!

Anonymous said...

"We are collaborating with three nuclear laboratories in the United States—Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sunday."

Lots of good stuff in that interview. For example, I'm glad they've found religion. And clearly they have no problem with updating their weapons systems. Now about those salaries and making their employees feel appreciated... Mikey could learn a few lessons from this fellow.

Anonymous said...

"If you start to shift to non-nuclear precision weapons, you have to calculate what borders we have and in how many different directions we need to deter possible aggressors—this brings exorbitant expenses. In my opinion, strategic nuclear weapons are the best kind of protection for Russia."

Now THAT is a serious border control policy.

Anonymous said...

You might think about the national security implications of the Russian nuclear weapon policy which is focused on tactical nuclear weapons to deter conventional attack since they have inadequate conventional forces. Given this policy they must develop low yield weapons and achieve high accuracy of delivery. Therefore investments in their nuclear stockpile are based on a reasonable cost analysis.

Anonymous said...

"I'm glad they've found religion" 7:15

Religion is not mentioned anywhere in this article. However, if they do find religion, let's hope it's not the same type of religious fundamentalism that is currently infecting the US, al Qaeda, and Iran. God knows we don't need any more neoconservatives.

Anonymous said...

Therefore investments in their nuclear stockpile are based on a reasonable cost analysis.

7/2/08 7:52 PM


As opposed to ours, which are based purely on pork- barrel politics.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line it for us Radiy. How much do you make and what do you drive?

Anonymous said...

"Bottom line it for us Radiy. How much do you make and what do you drive?" - 11:33 PM

And, like our current LANS upper management, did you sell your soul and how much did you get for it?

Anonymous said...

Bunch of Communist Pinkos. What do they know about running Nuc-u-lur labs? When the big one comes, I'll be laughing at them from this big ol' red phone they installed in my office. Then we'll hit 'em up with some of them RRW-type rockets my friends at Bechtel been building up for me. Mission accomplished.

Anonymous said...

"Mr. Ilkaev, if you had the opportunity to replace your country's warheads with American RRWs, would you do it?"

R.I.: Why we already have!
=======================================

Russia has been working on NEW nuclear
weapons for some time. These articles
go back as far as 2004:

http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2004/
11/17/russia-missiles-041117.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/
idUSL1828669020071018

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/
world/europe/article2687252.ece

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/
oct/18/russia

Anonymous said...

He says their army went from 7m to 1m so they believe they need tactical nuclear weapons for combat. What sort of a future do they expect? What future do we expect that would justify the stockpile we say we need?

Anonymous said...

He says their army went from 7m to 1m so they believe they need tactical nuclear weapons for combat. What sort of a future do they expect? What future do we expect that would justify the stockpile we say we need?
====================================

You can't count on a given future - or
let your "expected future" drive your
policy.

A nation has to be ready for WHATEVER
future awaits. It is just being pointed
out that if Russia were heavily attacked,
they don't have the 7m army anymore to
repel such an attack.

If an attack proved more than what their
1m man army could repel - then they
would resort to the use of nukes.

During the Cold War, the USA couldn't
match the huge army of the USSR in
Europe. The forces the USA had in
Germany could EASILY have fallen to the
much greater Soviet Army.

That's why the USA backed up the "token"
force with tactical nuclear weapons
which held the expansionist USSR at
bay for the duration of the Cold War.

Anonymous said...

"A nation has to be ready for WHATEVER future awaits."

Really? "WHATEVER"?

How about global warming? What about meteors coming for earth? What about space aliens? What about the RHIC turning everything into strangelet particles?

Or maybe the nation has to prioritize between reasonably probable threats and far-fetched ones.

---

BTW, the Russians managed to do what NNSA could not do: answer the question about why they needed next generation weapons. Maybe if the administration could be bothered to answer this question, Congress would fund the RRW.

Anonymous said...

How about global warming? What about meteors coming for earth?
==================================

YES - we SHOULD be prepared for meterors!! As I recall, your
risk of being killed by a meteor is
about equal to your risk of being
killed in an auto accident.

What about space aliens?
========================

I've seen NOTHING to warrant that.


