Russia's military leadership has become embroiled in a dispute over the future of the elite Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), which could be abolished, bringing nuclear missiles under air force control.

Russian defence minister Igor Sergeyev, a former rocket forces commander, has threatened to resign and says the proposal to hand control of SRFto the Russian air force - ending its status as a separate service - is "a crime against Russia and just plain madness".

SRF commander Gen Vladimir Yakovlev has also criticised the proposal. "Changing the balance of forces, as implied by reforming the rocket forces, could transform our country into a second-rate nuclear power," he says.

The row was ignited when chief of staff Anatoly Kvashnin called for the nuclear forces to be eliminated as a separate force at a closed meeting of generals on 12 July. The force has been comparatively well funded to preserve operational capability, despite the collapse of Russian defence spending.

Proponents of the plan say it would free resources for conventional forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said several times that nuclear forces could be cut well below the agreed Start 2 treaty limits to divert funds to other parts of the military.

Source: Flight International