The advent of a new Russian nuclear weapon

(To Andrea Gaspardo)
28/11/19

A popular story from the Cold War period tells that, after the successful test of the "Zar Bomb", a thermonuclear device capable of unleashing a power of 50 megatons, the old Igor Tamm, father along with Igor Kurchatov of the Soviet atomic bomb, went visiting his favorite pupil, Andrey Sakharov, who had been the creator of the "Zar Bomb". Instead of celebrating with his old mentor, the forty-year-old Sakharov showed him the new projects he was working on, including new devices with higher power than the 100 megatons that, replacing the traditional neutron reflector with uranium-238 with one in lead, would have allowed the fusion process to combine with the nitrogen present in the air (it is good to remember that the air is composed only for 23% by oxygen and for more than 74% by nitrogen!) causing a virtually unlimited chain reaction . Tamm turned white with fear and, before leaving, turned to his ex-pupil: "Stop now, Andrey Dmitrevich! Because thanks to your genius you risk creating something totally out of control ”.

Shortly thereafter, Sakharov was excluded from the Soviet nuclear program, later becoming a nuclear disarmament activist and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Simultaneously with his professional departure, many of his projects were also placed in the attic, mainly due to the fact that the subsequent period of the "Thaw" and the progressive reduction of nuclear arsenals seemed to have finally, if not canceled, at least reduced the danger of nuclear conflict. Unfortunately, the post-Cold War failed to fulfill the promises everyone had believed.

The new geopolitical reality was not followed by a new political-ideological paradigm and the United States of America and their western allies / satellites, instead of positively involving Russia in the creation of a new world order, instead accentuated the pressure on Moscow in the attempt to keep the Russian state in a perpetual state of weakness and subjection by violating, one after the other, all the promises and red lines that had been laboriously negotiated between the 1985 and the 1991 by Mikhail Gorbachev with Ronald Reagan first and George HW Bush then. This policy was paying as long as Russia was in a state of weakness but, starting with the 2007, and after resolving the most pressing problems of stabilizing the home front, Vladimir Putin began to fight back.

In this scenario of growing tensions, new nuclear policies have to be included, which both the United States and Russia are formulating. For the United States, the aim is to achieve a perfect balance between the implementation of an efficient Anti-Missile Ballistic Defense (Anti-Missile Ballistic Defense), the development of an instant attack system using conventional missiles and very long-range cruise missiles ( Prompt Global Strike - PGS and the maintenance of a flexible nuclear triad which, in conjunction with the conventional armed forces, leads to the suppression of any enemy, even of great powers such as Russia or China.

For Russia, on the other hand, it is simply a matter of preserving a credible instrument of deterrence that guarantees the country not to fall victim to an American "first strike" and to maintain political independence from Washington. In this framework is explained, for example, the development of the heavy ballistic RS-28 Sarmat missile (SS-X-30 Satan 2 according to the NATO nomenclature) capable of carrying between the 10 and the 24 tested and, apparently, equipped with "system of fractional orbital bombardment ". Or the deployment of the Bulava RSM-56 ballistic missiles (SS-NX-30 or SS-NX-32 according to the NATO nomenclature) on the most modern ballistic missile submarines of the Russian navy: the "Borei class" ("Dolgorukiy class" according to the nomenclature BORN).

Although these programs undoubtedly benefited the process of strengthening Russian strategic forces, they cannot be considered decisive. In fact, the continuous advancement of the US anti-ballistic program is such that the continuous refinement of the technological features of US radar and air defense software, combined with the physiological reduction in the number of nuclear warheads in Russia, means that it is absolutely not the hypothesis that, after the 2020, the United States may find itself in the situation of facing a "winnable" nuclear war, that is to guarantee the total destruction of Russia or any other country with nuclear weapons but at the price of "only" a few million deaths for the United States. In this way the doctrine of the "Mutual Assured Destruction" that guaranteed the peace between the great powers from the 1945 to today would fall.

Against such an eventuality, Russia's response was intelligent and "asymmetrical", dusting off one of Sakharov's old projects left unattended and adapting it to today's needs. In fact, in the 1950s, when Soviet missile technology was still maturing and US aeronautical superiority would make the mission of Soviet strategic bombers to hit the United States almost impossible, the Soviet physicist proposed to develop a heavy torpedo (named "T-15") armed with a nuclear warhead equal to the power of one of the super bombs he designed. The aim was to hit the Americans asymmetrically, generating large tsunamis that would have devastated the coasts while destroying the fishing industry.

Almost seventy years later, it seems that technological evolution has finally allowed Russia to turn Sakharov's project into reality, with the possibility of obtaining an even greater operating yield. Towards the end of the 2015 in fact, both TV and Moscow newspapers began to broadcast some images depicting a new type of submarine weapon that was being developed by the Russian navy. After a long period during which it was considered only a clever disinformation move, the existence of this weapon was finally confirmed by the CIA and the Pentagon in January of the 2018 simultaneously with the announcement of the new American nuclear strategy for the years to come.