What about the RHIC turning everything
into strangelet particles?
==================================

The fear-mongering over RHIC is without
scientific basis.

A Nation need NOT go SILLY - and provide
a preparation for something RIDICULOUS
like the anti-nuclear fear-mongering
over RHIC.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me 1:20, but you* said at 2:05:

"You can't count on a given future - or let your "expected future" drive your policy.

A nation has to be ready for WHATEVER future awaits."

So which is it? "WHATEVER" or "need NOT go SILLY"

* The weird capitalization is the same in 2:05 and 1:20, so I assume you are the same person.

Anonymous said...

Here's the irony. With the US Congress berating NNSA and the labs, calling for a shutdown of the complex, and demonstrating beyond-ignorant behavior regarding US nuclear weapons and policy, the Russians looks at us and said: Hey! We've got an opportunity!

Read any of the myriad of stuff online about Russia nuclear weapon developments and policy over the last 4 years. They are intentionally and deliberately seeking and ASSYMETRIC advantage with their nukes.

Further, mentioned in this article as well, their strategy is WARFIGHTING with nukes, not deterrence. Think about that. Hard.

Our actions have given opportunity and motivate to the Russians to proliferate. I hold the US Congress at some blame for this. I'll say something, this is going to come back to haunt us, in a big way.

The idea we can beat the world into disarmament by neglect of our own deterrent was and is foolish. Others see this, and it simply motivates them into a new arms race. That's not conjecture. It's recent history in the nuclear weapons arena.

Anonymous said...

And if the Russians jumped off a bridge, would you do that too?

Anonymous said...

I would not try to stop them. Since it is us jumping off the bridge I don't expect the Russians will try to stop us.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about irony, but it is interesting that they can apparently get useful and needed information through collaborations from those arguably their largest threat.

"We have scientific relations with virtually all nuclear laboratories worldwide. We are collaborating with three nuclear laboratories in the United States—Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sunday [Sandia?]. We have close ties with the commissary for nuclear energy, and its military branch, which is responsible for nuclear weapons in France. We have a scientific connection with the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics and with our counterparts from Great Britain. Together with the Americans, we are holding joint experiments in high density and particle energy physics, insofar as they do not deal with secret information and address topics on which we openly publish in scientific journals. Without this strong scientific foundation, we cannot keep the very high level of all the scientific and technical issues of Russia’s nuclear arsenal maintenance. Our overseas colleagues are world leaders in many areas. They have the most powerful computers and the most powerful nuclear facilities, so, of course, we are very interested in maintaining relations and seeing how they address these challenges."

Anonymous said...

The best way to get another 100 billion or so pumped into the Lab is to claim the Ruskies are breathing down our neck. Oooo... makes my short hairs tingle just thinking about how much money we can get our hands on if we can only stir up the country with BS interviews of dinosaur pinkos like this guy. He and his ilk kept the money train flowing our way for over 50 years. What a cash cow that was. We sure do need more pinko commy dinos like this guy spewing his BS for the world to digest just one more time. If we go bankrupt fighting the smoke and mirrors of a phantom communist threat still biting at our heals, so be it. Just so long as our retirement nest egg is substantial and well protected from the misery the rest of the country will have to endure once we go bankrupt as a nation, who really cares? Be honest now.

Anonymous said...

I wish we could dismiss the Russian buildup as old-school communist pinko delusions. I really do. Fact is, it's happening. Period. Whatever the motivation.

And another fact, from many, many sources, is that the Russians undertook this action with full-knowledge that the US was backing away from Nukes. So much for us "setting an example" and just waiting for all the peace-loving nations of the world to follow along to our little nuclear pied piper.

This isn't Russian rantings. It's a factual description of what Russia has done with nuclear weapons over the last decade. Now, we get to deal with it.

Anonymous said...

So which is it? "WHATEVER" or "need NOT go SILLY"
=================================

"WHATEVER" does NOT mean preparing for
that which is physically IMPOSSIBLE!!!

Anonymous said...

And another fact, from many, many sources, is that the Russians undertook this action with full-knowledge that the US was backing away from Nukes.
==============================

Yes - one should read "Memoirs" the
autobiography of Andre Sakharov.

