The Buzz

Status-6: What Russia Is Saying About Its 100-Megaton Nuclear Torpedo

The “collateral damage” of the Russia investigation becomes ever more apparent. From the breakdown of American institutional norms between the executive and the legislature, to increasing distrust regarding the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus to regional crises, for example in Syria, that seem to spin increasingly out of control, the probe has brought both U.S. domestic and foreign policy making to a the point of crisis. Yet these calamities, which are largely advantageous to newspaper subscriptions and cable news ratings, may mask a deeper and more fundamental threat: the accelerating pace of a nuclear arms race [гонка ядерных вооружений] between Moscow and Washington.

Even during the relatively halcyon days of the 1990s, the Kremlin still kept its finger on the nuclear trigger, in part due to the perceived weakness of its conventional forces but also as a reaction to NATO’s new interest in “out of area” missions. The successive waves of NATO expansion that began in 1999 had the predictable effect of significantly exaggerating strategic tensions and ballistic missile defense programs made an already touchy situation worse. Thus, even as the Obama administration first talked about a “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations, the Kremlin was already starting to implement a major overhaul of its nuclear forces. However, the dam was completely broken by the Ukraine crisis beginning in spring 2014. The Cold War has returned in force with the full flowering of the Russia investigation that shows few signs of easing its “death grip” on Washington, DC and U.S.-Russia relations specifically. The multitudes of Russia hawks on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the Beltway, now more strident on the Left than the Right, may count the truly grotesque Status-6 Russian naval, mega-nuclear weapon as the fruit of their bellicose ravings.

This “megaton-class nuclear weapon” [ядерное оружие мегатонного класса], as described by one Russian source, is delivered by an unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) and has the potential to exterminate a significant portion of the U.S. population in a single doomsday blow if deployed against the East Coast of the United States. This source explains: the Status-6 UUV is “designed to defeat important enemy economic facilities in the region of the coast and to inflict guaranteed unacceptable damage to the country's territory by creating zones of extensive radioactive contamination unsuitable for carrying out military, economic and other activities in these zones for a long time.” [предназначен для поражение важных объектов экономики противника в районе побережья и нанесение гарантированного неприемлемого ущерба территории страны путем создания зон обширного радиоактивного заражения, непригодных для осуществления в этих зонах военной, хозяйственно-экономической и иной деятельности в течение длительного времени]. For good measure, it is additionally explained that the weapon can also be used to destroy naval bases or aircraft carrier battle groups. This edition of Bear Cave takes makes a brief examination of what Russian commentators are actually saying about Status-6.

First, however, it should be said that TNI has carried several articles that provide a good analysis of this new weapons system, including in particular, a fine exploratory piece by Dave Majumdar. He quotes CSBA undersea warfare expert Bryan Clark explaining that the system is far from an ideal weapon and may face real technical hurdles since a one-hundred megaton weapon could be exceedingly heavy and thus “difficult to control.” Monterey nuclear weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis is quoted reassuringly as saying: “I think we could build defenses against it … It should be easier than intercepting a missile, for sure.” To state the obvious at the outset: this Russian system’s main advantage is that it bypasses missile defenses altogether. Needless to say, it is a grave symptom of the new and continuously accelerating Cold War.