Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Putin Into Port

Today we have a guest post from a reader and frequent comment contributor.  Benjamin W. Oliver, B.Eng., is a British engineer with a slant on defense.  He currently works in Research and Development.

So….. I’m sure we have all now seen this:

The new Status-6 , "devastating" torpedo system. According to the document it will create "wide areas of radioactive contamination".

This apparent leak went out on Russian television, but the West didn’t notice. So the withdrawal went out again a few days later, and this time it managed to make the news! (1)

So why are the Russians doing this and what does it mean to NATO?

The pictured document conveniently shot over the shoulder of a military official gives intimate details of the weapon system with colour pictures. 10,000 km range, 1000 metre depth and 100 knots maximum speed. The device is designed to avoid any conventional countermeasure and have a warhead bigger than any we have seen yet.


General opinion is of course that this is disinformation. And that’s probably putting it politely. Whether aimed intentionally at the Russian public to assure them Russia is still winning the arms race that ended with the collapse of the USSR, or for the consumption of the West, it is hard to say.

However given that it had to be “leaked” twice just so that Western media would actually pick it up, it tends to indicate that to some extent it is for our eyes.

Now with the advancements in anti-ballistic missile defences and the treaties on the proliferation of nuclear armed cruise missiles, Russia may be feeling on the back foot. MAD. after all relies on all parties being assured of everyone’s mutual destruction. Since we have been developing all kinds of defences, have we thrown out the balance of power in Russia’s eyes?

Putin may have been left thinking how CAN I create a sense of believable capable nuclear Armageddon?

We need a totally unstoppable weapon!

As we know any ICBM launch can and will be instantly tracked, cruise missiles, more difficult when sub launched, but they make a good radar track once within range of your air defence umbrella, and are not what you would call the “unstoppable delivery system” fabled in years gone by.

But what if …

An underwater ICBM?

So what does this mean? I think we can all ponder the obvious “Pearl Harbour” scenario. But you’re bored of that by now, right? Endlessly quoted, re-lived, reinvented, argued over ad nauseam. Yawn!

Welcome to Faslane;

The UK’s main submarine base, and home to the Vanguard class of SSBN. Just outside we find Coulport the trident weapons storage facility and the arming facility for the Vanguard class ballistic missile subs.

What if our Status-6 were to go off there, just as a Vanguard was arming, or indeed disarming, who is going to know what happened?

What capability do we have to track the weapon at all, or at any distance? So who do we retaliate against? The investigation is going to be somewhat hampered due to the glassy nature of the surrounding countryside.

Now nuclear torpedoes aren’t new I hear you cry! Famously back in the Cuban missile crisis the USSR deployed subs with relatively short range nuke torpedoes. I hear you shout down the IP pipeline.

Our policy on all subsurface launched torpedoes has always been to concentrate on the launching platform rather than the weapons.

And this is very sensible, until the platform can be at significant distance. Given the squared relationship of a radius to a circular area of sea, every mile we go out from a potential target we are having to patrol 1000’s of square miles of ocean, or at the very least 100’s of miles of perimeter.

We simply don’t have the ASW assets to secure a 1000 km radius, never mind 10,000 (which is ridiculous I know). Even a SOSUS type detection ring at that radius is asking a lot. Particularly given the many installations we are talking about.

Point defence then? A 100kts torpedo should be easy to hear right? Well this would be theoretically fine apart from the fact that the only current modern Anti-Torpedo Torpedo is Russian. So even assuming detection we have virtually nothing we can do about an incoming.

Sub nets?  Well yes, bit World War 2, but it looks like a large fish yer ? So it should work ? How about complex Harbour entrances, Sea Gates even?

Just the radius problem, its stated detonation yield is phenomenal.

Target sets are limited, but given the likely blast radius, and human’s propensity for liking sea front properties, it still encompasses a huge amount of what we might call the tactically significant infrastructure of many countries.

Obviously we are supposed to drop our ABM or split the budget and start on Anti-Torpedo Weapons.

Work is underway (2).

But do we really want to invest billions in countering a weapon system that may not even exist? Particularly when this will undoubtedly detract from other programs.

Given the MAD policy SHOULD we even counter this threat? We have ICBM after all?

Maybe we should just skip over the article and get back to the juicy bits of the defence pages? How is that F35 doing?

Only problem is, once these Ideas are out there …


  1. I remember reading about this not too long ago. I think MAD is the best counter for all but the smallest of Nuclear weapons, and this thing is big, 10 megatons claimed if I remember right.

    So sure. Mr. Putin can throw that out there. But if one of our ports mysteriously vaporizes we can likely track the evidence back to him. Then we have WWIII.

    He's ambitious and amoral. Not an idiot. He'll get away with as much as he possibly can. He'll push and stretch the envelope all he can. He doesn't want to risk a nuclear holocaust. Now if ISIS had this.... *shudder*.

    Of course, I worry about the state of our own nuclear arsenal. But that's another post entirely.