On pages 99-100, he states that while
the USA was debating whether to go
forward with the "Super" [ H-bomb ];
Stalin and Beria had already made the
decision to go forward with the Russian
H-bomb in 1948.

Sakharov states that even if the USA
were to have renounced development of
the "Super", the USSR would not have
believed them.

They reasoned, any claim by the USA to
renounce the H-bomb was probably a lie,
so they needed to go ahead to maintain
parity. If, by some chance, the USA
was telling the truth and actually had
renounced the H-bomb; the USSR should
go ahead any way in order to exploit
the foolishness of the USA and get
weapons superiority over the USA.

Regardless of the USA's decision; the
proper decision for the USSR, they
contended; was to go forward with the
H-bomb in either case.

Anonymous said...

The Russian economy is the best its been in modern times and because of their profits from the oil energy boom, the last thing Russia wants is a nuclear war with the U.S.

Do you really think they don't believe the W76, W88, B61's & B83's will perform as designed?

Anonymous said...

No new stories? What about all the deceptive crap LANS management is doing - like ADs and their families going on foreign travel and family vacations at our expense?

Frank Young said...

"No new stories? What about all the deceptive crap LANS management is doing - like ADs and their families going on foreign travel and family vacations at our expense?"

Send me details. Did any of them take laptops without the proper stack of paperwork? Anybody take a girlfriend instead of a wife? Anybody defect for a 31% raise?

Anonymous said...

Where are the girlfriends? My wife has a boyfriend...takes her on travel.

Anonymous said...

A scientifically designed socio-lingui-statistical program using data from the last 33.66 posts and executed on Roadrunner conclusively proves that 1) 56.13% of the posters to this blog are over the age of 13.26 years, 2) 42.12% work at LANL, 3) 23.27% can locate Russia on a map of the World, and 4) 5.12% can explain how a nuclear weapon works.

Anonymous said...

Details for Frank:

The rule is that DOE has to approve foreign travel. They generally reject foreign travel if two apparently married people are going, where apparently = same last name. They seldom reject travel if people have different last names.

Married couples with different last names use foreign travel as a way of going on vacations. If you plan it right, you can make it last all summer.

So anyhoo, there is a particular AD who is married to a now-naturalized previously-European person. They have used this loophole for about 10 years.

It is a pretty common practice, although this particular couple is really masterful.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think they don't believe the W76, W88, B61's & B83's will perform as designed?
====================================

Since Russia has her own nuclear weapons,
she knows that the USA's nuclear weapons
age just like their own weapons do.

Russia has undertaken to refurbish their
own weapons. They know our weapons will
be in the same state theirs would be
without refurbishment.

Anonymous said...

9:17 am, how ignorant can you be? The World's foremost authority on nuclear weapons, the JASONs, have said unequivocally that pits will last at least 100 years. The Russians are just stupid, performing uneeded upgrades and unnecessary refurbishments.

Thank God we have the academic contributions of the JASONs composed of such a preeminent group of distinguished university professors to protect our national security.

Anonymous said...

C'mon and say the AD's name. Mary Neu. Where did she go this time? Pu Futures? Did she take Wolfie with her?

Anonymous said...

Well, and that is why Mrs. Runde did not change her name from Neu nor did Mrs. Morris change her name from Seestrom. People at LANL and the DOE are just too damn stupid to figure it out, besides LANS has not policy against nepotism.

Anonymous said...

People, what you fail to understand is the rules apply to all of us "little people" and not the DLs, DDLs, ADs, DADs, PADs, and especially Mikey. Otherwise, we would not have heard how many of them have not completed their training that was "so" important that "we little people" finish ASAP so the big boys and girls could meet their PBIs and get thier huge bonuses.

Anonymous said...

4:01 PM - yes, Neu and family went to Dijon, France. She is giving a poster. She is such an ambassador for LANL/LANS ...

Anonymous said...

Could you move 10:04 from a comment to a post. This practice could probably stand a little more light.

Anonymous said...

DOE, are your watching any of this? I suggest you send in some auditors to cross tabulate the travel expense accounts of lab married couples and look for any signs of hidden "friends and family" travel abuse. You have your leads. Now, go to it.