Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Strategic Warfare Reading List


Any serious student or researcher focusing on the concept of strategic warfare can often be hard-pressed to find suitable in-depth source material. The purpose of this article is to provide students, researchers, and historians with a reading list consisting of some of the most interesting and valuable sources that I have collected in the field of strategic warfare.


Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat - NASIC
NASIC's report detailing the current major strategic missile systems in service or development is a useful starting point when researching strategic delivery systems. Most major programs are mentioned, and basic details such as range and throw weight are provided, as well as a few choice illustrations. The only serious drawback is that the document is only 30 pages in length, meaning that there is not a great deal of detailed information about any of the systems mentioned therein. However, it is a valuable reference tool, containing data on most major missile non-US missile systems in development or service. This unclassified publication can be found online here.

US Strategic and Defensive Missile Systems 1950-2004 - Mark A Berhow
Number 36 in Osprey Publishing's Fortress Series, this volume is a short yet suprisingly detailed account of the development and deployment of American land-based defensive and strategic missile systems. While naval strategic weapons are not covered, all major US ICBM programs are given mention, as are the HAWK, NIKE and SAFEGUARD defensive missile programs. A final mention is given to the current NMD system being deployed. It should be noted that PATRIOT and THAAD, among others, are not covered, as they have not been deployed as operational defensive systems in the United States.

Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces - Pavel Podvig
This is the single, definitive reference source dealing with the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal. All major delivery systems are covered, from strategic bombers to submarine launched ballistic missiles. The technical data is absolutely first rate, and a history of each program is provided. Topics such as nuclear production facilities, nuclear testing, and strategic defense are also covered in exhaustive detail. There are also extensive endnotes for each chapter, with some of them providing further details and insight into little-known weapon systems alluded to or mentioned briefly in the text. The only drawback is that Mr. Podvig's work was published in 2001, and as such does not deal with the most current systems such as the RS-24 ICBM. He does maintain a website here, which provides up-to-date information supplementing his excellent text. This is the one reference work that any serious Cold War researcher simply must obtain.

The Kremlin's Nuclear Sword - Steven J. Zaloga
This is a shorter, less technical alternative to Podvig's work. It shares the same main drawback of being slightly aged, having been published in 2002. The main advantage to Zaloga's work is that the political side of the equation is given more attention, as are many of the developmental systems which did not enter production. The work is organized chronologically, which can be an inconvenience for a researcher focusing on one type of delivery system. The chronological layout does allow for a more historical analysis to be made, allowing the reader to examine the types of delivery systems that were in development concurrently. Zaloga's work does have merit as a secondary source, or as a primary source if Podvig's work cannot be located. Space surveillance, defensive systems, and nuclear testing and production are either not covered in Zaloga's work, or are only briefly mentioned. All in all, an excellent overview of Russian strategic nuclear forces and a better source than Podvig's where the political side is concerned.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb - Richard Rhodes
Both of these extensive reference works offer a great deal of historical and political insight into the American nuclear weapons programs during the early days of the Cold War. Be warned; while both books tend to focus more on the political and historical implications of the programs, they do delve into the weapons development aspect and as such can get very technical.

The ABM Treaty Charade - William T. Lee
This is one of the most interesting reference works on the Cold War, and consequently it is also one of the hardest to find. It is a higly technical look at the Soviet nationwide ABM network, the existance of which was denied by Western intelligence during the run-up to the signing of the ABM Treaty. There is a healthy dose of political discourse dealing with the rationale behind the West's ignorance of the USSR's progress, as well as a concise overview of Soviet ABM programs. The bulk of the work details the evidence supporting the idea that a nationwide ABM network existed in the Soviet Union. If a copy can be obtained, this is one of the most significant and revealing works on the Cold War yet published, and the only English-language publication dealing solely with Soviet ABM programs.

Space Weapons, Earth Wars - Bob Preston et al
Anti-missile and anti-satellite systems are becoming the new rage in the field of strategic warfare. While it primarily focuses on space warfare systems from an American standpoint, delving into the rationale behind acquiring such systems and how best to employ them, this reference work is invaluable to anyone interested in the topic as there is a great deal of technical data presented that cannot be found anywhere else. Various types of systems are described, as well as the technical requirements that they must meet in order to be successful. As a RAND publication, it can be found online here.


Strategic warfare is one of the most interesting topics in the field of military studies. By using the sources listed above, any researcher will be well on his or her way to gaining a more complete understanding of the weapon systems and the political motives behind their development. As I locate more source material, I will update this article with the relevant details.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a valuable list, Sean. I added the titles at IntelFusion and found a few preview copies at Google Books that I hyperlinked to.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add three papers...

James N. Gibson's 'Nuclear Weapons of the United States'. THE primer to US Nukes.

and of course John Lonnquest and David Winklers 'To defend and deter'. It used to be available online for free, but it seems this is no longer true.

Third is Jacob Neufeld's 'The development of BMs in the USAF 45-60'. I think this is still available somewhere at the AF History Office page.

Anonymous said...

The Natural Resources Defense Council published five or six volumes covering US, Soviet as well as British, French and Chinese strategic weapons programs. Also Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems. although costly, is a great source

Anonymous said...

Do not forget the 1977 classic, "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons"!