Russia’s devastatingly powerful Poseidon drone sub, formerly known as the Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6, was once thought to be nothing more than propaganda-fueled legend. Last year, American intelligence services drew headlines the world over when they confirmed the weapon was indeed real. This week, Russia released the first-ever footage of the weapon being “field tested.”
The Poseidon is a weapon one might expect to find in the volcano lair of a Bond villain, not serving in a national navy. It’s a drone submarine equipped with nuclear propulsion for thousands of miles worth of range and carrying a nuclear weapon with double the destructive yield of the even the most powerful nuclear warhead ever detonated in history. Russia’s need to remain at the forefront of perceptions regarding defense technology has created a unique environment for weapons development within Russian borders. That runs from nuclear-powered cruise missiles and autonomous infantry robots to more legitimate (seeming) endeavors like the nation’s stealth fighter, the Su-57.
The Poseidon could arguably be called a submersible drone or a time-delay torpedo, depending on how you prefer to classify it. Measuring about six feet in diameter and 65 feet long, the weapon was built to be deployed by a submerged submarine, where it could then traverse thousands of miles to target locations within prominent American ports or even deep beneath American carrier groups in the open ocean.
Once detonated, the Poseidon’s devastation would be entirely unlike that of America’s atomic bomb strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Its 100-megaton yield is approximately 15,000 times more powerful than the bomb detonated over Hiroshima, and the ensuing tsunami of irradiated water could wreak havoc for hundreds of miles inland. A Poseidon detonated in New York Harbor would potentially represent the largest loss of life in a single attack ever recorded in human history.
The weapon’s destructive capacity, however, was not on display in the video the Kremlin released, and it likely never will be. Russia has little need to prove to itself or anyone else that it’s capable of building nuclear weapons. In reality, the footage shows what could be called a “dramatic enactment” of what a Poseidon launch might look like, with a crew responding to an alarm and deploying the weapon from what appears to be a submarine. The Kremlin has acknowledged, however, the launch shown in the footage was actually from a storage container modified to provide a comparable launch apparatus for testing purposes.
While it does stand to reason the Poseidon may not actually be as capable or as mature a technology as Russia claims, the truth is, neither actually matters. Nuclear weapons of all sorts are more strategic than tactical. The Poseidon offers Russia a looming and largely undetectable threat it can rely on when asserting diplomatic pressure. An attack from such a weapon would prompt the same nuclear response as an ICBM or any other nuclear strike, spelling the end of both Russia and the United States–and potentially, the world.
What matters most to Russian leaders is making sure the world sees them carrying a big nuclear stick, and the Poseidon certainly fits the bill.