With almost an unlimited range, the Poseidon would speed toward targets on America’s coastline, exploding a 2-megaton warhead next to them.
The Poseidon will be launched from a class of specialized submarines.
Russia’s intimidating nuclear-powered torpedo is running toward new key tests this year, with a planned deployment for later this decade. The “tsunami apocalypse torpedo,” the first of its kind, is designed to travel across the world’s oceans to deliver a knockout thermonuclear blow against a coastal target or city.
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Russian state television accidentally leaked the existence of the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo, originally named Status-6, in 2015. A Russian Ministry of Defense document showed the weapon and described it as achieving:
“[T]he defeat of the important economic facilities of the enemy in the vicinity of the coast and causing assured unacceptable damage to the country through the establishment of zones of extensive radioactive contamination, unsuitable for implementation in these areas of military, economic, business or other activity for a long time.”
Initial leaks described the nuclear-powered Poseidon as a giant torpedo—or a large uncrewed submarine, take your pick—that measures 6.5 feet wide and 65 feet long and travels at speed of up to 70 knots. Nuclear power also gives the torpedo plenty of range, and experts believe the Poseidon can travel across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on its own to deliver its payload. The torpedo’s high speed will make it difficult for U.S. forces to intercept.
Early reports also suggested the Poseidon carried a 100-megaton thermonuclear warhead, which would pack twice the punch of Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. When detonated near an enemy coastline, such a large warhead would inundate a coastal city or enemy port with a radioactive tsunami, contaminating the area and rendering it uninhabitable for decades to come.
Recent estimates, however, have revised Poseidon’s payload down to a (relatively) paltry 2 megatons. That may not trigger a radioactive tsunami, but it’s still powerful enough to do serious damage to a coastal target. Two megatons is the equivalent of 2,000 kilotons, while the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a mere 15 kilotons. (A kiloton is the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT.)
Western officials are reportedly concerned about the Poseidon, per CNN, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked his defense minister for an update on the weapon’s recent “key stage” tests. According to Russian state media, the Poseidon will undergo further testing later this year.
Russia is reportedly building 30 Poseidon torpedoes, and will deploy them on four specially fitted submarines. Two submarines will reportedly serve with the Atlantic-facing Northern Fleet, while two others will serve with the Pacific Fleet. Each Belgorod-class submarine will carry six Poseidon torpedoes. Russia could also deploy the torpedoes in special capsules, where they would be activated remotely.
Russia launched the first Belgorod-class sub in 2019, and is preparing to launch another this year. In February, a commercial imaging satellite detected the sub at the port of Severodinsk, with its bow-mounted Poseidon launch tubes wide open.
While critics initially derided the Poseidon as a myth or a bluff, it’s clear now that Russia is deadly serious about putting this apocalyptic weapon into action. But will the country ultimately build 30 torpedoes and the four subs needed to carry them? That’s a good question.
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