Officially known as "Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System" and informally as "Poseidon" ("Kanyon" in the NATO nomenclature), the weapon system is not really a torpedo, but an unmanned submarine vehicle of stealth design with maximum range of 10.000 kilometers, able to travel at a depth of 1.000 meters and up to a speed of 185 kilometers per hour thanks to a revolutionary propulsion entrusted to a miniaturized nuclear reactor driving a small water jet. This small nuclear reactor would also act as a detonator for the massive 100 megatoni nuclear warhead positioned on the torpedo / drone ogive. The power of the thermonuclear explosion caused by this warhead would be double compared to that of the "Zar Bomb" designed by Sakharov, producing an area of ​​total destruction of the diameter of 72 kilometers (as much as twice the city of Paris), which would rise to 150 taking into account also that of partial destruction. Moreover, the particular technical characteristics and the launch depth of the "Poseidon" would mean that it could also generate tsunami waves up to 500 meters that would sweep vast stretches of coastline.

It also appears that the nuclear warhead mounted on the "Poseidon" is equipped with a cobalt-59 coating, a mineral which is harmless in itself but which, if subjected to an explosive nuclear fusion process, turns into the extremely dangerous cobalt-60 radioactive isotope which would render it pollutes US coastal waters for a period of at least five years and would also be more dangerous to land, rivers and freshwater springs that would be affected by tsunami waves caused by thermonuclear explosions. Tsunami waves of such height would in fact have the ability to travel for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers depending on the orography of the land and would distribute the polluted water on a very large surface making it uninhabitable for a time equal to the decay of cobalt-60 in nickel -60.

The launch vectors that the Russian navy would use to carry out an attack through the "Poseidons" are the nuclear submarines belonging to the "Antey class" ("Oscar II class" according to the NATO nomenclature) and those of the "Yasen class" (" Severodvinsk class "according to the NATO nomenclature) each of which can be equipped with 4 specimens of the" Poseidon ", which can be launched through torpedo tubes or can be hooked to the hull of the submarine.

It is news of these days that the first submarine of the "Antey class" specifically adapted to operate with the "Poseidon", the "K-329 Belgorod" (following photo) has completed the long process of operational tests and is ready to be delivered to Russian navy. It is very likely that in the next few years also the other 8 "Antey class" currently in service will be modified to use the "Poseidon", as will be the 10 "Yasen class" in progress. The technical features, the operational tangency and the ability to travel underwater make the "Poseidon" immune to all types of missile defense, laser weapons or rail guns that could be used to break down ballistic missiles and the only possible way to avoid an attack it would be, to date, to sink the "submarine mother" before it can be in the position to launch an attack.

As for the operational use of these torpedoes / drones, we can imagine that they would be launched in successive waves, with a part of the "Poseidons" destined to explode under the coast, destroying the ports and cities located along the coasts of the United States, so like the oil platforms located around the Gulf of Mexico, the fishing industries, the shipyards and the bases of the American navy. In addition to this, the first wave would also cause the dreaded anomalous waves whose effects have been described above.

The second wave would instead be directed against the submerged mountains of the so-called "Mid-Atlantic Dorsal" (a submarine mountain chain located in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean that exceeds the Himalayan mountains in height). The purpose of this move would be to cause such collapses to generate circular motions in the water which, expanding thanks to the distance and the normal rotary motion of the sea currents would generate tsunamis of such dimensions as to sweep across the eastern and southern parts of North America, from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains.

If such a scenario may at first sight seem bizarre and exaggerated, it is necessary to keep in mind that the 2004 earthquake that caused the tremendous tsunami in Southeast Asia responsible for the death of over 250.000 people had caused "only" 15 meters high waves and not 500 as the designers of the "Poseidon" have been repeating.

Assuming a concentric attack by some twenty Russian submarines lined up along the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of the United States, each equipped with 4 "Status-6" torpedoes / drones, we would get a total number of 80 weapons capable of releasing a total power of 8.000 megatons, equivalent to 25.120.000 times the combined energy of the "Bombs A" that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1.600 times the overall energy of all the conventional explosives used during the Second World War and 40 times the one given off by the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in the 1883.

Not only that, the characteristics of high autonomy and nuclear propulsion make this torpedo / done even a particularly “treacherous” weapon because it could be launched at maximum distance of 10.000 kilometers and travel at the very low speed of 37 kilometers per hour (at this speed the “Poseidon "It is simply impossible to identify because it would make very little" noise "and hit the target designated after days of launch thus guaranteeing the Russian navy the possession of a weapon with the remarkable operational flexibility.

Regarding the progress of the project, starting from the indiscretions released by the Pentagon, the weapon should currently be in an advanced state of testing on board the experimental submarine "B-90 Sarov", a unit modified to test the new armaments before they are deployed on naval units, and it is expected to become fully operational during the 2020 alongside the delivery of the "K-329 Belgorod".

In conclusion, the appearance of the "Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System - Poseidon" weapon system literally represents a milestone in the evolution of military technique comparable with the invention of gunpowder or the jet engine.

Although based on a project born in the Cold War period and relying on pre-existing technologies (thermonuclear bomb, torpedo technology), the Russians managed to create a weapon with destructive potential at the moment unsurpassable and, moreover, interacts with the environment using it as a power multiplier so as to also become a real "Environmental Bomb". Its real and deterrent potential is such that the "Poseidon" can be considered separately from the other "Strategic Weapons" in the world today and instead be placed in a new class of weapons that it itself inaugurated.

Photo: web / MoD Russian Fed