Angle down icon An icon in the shape of an angle pointing down. Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen prior to driving to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland aboard of C-Explorer 3.11 Submersible on July 27, 2019 in Moscow, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images Russia may be preparing a test of its nuclear-powered Poseidon torpedo, CNN reported Thursday. A US official told the outlet that Russian vessels were seen in an Arctic Sea testing area. The Poseidon torpedo was unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018.
Russian efforts to test a one-of-a-kind nuclear-powered torpedo prototype may have hit a snag, a US official told CNN on Thursday.
Unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, the self-propelled torpedo, or unmanned underwater vehicle, is claimed to have an unlimited range and the ability to carry a nuclear warhead up to 125 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to Popular Mechanics.
“Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications, and infrastructure,” Putin said at the time, claiming it was invulnerable to counter-measures. “There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them.”
All types of torpedoes are essentially unstoppable. But they are limited by the range and speed challenges of moving a heavy object through water, which is much higher friction than air. Russia’s claims to use nuclear power to propel Poseidon potentially solve this in an unprecedented way — if it actually works. There are no yet signs that it does, however, and a US official told CNN it appears Russia is having trouble even trying to see if it does.
In 2019, Russia’s defense ministry released a video appearing to show an underwater test of the system, which some have labeled a “doomsday” device because of its huge potential payload and theoretical ability to generate a radioactive tsunami that could sweep across coastal cities.
Indeed, Russia’s attempts to build a similar, nuclear-powered missile have so far failed and caused an August 2019 blast that killed at least five Russian engineers.
The latest, apparent effort to test the torpedo comes during a time of heightened concern over nuclear weapons, with Russia’s president having threatened their use in an effort to scare off Western support for Ukraine.
According to CNN, however, the effort to test the torpedo in open water may have encountered technical difficulties, with the submarines capable of carrying it having been seen returning to port — a fact that one Western diplomat attributed to the Russian military “going through difficult times” thanks to the strain of sanctions and the war in Ukraine.
Some are skeptical the Poseidon torpedo will ever work, believing it impossible to reliably fit a working nuclear reactor into something the size of a cruise missile. No country has yet to successfully develop such a weapon.
Cheryl Rofer, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has suggested the Poseidon is a “boondoggle,” possibly intended to goad the US into trying to develop a similar (and costly) system of its own.
“The military has to take the possibility of these weapons seriously, but it’s clear that they are far from operational,” she wrote in 2021. “And I’m willing to bet they never will be.”
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