Key point: Moscow wants to keep its nuclear deterrence up, but this is another level.
For decades, submarine nuclear deterrence has been uniquely provided by the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), designed to loft missiles from beneath the waves into space before releasing multiple nuclear warheads that rain hellfire on cities and military bases below. SSBNs can remain submerged basically indefinitely thanks to their nuclear reactors, and are thus unlikely to be all hunted down prior to launch orders being issued.
However, while Russia is planning to fully replace its older SSBNs with eight ultra-quiet Borei-class boats (detailed in a companion article), it is embarking on a radical new direction by also ordering four Khabarovsk-class nuclear-powered submarine drone-torpedo carriers, or SSDNs.
The Poseidon drone torpedo, also codenamed Status-6 by Russia and Kanyon by NATO, was for years the subject of rumor and skepticism, seeming too fantastical to be real. But by 2016, Pentagon reports confirmed the torpedo’s existence, and in March 2018 Putin publicly unveiled a 3D-animated video showing Poseidon attacking a city and a carrier task force. Later, real-life footage of a Poseidon being launched was released as well.
No Western source has better documented and collected imagery of Poseidon and its launch platforms than naval analyst H.I. Sutton, whose years of open-source research substantially informed this piece.
By now, two submarines appear to have been built specifically to launch the Poseidon, starting with the Sarov, an experimental diesel-electric submarine with a small nuclear-reactor dedicated to charging its batteries.