MOSCOW — The prying eyes of one Russian state TV cameraman on Tuesday revealed the existence of a new Russian unmanned submarine packed to the teeth with radioactive material and, possibly, a thermonuclear weapon of an unknown yield.
The weapon, known only as the “Oceanic Multipurpose System – Status 6,” was caught on camera by Russia’s state-owned Channel One broadcaster during a meeting held by President Vladimir Putin with his senior military and defense industry officials in Sochi on Tuesday.
Channel One and another major media outlet that caught a glimpse of a diagram of the weapon over the shoulders of a Russian officer present at the meeting edited the document out of their broadcasts, but not until after a first-run report was shared online.
Much of the document is unintelligible, the quality of the footage just isn’t high enough, but several key details were revealed about the project — possibly the same system reported on by The Washington Free Beacon last year, which unidentified Pentagon officials called “Kanyon.”
A description at the top of the document explains that Status-6 is designed to damage “important components of an adversary’s economy in a coastal area and inflict unacceptable damage to a country’s territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”
In other words, the Kremlin appears to have a massive underwater dirty-bomb in the works. Luckily, the document says the weapon — designed by the Rubin design bureau, which designed every Russian submarine in current service — won’t be ready until 2020.
A technical diagram shows what appears to be Status-6 mounted below the hull of the 155-meter-long Belgorod, a modified Oscar II-class nuclear-powered submarine converted by the Russian Navy for special tasks such as deep-sea rescue and research.
However, on Wednesday, Russian nuclear forces expert Pavel Podvig wrote on his Russian Forces blog that the vehicle attached to Belgorod in the document is not the dirty bomb drone, citing unidentified sources apparently familiar with the weapon. While the vehicle depicted below Belgorod is roughly one-third the size of the modified Oscar II-class boat, Podvig said Status 6 is likely much smaller, allowing three to six of the drones to be mounted on a mothership’s hull.
Also depicted as a potential carrier for Status-6 is the secretive Khabarovsk nuclear submarine, rumored to be a derivative of the new Yasen-class nuclear-powered attack sub, but is catalogued in Russia only as Project 09851.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday confirmed that the leak took place, and said state television reporters would be carefully monitored at future meetings to prevent this from happening again.
However, Maxim Shepovalenko, a former Russian naval expert who works at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), asserted that the leak was intentional and meant to send a message to the US.
“It’s a ‘remember me’ to the US from the late Andrei Sakharov,” he said, referring to a Soviet physicist who created the first Soviet nuclear weapon, and later became an outspoken dissident and anti-nuclear activist.
Status-6 resembles in concept Sakharov’s Strangelove-esque proposal to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushev in the 1950s to avoid diving into an arms race with the US by simply placing high-yield thermonuclear weapons along the US coast. If the bombs were ever detonated, they would cause a devastating tsunami reaching far inland.
This sort of assymetric nuclear response is telling of the lengths to which Russia under President Vladimir Putin may be willing to go to preserve the credibility of its nuclear deterrence in the face of two US programs that keep Russian defense planners awake at night — the ever-controversial US missile shield plans and Prompt Global Strike.
Indeed, in a move that appeared to be choreographed, state TV cameras swept over the Status-6 document as Putin delivered remarks promising that Russia would develop weapons capable of overwhelming any missile defenses on the planet.
This could have been a reference to Russia’s developmental Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, or it could have been Status-6. Either way, Russia’s nuclear saber rattling continues.