Russia Tests Nuclear-Powered Long Range Torpedo

Published Dec 26, 2018 4:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Christmas Day, the Russian Navy announced a new round of testing for its new nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine drone, the Poseidon. The experimental device has reportedly been fitted with a nuclear reactor but is being "carried" by a manned submarine for testing purposes. 

"In the sea area protected from a potential enemy’s reconnaissance means, the underwater trials of the nuclear propulsion unit of the Poseidon drone are underway," a Russian defense official told Russian state outlet TASS. 

The drone - previously known in Russia as the Status-6 and dubbed "Kanyon" by NATO - is effectively a long range, nuclear-armed torpedo. Its existence has been reported for years, and Russian President Vladimir Putin formally unveiled it during a state address in March. 

"We have developed unmanned submersible vehicles that can move at great depths (I would say extreme depths) intercontinentally, at a speed multiple times higher than the speed of submarines, cutting-edge torpedoes and all kinds of surface vessels," Putin said in his speech. "They are quiet, highly maneuverable and have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit."

Officially, the Poseidon is designed to deliver a two-megaton nuclear weapon to a naval base or to a carrier strike group at sea. Defense analysts suggest that it could be capable of carrying a much larger device. It poses a twofold threat: the tsunami from a subsurface nuclear blast would be physically destructive, and the water displaced by the explosion would contaminate nearby objects with long-lasting radioactivity, as discovered by the U.S. Navy during Operation Crossroads

Nuclear flight

The miniaturized nuclear propulsion system used in Poseidon is reportedly shared with Russia's experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile, the Burevestnik. This intercontinental, nuclear-capable prototype is designed for air-to-ground and anti-ship applications, and it is intended to make globe-spanning maneuvers to exploit gaps in air-defense systems. 

The U.S. Air Force explored the concept of a similar nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile in the 1960s under the code name "Project Pluto." The device's unlimited supersonic range was attractive to military planners, and propulsion testing proved that the concept was viable. However, it was ultimately abandoned due to the extreme levels of radiation emitted by its engine.