Rus­sian drone sub would threaten U.S. coast

Nu­clear ves­sel in de­vel­op­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BILL GERTZ

Rus­sia is build­ing a drone sub­ma­rine de­signed to launch nu­clear weapons against U.S. har­bors and coastal cities, ac­cord­ing to Pen­tagon of­fi­cials.

The de­vel­op­men­tal un­manned un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cle, or UUV, when de­ployed, will be equipped with mega­ton-class war­heads ca­pa­ble of blow­ing up key ports used by U.S. nu­clear mis­sile sub­marines, such as Kings Bay, Ge­or­gia, and Puget Sound in Washington state.

De­tails of the se­cret Rus­sian nu­clear UUV pro­gram re­main closely held within the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

The Pen­tagon, how­ever, has code-named the drone “Kanyon,” an in­di­ca­tion that the weapon is a struc­tured Rus­sian arms pro­gram.

The drone sub­ma­rine is fur­ther ev­i­dence of what of­fi­cials say is an ag­gres­sive strate­gic nu­clear forces mod­ern­iza­tion un­der Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. The build­ing is tak­ing place as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to re­duce the role of nu­clear arms in U.S. de­fenses and to rely on a smaller nu­clear force for deter­rence.

Of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with de­tails of the Kanyon pro­gram said the weapon is en­vi­sioned as an au­ton­o­mous sub­ma­rine strike ve­hi­cle armed with a nu­clear war­head rang­ing in size to “tens” of mega­tons, one mega­ton alone hav­ing a de­struc­tive power dozens of times that of the Hiroshima and Na­gasaki atomic bombs.

On mis­siles, mega­ton war­heads are called “city busters” de­signed to de­stroy en­tire metropoli­tan ar­eas or to blast buried tar­gets.

An un­der­wa­ter mega­ton-class drone weapon would be used to knock out har­bors and coastal re­gions, the of­fi­cials said, de­clin­ing to be named due to the sen­si­tiv­ity of the in­for­ma­tion.

“This is an un­manned sub that will have a high-speed and long-dis­tance ca­pa­bil­ity,” said one of­fi­cial, who noted that the drone de­vel­op­ment is years away from a pro­to­type and test­ing.

Rus­sian nu­clear buildup

The Kanyon ap­pears to be part of a Rus­sian strate­gic mod­ern­iza­tion ef­fort that seeks to give Moscow the abil­ity to co­erce the U.S. It is also ex­pected to com­pli­cate the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempts to seek fur­ther re­duc­tions in U.S. and Rus­sian nu­clear forces af­ter the 2010 New START arms treaty.

New arms cuts were de­railed af­ter Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and con­tin­u­ing desta­bi­liza­tion of eastern Ukraine, as well as by Moscow’s fail­ure to re­turn to com­pli­ance with the 1987 In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nu­clear Forces Treaty.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to con­sider Rus­sia a re­spon­si­ble party when it’s de­vel­op­ing some­thing like this,” the of­fi­cial said.

Another of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the pro­gram said that the Kanyon will be a large nu­cle­ar­pow­ered au­ton­o­mous sub­ma­rine. This of­fi­cial said the size of its nu­clear war­head is not clear.

Rus­sian lead­ers an­nounced a new mar­itime strat­egy in July that pro­vided hints about the new drone sub. The doc­trine calls for de­vel­op­ing in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies, in­clud­ing un­manned un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cles, IHS Jane’s 360 re­ported last month.

Lt. Col. Michelle Bal­danza, a Pen­tagon spokes­woman, de­clined to com­ment on the nu­clear-armed un­der­wa­ter drone.

The Pen­tagon said last week that it is closely watch­ing a Rus­sian mil­i­tary re­search ship that sailed along the east coast of the U.S. The ship, a re­search ves­sel called the Yan­tar, was en­gaged in un­der­wa­ter re­con­nais­sance, gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence that could be used to sup­port a weapon sys­tem like the nu­clear UUV.

While the United States cur­rently has no sim­i­lar plans for a mega­ton-class un­der­wa­ter nu­clear strike ve­hi­cle, the Navy is de­vel­op­ing a range of UUVs, in­clud­ing a weapon­scar­ry­ing drone.

The Pen­tagon is in the process of re­tir­ing all of its mega­ton weapons. The stock­pile of 9-mega­ton B53 bunker-buster bombs were dis­man­tled sev­eral years ago, and the 1.2 mega­ton-B83 will be re­tired af­ter the up­graded B61 bomb is de­ployed.

