How much damage was USSR already capable of doing, in the event of a nuclear war, by the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

How many ICBMs and strategic bombers did it have, and what were their capabilities?


WP:Mutual assured destruction states:

By the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, both the United States and the Soviet Union had developed the capability of launching a nuclear-tipped missile from a submerged submarine, which completed the "third leg" of the nuclear triad weapons strategy necessary to fully implement the MAD doctrine.

The Nucear triad means delivery via bomber, land-based ICBM, and and submarine-launched balistic missile (SLBM).

The Soviet arsenal in 1962 included, but was not limited to:

  • R-12 TBMs with a payload of 1-2.3 megatonnes (some of which were spotted on Cuba).
  • R-14 IRBMs with a similar payload (some of which were spotted on Cuba).
  • R-7A ICBMs with a payload of 3 to 5 megatonnes. One of these was actually fitted with a warhead during the Cuban crisis. (The Soviets stored missiles and warheads separately for added security.)
  • Golf class submarines (of which 23 were built between 1958 to 1962), of which 3 were equipped with the D-1 launch system firing R-11FM missiles, the main payload being a warhead of estimated 10, 20, or 40 kilotonnes carried over 170 km. The other boats were equipped with the D-2 launch system firing R-13 missiles, which carried a payload of estimated 1.0 to 2.0 megatonnes over 600 km. Each boat had three launch tubes.
  • Tu-95 "Bear" and Tu-16 "Badger" bombers carrying e.g. the RDS-37 1.6+ megaton warhead.

This is just a one-per-type list of delivery platforms that were definitely operational in 1962, assembled via a cursory WP search. Exact numbers of operational units and warheads for the time frame will be pretty hard to come by, but we are talking several dozens of megaton warheads deliverable on targets in Europe and USA, including (via the SLBMs) second strike capabilities.

I just saw your other question regarding the Cuban crisis, and now have a better idea where you were coming from with this question. Note the following caveats:

  • I included TBMs and IRBMs. Those would not have been a thread to mainland USA unless stationed nearby, as e.g. on Cuba. Those would have been threats for the European theater only otherwise.
  • The R-7A ICBMs were not on "hot standby". They would have to be fueled and fitted with a warhead prior to deployment. Their response time was 8-12 hours.
  • The ability of strategic bombers to penetrate into US airspace would be hotly contested by the USAAF.

I.e., putting those TBMs and IRBMs on Cuba significantly increased the threat to mainland USA specifically, and also significantly reduced US response times in case of a Soviet first strike. It definitely changed the strategic situation and did put the Soviets back on par regarding the threat of PGM-19 Jupiter missiles stationed in Italy and Turkey that had been posing a similar threat to the USSR.

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