    1. Hi Jim. Thanks for reading. I wondered if you thought that our development of ABM might have triggered this desperate attempt ?

    2. It could well be. It keeps them relevant and scary. The fact that it got slipped out to the public makes me think that he wants the populace to know, and thus to respect/fear them.

  2. A 10,000 km range is the kind of thing I would expect to read in a story at a satirical site like The Onion. Enough said on this nonsense.

    1. Clearly yes. I think its fantasy land. However our inability to stop even a 100km device is maybe a concern ?

    2. yes... but to me this slots nicely into the nuclear arena.

      Both the US and Russia have enough silo/train/sub launched missiles with big enough yields that we can't realistically stop those. So what's one more?

      What stops them from popping it off is the realization that if Falsane or New York go away, they just stepped off the nuclear cliff as surely as if they popped off a train launched missile.

      If this is a conventional warhead... it still might be an issue... if you can target it. Kind of a latter day long lance.

      If it truly can't be tracked (I really doubt that) and really has the speed they are talking about it would play hell with a carrier.

    3. Interesting reference. I had missed that one. The type 93 WW2 Japanese long range torp.

      I think really that might be a much better use for a technology like this ? Nice thought.

    4. Clark, the point of the post is not the claimed range but why Russia feels the need to reveal (or threaten with) this weapon, whether real or imaginary. Do you have a thought on that?

    5. The device is supposed to be rather large, carried I believe externally, so it may not be that unfeasible, keep in mind there is no need to have pressure hulls or life support and other crew sustainment facilities on-board.

    6. "I think really that might be a much better use for a technology like this ? Nice thought."

      Just a thought. But if you can build a homing torpedo already with the ability to 'look for X sound signature' and even give it a 100 mile range... that makes everyone's life hard. A very quiet sub 70 miles away taking pot shots at a carrier/burke/Type26/etc.... might be a real threat.

      And sure, you might hear it coming, but... if its fast with a homing head what can you do?

      Dumb Question.... is it possible with a really powerful sonar rig to 'jam' a homing torpedo? Maybe make a Nixie with a super powerful sonar as well as one that is just for drawing torps off?

    7. CNO: Interesting question. Keeping weapons secret can help you win a war once it starts, and revealing weapons capabilities can help deter a war from ever getting started, as well as the national pride and sense of security among citizens being elevated. As a fairly closed society, Russia has the choice of revealing or not revealing any particular weapons development.

      If the weapon is a myth, the secrecy advantage disappears and all of the motivation is in favor of announcing it publicly. But there are honest motivations for public announcement (or intentionally leaking info) as well.

      Russia has been living with wounded pride ever since 1989. Putin has been on a mission to attract the attention and respect of NATO powers who were dismissive of Russian power since just a few years after 1989. I suspect this is a largely mythical weapon whose leaked announcement is supposed to intimidate us.

  3. A torpedo that can travel 10,000 km, reach depths of 1,000 meters, and speeds of up to 100 knots is useless as a weapon.

    First, unless the torpedo is getting updates, which is unlikely, no inertial navigation system is accurate enough to accurately guide a torpedo 10,000 kilometers.

    Second, you need supercavitation to reach speeds of 100 knots. The torpedo would needs a gas generator to engulf the entire torpedo when traveling at these speeds. That's not a trivial problem. And, that's in addition to carrying the necessary fuel, a power supply, and propulsion system, not to mention the warhead.

    Third, simple arithmetic shows that it takes 53.7 hours to cover 10,000 kilometers at 200 knots (186 km/hr). Not exactly the sign of terror weapon. Even at 1,000 kilometers, you have more than 5 hours to intercept.

    Let's get back to reality and worry about Russia lobbing an IRBM at Falsane or Norfolk.

    1. What does speed matter, if it gets to the target? For instance if they were to in some weird fair-land, take out the 5 biggest Japanese ports for instance?

      What difference does the amount of time take, as long as it gets there and is not interceptable by any interception system fielded today.

      Japan still starves as they can not bring in the food imports they used to, and they also freeze as they can't bring in the fossil fuels, not to mention their import-export economy shuts down because of the lack of trade. Oh and did I mention modern civilization collapses because the fuel needed to move the food from the rural economy to the urban economy disappears?

      And you say this isn't a terror weapon, if I was an island nation, or any nation for that matter that depended on bringing food or oil in to sustain its population, then this looks pretty scary.

    2. I think the problem first is to find it in your theoretical 5 hours, its a huge volume of ocean to search, once you find it you need to get to intercept range. Only then do we finally face the challenge of what to do about it.

      And as yet we still seem to be viciously ignoring that problem.

      It does strike me as slightly strange that given decades of active hard kill ASM defence. ( regardless of the fact we know soft kill does seem to work better )

      We are only now very tentitivly dipping our toe in the water of hard kill torp defence.

      I understand the challenges are different, however a Type 48 or Spearfish will ruin your day a lot more effectively than a Harpoon.