Rus­sia’s ar­se­nal of mega­ton war­heads and bombs in­cludes an es­ti­mated five SS18s armed with 20-mega­ton war­heads and pre­vi­ously de­ployed 5-mega­ton war­heads on SS-19s.

Goal: Cat­a­strophic dam­age

“The Kanyon rep­re­sents another ex­am­ple of Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sive and in­no­va­tive ap­proach to the de­vel­op­ment of mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties against U.S. and Western in­ter­ests,” said Jack Car­avelli, a for­mer CIA an­a­lyst who spe­cial­ized in Soviet and Rus­sian af­fairs.

“The pos­si­ble yield of the war­head, in the mega­ton class, clearly is an at­tempt to in­flict cat­a­strophic dam­age against U.S. or Euro­pean naval fa­cil­i­ties or coastal cities,” he added. “Na­tions vote with their re­sources, and the Kanyon, along with an ex­pand­ing num­ber of other mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion pro­grams, in­di­cates the pri­or­ity Vladimir Putin places on mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness against the West.”

Mark Sch­nei­der, a for­mer Pen­tagon nu­clear pol­i­cy­maker, said Rus­sian staterun media have an­nounced plans for UUV de­vel­op­ment.

“In 2014, Putin stated that there were undis­closed strate­gic nu­clear mod­ern­iza­tion pro­grams that would be made public at the ap­pro­pri­ate time,” Mr. Sch­nei­der said.

A Rus­sian weapons engi­neer told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency in June that UUVs are be­ing de­vel­oped.

“Our in­sti­tute al­ready con­cluded a num­ber of new de­vel­op­ments in the sphere of com­mand sys­tems au­to­ma­tion … [in­clud­ing] re­motely-op­er­ated, un­manned sea-based un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cles. We hope that these de­vel­op­ments will be ap­plied for de­sign­ing of a new de­stroyer ves­sel,” said Lev Kly­achko, di­rec­tor of the Rus­sian Cen­tral Re­search In­sti­tute.

Moscow nu­clear threats wor­ry­ing

Robert Kehler, who re­tired two years ago as com­man­der of the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand, said de­vel­op­ment of a ro­bot un­der­wa­ter nu­clear strike ve­hi­cle could be part of what he termed a “trou­bling” Rus­sian strate­gic nu­clear buildup.

“Over­all, we were watch­ing the Rus­sian nu­clear mod­ern­iza­tion ef­fort very care­fully,” Mr. Kehler said in an in­ter­view. “And that ef­fort was fi­nally start­ing to put forces in the field.”

Mr. Kehler said he was not “par­tic­u­larly both­ered” by the Rus­sian nu­clear buildup as long as Moscow stays within the lim­its of the New START arms treaty. The treaty lim­its the U.S. and Rus­sia to 700 strate­gic mis­siles and bombers and a to­tal of 1,550 de­ployed strate­gic war­heads. The re­tired four-star Air Force gen­eral said he was un­aware of the Kanyon drone pro­gram.

How­ever, re­cent threats and bel­liger­ent state­ments by Rus­sian lead­ers about us­ing nu­clear weapons are com­pound­ing con­cerns about Moscow’s arms buildup.

“That was dis­turb­ing as well, their rhetoric,” Mr. Kehler said. “Again, that said some­thing about how nu­clear weapons fit in their na­tional se­cu­rity. From their per­spec­tive, they’re say­ing, ‘We still need these weapons.’”

Mr. Putin has stated pub­licly that he is will­ing to use Rus­sia’s nu­clear forces in re­sponse to Western op­po­si­tion to the mil­i­tary an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Based on Soviet nu­clear tor­pedo

Nor­man Pol­mar, a naval an­a­lyst and au­thor, said the Kanyon could be based on a Soviet-era nu­clear tor­pedo dis­closed in his 2003 book, “Cold War Sub­marines.”

Both the Rus­sian navy and its Soviet pre­de­ces­sor, have been in­no­va­tors of un­der­sea sys­tems and weapons. “These ef­forts have in­cluded the world’s most ad­vanced tor­pe­does,” Mr. Pol­mar said. “Early in the nu­clear age, the Sovi­ets be­gan de­vel­op­ment of a mas­sive tor­pedo for at­tack­ing coastal cities and ports.”

The T-15 tor­pedo was about 75 feet long and was ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a high-yield ther­monu­clear war­head some 15 miles un­der­wa­ter, some­thing Mr. Pol­mar called “a truly in­no­va­tive con­cept.”

Navy Sec­re­tary Ray May­bus said in a speech in April that un­manned sys­tems are a high pri­or­ity for fu­ture Navy weapons.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.