Is Russia building an underwater drone to deliver a dirty bomb?
Is Russia trying to develop a weapon straight out of the classic Cold War era movie Dr. Strangelove? A secret military document leaked on Russian TV this month revealed plans for a long-distance underwater drone carrying a nuclear bomb designed to dump high levels of radioactive contamination onshore.
Weapons experts suspect the leak was deliberate – and aimed at US efforts to develop missile defenses, something Russia has been worried about for years. On the basis of this leak, it is not possible to determine whether Russia is developing the system, or merely threatening to, never mind whether it can build one as ambitious as the specs suggest.
But the experts are alarmed that Russia’s highest command is even talking about such a weapon – and, apparently, letting us know about it. They say it is high time the US addressed Russian fears that missile defense will upend the nuclear balance.
“If it’s a deliberate leak, it’s extraordinarily provocative,” says Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association in Washington DC. “I am deeply concerned about who is in charge and whether they have any sense of restraint.”
On 9 November, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with generals to discuss the defense industry and a report of the meeting ran on Russian television network NTV. At 1:45 minutes, the camera lingers on one general’s briefing book, which details an underwater drone called Status-6, due for delivery in 2025 by the Rubin submarine design bureau in St. Petersburg.
Pavel Podvig of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University says it describes a submarine-launched, nuclear-powered drone that could travel under remote control up to 10,000 kilometers, enter harbors undetected, and detonate its payload – a megaton thermonuclear device.