Putin has spoken softly, but he’s carrying a big stick.
During his State of the Nation address on March 1, Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia had developed six new weapons. For Putin’s descriptions of the weapons and more details about them, please read the above-linked article by Alexander Mercouris, which was posted on SLL.
Four of the six weapons Putin mentioned are, if Putin is to be believed, already developed: the Sarmat heavy Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), a nuclear powered cruise missile, a nuclear powered underwater drone, and an aircraft launched Kinzhai hypersonic missile. They are breathtaking for their speed, range, maneuverability, undetectability, and miniaturization of nuclear reactor technology. The other two, the Avangard hypersonic projectile and laser weapons (which Putin only cryptically mentioned), are believed to be still under development.
Hypersonic means a minimum of at least 5 times the speed of sound (Mach 1 or 741 mph, Mach 5 is 3705 mph). Putin claimed the Kinzhai hypersonic missile travels at Mach 10 (7410 mph). The Avangard hypersonic projectile may hit Mach 20 (14020 mph). Intercepting missiles traveling at supersonic speeds (Mach 1 to Mach 5) has proven difficult enough. Even in the limited, controlled tests that have been conducted, present technology has not been 100 percent effective. Presumably, in real world situations they would be even less effective. The difficulties of intercepting weapons traveling at hypersonic speeds are obvious and daunting.
Compounding those difficulties are the weapons’ range and maneuverability. The Sarmat ICBM is believed to have range of at least 10,500 miles (Putin said it has “practically no range restrictions”) and can attack targets via either the North or South Pole (US missile defenses are oriented towards the North Pole). It is able to constantly maneuver at a speed of what is believed to be Mach 5 or Mach 6, and to carry 15 warheads with yields estimated at 150 to 300 kilotons (the Nagasaki atomic bomb had a yield of 23 kilotons).
Powering cruise missiles and underwater drones (both of which can carry nuclear warheads) with miniature nuclear reactors gives them virtually unlimited range. Putin claimed the Kinzhai missile, “can also manoeuvre at all phases of its flight trajectory, which also allows it to overcome all existing and, I think, prospective anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence systems.”
The underwater drone deserves special mention. Here’s Putin’s summary.
Now, we all know that the design and development of unmanned weapon systems is another common trend in the world. As concerns Russia, 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, including some of the fastest. It is really fantastic. They are quiet, highly manoeuvrable and have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit. There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them.
Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.
In December 2017, an innovative nuclear power unit for this unmanned underwater vehicle completed a test cycle that lasted many years. The nuclear power unit is unique for its small size while offering an amazing power-weight ratio. It is a hundred times smaller than the units that power modern submarines, but is still more powerful and can switch into combat mode, that is to say, reach maximum capacity, 200 times faster. The tests that were conducted enabled us to begin developing a new type of strategic weapon that would carry massive nuclear ordnance.
Putin, State of the Nation Address
According to Mercouris, the “massive nuclear ordnance” could create a tsunami wave 500 meters tall, which would radioactively contaminate a large swath of any coastal area where it was detonated. Equipped with conventional warheads, the underwater drone renders aircraft carriers (which cost $13 billion apiece, the US has 14 on order), and perhaps submarines, obsolete.
You can call a bluff if you can take the loss if you’re wrong. Some policymakers and media are saying Putin’s bluffing, but acting accordingly would be gambling with the security of the American people. The US can’t afford to be wrong.
Putin said the new weapons were defensive and retaliatory, but their potential offensive capabilities are obvious. He offered talks and negotiations. That should be explored, but sanguinely accepting his assurances that his weapon’s are purely defensive would be psychotically suicidal. The only rational course is to assume that he is, as he said in his speech, not bluffing, and further, that these weapons could be used offensively.
!n 1949, the Soviet Union’s unexpected atomic bomb detonation necessitated the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD): any offensive use of nuclear weaponry would be met with retaliatory nuclear strikes that would destroy the attacking side. That was the cornerstone of both countries’ nuclear policy, enshrined in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. The ABM Treaty banned defensive missile systems that might have given one side the ability to attack, then stop the other’s incoming nuclear missiles and consequently, their ability to retaliate against that offensive strike with assured destruction.
The US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002. This was reportedly the impetus for Russia’s decision to develop the weapons that have, according to Putin, rendered US missile defense systems “useless.” George Bush and Dick Cheney thought American military and economic “superiority” would bury Russia. They were disastrously wrong. It’s too bad there are no pictures equivalent to Bush landing on the aircraft carrier with the Mission Accomplished banner to commemorate this folly, which far surpasses his Iraq misadventures.
Russia has discredited the last several decades of US foreign and military policy. With a defense budget about 10 percent of the US’s, the Russians now have developed weapons for which we have no defense (unless the US has already developed an undisclosed defense, which is unlikely). This of course puts to rest the insane idea, floated recently in some neoconservative circles, of a “winnable” nuclear war with Russia. It also junks the concept touted in the recent Nuclear Posture Review of lowering the threshold for which the US will use nuclear weapons.
That 10 percent number brings into sharp relief just how much money the US has squandered on the military. Since the turn of the century Russia has pursued an essentially defensive military policy and used its limited resources to develop these sophisticated new weapons. The US has wasted many trillions of dollars making war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and other remote and irrelevant-to-the-defense-of-the-US plots of third world real estate.
One trillion dollars would fund Russian military spending at current levels for about 14 years. The recent increase in the US defense budget is greater than Russia’s annual spending. Yet they have the weapons that are only “under development” in the US. No doubt when the US finally develops them, their price tag will be many times what the Russians have paid. It’s a good bet the Chinese—the US’s other geopolitical competitor and Russia’ ally—will also have them before the US does. But here’s a nifty idea. While we’re waiting on the president, Congress, the Department of Defense and its contractors to play catch up, why not attack Iran…or North Korea?
Maintaining its faltering empire, the US spends billions each year on an estimated 800 bases in over 150 countries. The profligacy is such that precise numbers for spending, the number of bases, and the countries in which they are located are publicly unavailable, although such information surely resides in the bowels of the Pentagon somewhere.
Waste in the military-industrial-intelligence complex is legendary, rivaled only by waste in the welfare-education-medical-pensions complex. The Pentagon has never been audited, undoubtedly because of what any competent team of auditors would uncover. Putin (and the Chinese) must be hoping that the US warfare-welfare state falls later rather than sooner, continuing its massive drain on American resources.
These weapons put yet another nail in the Russia collusion fabrication. With this kind of arsenal, why would Putin care one whit who’s president of the United States? He’s been more than happy to let Americans waste their time, money, and energy on trivialities, internal bickering, and useless foreign wars. Meanwhile, he has overseen a Russian leapfrog of the US’s military capabilities and assuredly made the price of any attack on Russia the attacker’s complete destruction.
The question of whether the US political system can rise to Putin’s challenge just about answers itself.