Thursday, March 01, 2018

Underwater Nuclear Drones and the New Arms Race

Vladimir Putin unveiled new nuclear weapons at his state-of-the-nation speech this morning, March 1st. Putin claims that these new weapons increase Russia's current military capability, increasing the gap between Russia and the West in nuclear capability. What weapons were released that created this much uproar? Putin unveiled a new nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone, and a hyper-sonic missile. These new weapons, Putin boasts, would render US missile defense worthless.

The nuclear-powered cruise missile will have an effectively infinite range and be invulnerable to missile defense systems. They do not utilize traditional ballistic missile flight paths. Although it seems borderline science fiction, Putin claims that this new missile has a nuclear powered plant that can be installed inside the hull of a cruise missile, thus ensuring virtually unlimited flight paths. Additionally, these missiles have the capability to be low-flying and low-visible, which would bypass the missile defense systems currently in place by the US.

In addition to the nuclear-powered cruise missile, the Russian's have developed an underwater nuclear drone, which the Army has confirmed. The torpedoes launched from the drone are intercontinental, with a range of 6,200 miles, and are reported to be a 100 megaton warhead. The drone was named Status-6. Status-6 has the ability to travel 56 knots and descend up to depths of 3,280 feet below sea level. Plans, shown below, confirmed all of the capabilities that Putin boasted about during his speech.

The last weapon Putin revealed that brings science fiction to reality was the hyper-sonic cruise missile, dubbed Kinzhal. Its speed allows for delivery to a target that would have taken hours in minutes. Kinzhal exceeds the speed of sound by a factor of 10 and can travel a distance of upwards of 2,000km. The capabilities of each of these weapons were shown in videos during his speech. 

The US can put a nuclear warhead on a tomahawk missile, however, we do not have the capabilities to install a nuclear plant inside of a missile. As for the underwater drone, the US has the ability to recreate the Russian weapon but has not yet. The US conducted a test of a hyper-sonic missile in early November of last year, however, hyper-sonic missiles are by no means ready to launch yet. 

Because of the lack of a US counterpart to these new Russian nuclear weapons, the US most definitely will want to develop weapons of equal or greater capability. Due to this historical competitive urge to boost weapons supplies, many fear a new 21st century arms race against a modern Russia which could devastate coffers and lead us to the nuclear brink. 

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