    3. The challenges of building a drone torpedo that can cover 10,000 kilometers are enormous, most likely insurmountable.

      The Spearfish is supposedly good for 50 km at 60 knots (111 km/hr). The Spearfish is 7 meters long and weighs 1,850 kg. Imagine the size of the drone torpedo that can travel 200 times further at nearly twice the speed. It doesn't pass the smell test.

      Now, if you ran a Spearfish, or a Mk 48, at a lower speed you might be able to extend it's range to 100 kilometers or so. That would be a stealthy way to deliver a nuclear weapon.

    4. Some Russian Anti Ship missiles work that way, Subsonic for range with a second stage booster to get to supersonic for the terminal attack.

      Now I'm not saying this thing even exists, but if it does I think we are assuming its huge and works the way you suggest.

    5. I don't think it is outside the realm of possibility, cruise in a stealthy manner over a long distance towards the target, and travel the final distance at a very high speed.

    6. If this weapon was that large, it would basically be a drone submarine. I don't believe the 100 knot thing for one second. So surely it could be track by SSN at the gate just like any other boomer?

  4. "We are only now very tentitivly dipping our toe in the water of hard kill torp defence."

    I totally understand your point. Torps are scary as hell, honestly. We've spent alot of money on defending against AShM's, but how much has our anti torp technology advanced. If a 'Burke successfully defends against an air raid, but then a type '95 with Akula like quieting pops a torp into it while some Song's or Destroyers launch another raid we have a problem. And given our ASW issues recently, I'm not sure we are good at preventing that. Our eyes seem mainly fixated on the sky.

    That said... as a long range terror weapon... I'm still skeptical. If you launch it using conventional explosives its a problem, but not necessarily society ending. You'd do better to send something to mine said harbors.

    If you use nuclear... back to the nuclear cliff.

    Lets suppose Russias long time ally Krasnovia is annoying us to no end, and its an island nation. They can't feasibly defend against our nuclear strike capability. So we decide to pop their harbors with a bunch of TLAM-N...

    Russia wouldn't stand for that any more than we would Japan. Putin wouldn't want to do this any more than we would.

    Its telling to me it got 'leaked' on a Russian TV show, then was on Yahoo. Putin doesn't want the US military to know about this per se. He wants the public in the West to know about it. Without ever needing to deploy it, without any reasonable proof it exists, it will influence the public a little bit. And that public will influence their respective governments. 'Don't mess with Putin, he's making crazy terror weapons...'

    I'm far more worried if ISIS gets ahold of a nuclear torpedo or mine. The order given to a suicide bomber crew of 'Plow this ship or narco type submarine filled with a primitive nuclear device into Portsmouth or Los Angeles' is something they might really consider.

  5. this seem revealed to counter the missile defence placement i. eastern europe , basically saying there's more than one way to skin the cat.. and it will be launched if US tried to do any first strike foolishly.. it's a revenge weapon and not a first strike weapon , why would first strike hit harbour / port anyway ? its the russian way in saying you glass us, we glass you , or something along that line..

    it's good the russkies developed this weapon , at least it will keep the MAD doctrine alive..

  6. The capabilities of this torpedo are likely propaganda.

    However that said, I do think that a serious review of ASW and anti-torpedo technology is in order.

    A torpedo that reaches 100 knots will not be able to steer very well, certainly not at the depths specified and the ranges specified.

    What if it really works?

    It has it's limitations. As a weapon of first strike, it's not useful in that land based ICBMs will still survive.

    So will all cities far away from the coast. Plus how many can be built? The unit cost of this is probably very high and no doubt some will malfunction.

  7. As buntalanlucu has said, and I have to agree, ( contrary to my article ) - this only makes sense as a second strike capability.

    And we spend an awful lot on SSBN just for this purpose.

  8. In theory, each of the capabilities touted in this weapon are achievable on their own, but I find it hard to believe that a weapon would achieve all of these capabilities in a single vehicle.

    However, if you scale back the capabilities to something that might be more realistic, you are still talking about a highly capable weapon that could be used in many different ways. As others have stated, a 21 inch vehicle with a 100+ km range and nominal heavyweight torpedo payload and speed can be very useful. Targeting surface ships at sea with a relatively slow weapon can be difficult but if there was an ability to provide an update to the weapon while in transit, you could use the weapon to stalk a surface ship from long distance or use the weapon as an undersea Tomahawk with precision navigation, striking sea-shore infrastructure points or surface ships at dock.

    Imagine a scenario where ten or twenty of these are launched into Norfolk from the relative safety off-shore. The firing platform can take advantage of the slow speed of the weapons to clear the launch area, further widening the ASW force required search area. Assuming a 60% reliability/effectiveness rate, six or twelve of these weapons would impact their targets. If the enemy does a decent job of surveillance, the attack is launched when the largest number of carriers, big deck amphibs, and logistics ships are in port, and cripple the USN in a single strike. Mix in a few additional shots delivering mines and you've created a mess.


    - interestedparty

    1. Very interesting thanks. Forgot about the new German weapon. Good reference.


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