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Doubts on the “usability” of Russia’s Submarines Armed with Nuclear Drone-Torpedoes

Russia Plans to Build Four Submarines Armed with Nuclear Drone-Torpedoes, Should America be worried?  National Interest, by Sebastien Roblin  30 June 19, “………  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 is the largest torpedo ever built, measuring approximately twenty-four meters long and 1.6-meters in diameter. Using a tiny nuclear reactor to power a pump-jet propulsion system, the Poseidon can traverse thousands of miles across oceans, autonomously navigating around obstacles and evading interception. U.S. intelligence estimates the Poseidon will complete testing by 2025 and enter operational service in 2027.

There remain large question-marks on the Poseidon’s exact capabilities and its operational concept.The Poseidon has been claimed to be capable of blistering-fast speeds of 100 knots, acoustic stealth, and diving as deep as 1,000 meters.

Of these claims, Poseidon’s low operating depth is considered most credible. By itself, this would render interception extremely difficult with current technology. For comparison, U.S. attack submarines (officially) operate down to 240 meters and travel up to 30 knots. Their Mark 48 torpedoes can accelerate to 55 knots and are not rated for much deeper than 800 meters………

Another lingering question is just how autonomous is the Poseidon? The term “drone” implies remote command mechanisms, which are usually desirable in a strategic weapons system. However, a torpedo swimming at the bottom of the seafloor is unlikely to be able to maintain continuous communication links, and will likely advance upon targets with a high degree of autonomy.
What’s the Poseidon even for?
What do Khabarovsk-class SSDNs do for Russia that its existing SSBNs can’t do better? After all, ballistic missiles could hit the United States in a half-hour while drone torpedoes might require days to reach their targets across the ocean.

In an email in 2018, Kofman wrote me that the Poseidon amounted to a “third-strike” revenge weapon, guaranteeing annihilation of an adversary’s coastal cities, even should Russia’s own nuclear forces be annihilated in a first strike.

Moscow may perceive the Poseidon as a counter to U.S. ballistic-missile defense. Simple math suffices to point out that the roughly fifty-ish GMD ballistic missile interceptors deployed by the United States could not stop Russia’s stockpile of 1,500 nuclear missiles, but Kofman wrote that Russia might fear a precise U.S. first strike could wipe out enough of Russia’s nukes that the survivors left for the second strike could be “mopped up” by mature ABM weapons.
Defending against Poseidon would require an expensive, expanded sea-bed surveillance system and new anti-submarine weapons capable of intercepting such a deep and fast target. …….

While the Poseidon doesn’t fundamentally alter the balance of power, nor the horrifying destructiveness of nuclear war, it does show that humanity is inclined to continue devising ingenious but largely redundant new weapons of mass destruction.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

July 1, 2019 - Posted by | Russia, weapons and war

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