Russia plans new nuclear weapons, arms buildup

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MOSCOW, Oct 18 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin said today that Russia was working on new types of nuclear weapons as part of a ''grandiose'' plan to boost the country's defences.

Putin, widely popular as his second four-year term draws to an end amid strong economic growth and rising incomes, has been trying to reassert Moscow's role on the international stage by reviving its armed forces, shattered by the tumultuous 1990s.

''We will develop missile technology including completely new strategic (nuclear) complexes, completely new.'' Putin said in an annual televised question-and-answer session with Russian citizens. ''Work is continuing and continuing successfully.'' ''We have plans that are not only big, but grandiose, they are fully realistic. Our armed forces will be more compact but more effective and better ensure Russia defence,'' Putin said.

In a striking contrast to the chaotic 1990s with its piecemeal financing of the demoralised army, Putin has overseen the roll-out of new jets, tactical and anti-aircraft missiles and even what Moscow says is the world's biggest vacuum bomb.

A few hours earlier, Russia successfully test-fired its newest Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northwestern Russia. State television said it hit a target in the Pacific, thousands of miles away.

''We serve our fatherland!'' the officers who fired the missile replied in chorus after Putin congratulated them on the successful launch during the live broadcast.

Putin did not specify what kind of ''completely new strategic weapons'' Russia was developing.

NUCLEAR TRIAD But he stressed that apart from its land-based ballistic missiles, Russia would also develop other segments of its ''nuclear triad'' -- nuclear submarines and strategic bombers.

Putin said Russia would modernise its turbo-prop Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers, codenamed ''Bear'' by NATO, and the formidable ''Blackjack'' Tupolev-160 jet bomber, the world's largest combat aircraft.

In August Putin ordered ''Blackjacks'' and ''Bears'' to resume round-the-clock patrols across the world, bringing back memories of Cold War-era muscle-flexing.

Putin said a recently launched nuclear submarine would soon be commissioned after naval tests. Another two are being built, and the construction of another would start next year.

''We will pay attention not only to developing the nuclear triad but other weapons as well,'' Putin said. ''I hope that by 2012-15 we will see a new generation of jet fighters completed and sent into active duty.'' Earlier this year Russia rolled out its advanced Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber and strike aircraft, whose programme -- like other Russian military projects -- had been stalled by severe underfunding after the Soviet Union's demise.

''These Sukhoi planes have started coming to the army. They are of extremely good quality,'' Putin said. ''As a matter of fact, they are the best in the world.'' REUTERS SKB HT1635

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