By Dr. Peter Vincent Pry:
While liberal mainstream media concoct fake news that President-Elect Trump is Moscow’s Manchurian Candidate, they ignore the latest real threat from Russia.
Russian state television “accidentally” disclosed plans for a robot submarine, reportedly armed with a massive 100 megaton warhead—the largest nuclear weapon ever deployed by any nation. The submarine doomsday bomb would explode underwater to radioactively contaminate and inundate with tsunamis U.S. coastal cities and seaboard, where are concentrated much of America’s military-industrial strength and population.
A diagram of the robo-bomb was shown on Russian TV, supposedly inadvertently, over the shoulder of a Defense Ministry officer.
Reportedly, according to U.S. intelligence officials, Russia is testing a prototype of the unmanned robot submarine designed to deliver its doomsday bomb.
A former senior Defense Department official, Dr. Mark Schneider, who is one of Washington’s most astute and best informed analysts, told ace reporter Bill Gertz of the Washington Examiner that, according to Russian reports, the power of the robo-bomb will be 100 megatons—equivalent to 100 million tons of TNT. (See Bill Gertz “Russia Tests Nuclear-Capable Drone Sub” The Gertz File, December 8, 2016.)
What to make of this Strangelovian threat from Moscow?
Even if Russia’s doomsday robo-sub is disinformation to frighten the West with a shock and awe boogeyman, it is no laughing matter. This new threat, even if fictional, manifests a paranoid hostility and recklessness worse than anything from the Cold War. East and West are supposed to have moved beyond the Cold War and learned not to repeat its worst mistakes.
Yet Moscow is telling us the Cold War is back in deep freeze. They are thinking about 1950s-type all-out thermonuclear mass destruction of entire peoples and nations. After blasting us into oblivion, they would sow our soil with radioactive salt so there could be no recovery.
Unfortunately, Russia’s doomsday bomb is real.
The Doomsday Bomb
Moscow built a 100-megaton bomb called the Tsar (officially the RDS-220), tested the day before Halloween, on October 30, 1961. The Tsar was deliberately tested to only half strength, 50-60 megatons, by removing the third stage. No bomber could survive if Tsar were tested to full strength. And at 100 megatons the Tsar would have covered vast swaths of Russia with radioactive fallout, though tested in far Novaya Zemlya beyond the Arctic Circle.
Tsar was a three-stage thermonuclear weapon. The first stage used fission to compress a thermonuclear second stage, just like in a normal H-bomb, except the first and second stages were more powerful, yielding 50-60 megatons, already twice as powerful as the biggest U.S. H-bomb ever built.
Tsar’s thermonuclear second stage was designed to compress another thermonuclear third stage and to fission a uranium tamper. All three stages would release an estimated 100-150 megatons. The third stage would also, by fissioning uranium, produce enormous amounts of radioactive fallout.
As noted above, when testing Tsar the third stage was removed to give the bomber crew some chance of survival, reducing the tested yield to 50-60 megatons, and eliminating most of the radioactive fallout, which would have posed a grave threat to Russia.
Tsar is the most powerful nuclear weapon ever built, even at half strength yielding the biggest explosion ever produced by mankind—releasing more than 10 times the energy of all the ordnance exploded in World War II. 100 megatons is energetically equivalent to 10,000 Hiroshima A-bombs or 1,000 U.S. W80 H-bombs (yield 100 kilotons). The most powerful bomb ever deployed by the U.S. is the B41 (yield 25 megatons) scrapped in 1976.
When testing the Tsar Bomba (“King of Bombs”)—even though tested only to half strength—the Soviets estimated their bomber crew only had a 50 percent chance of surviving its blast and thermal effects. Its enormous fireball was visible at a distance of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). Tsar’s shockwave was observed rippling the atmosphere at a distance of 700 kilometers (430 miles).
Moscow tested Tsar over the wastelands of Novaya Zemlya, a remote island surrounded by the Arctic Ocean, to isolate its effects from the Russian mainland and humanity. All buildings within the test range, both wooden and brick, were destroyed, including the village of Severny located 55 kilometers (34 miles) from ground zero. The thermal pulse would have caused third degree burns at a distance of 100 kilometers (62 miles) and was felt by an observer 270 kilometers (170 miles) from ground zero. Windows and doors were broken at a distance from ground zero of 900 kilometers (560 miles), including in Finland and Sweden.
Even though Tsar was not a ground contact burst, but airburst at an altitude of 4 kilometers (13,000 feet), it caused an earthquake-like seismic shockwave, registering at 5.5, that circled the planet three times.
If Tsar was tested to its full 100-megaton yield, instead of half-strength, its energy would be equivalent to 10 percent of all nuclear weapons ever tested. Radioactive fallout from Tsar’s third stage, that was not tested, would have been 25 percent of all radioactive fallout from all nuclear weapons ever tested.
Tsar made such an impression on Andrei Sahharov, who was on the bomb’s design team, that thereafter he became an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons and the USSR’s most famous political dissident.
Psychopathy Of Gigantism
Moscow never deployed Tsar as an operational weapon because at 60,000 pounds (30 tons) it was too heavy for delivery by bombers trying to penetrate U.S. air defenses or for any missile at the time. Tsar was also militarily impractical for blasting cities and spreading fallout because this could be done more cost-effectively with numerous smaller nuclear weapons.
If the same nuclear materials used to build the Tsar were used instead to build many smaller H-bombs, the net destructive capability would be greater. Moreover, smaller nuclear weapons could be delivered by bombers and missiles.
Indeed, according to U.S. calculations of “equivalent yield” the Tsar is a bad investment. The “equivalent yield” of a warhead having a yield (Y) less than one megaton is Y to the two-thirds power, whereas a warhead having a yield over one megaton is Y to the one-half power. According to this math, 10 one megaton warheads supposedly could do as much blast damage as the 100-megaton Tsar.
Truth in advertising, “equivalent yield” was used by U.S. arms controllers during the Cold War to dismiss Russia’s big advantage in high-yield weapons, and to argue for U.S. weapons of low yield. Despite the best efforts of U.S. arms controllers to “educate” Moscow, Russia always preferred having weapons of higher yield than the United States. (See my critique of “equivalent yield” in The Strategic Nuclear Balance: And Why It Matters Taylor & Francis, 1990.)
So why did Moscow build and test the Tsar?
Part of the explanation may be that totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, especially those led by a megalomaniac, have a tendency toward what might be called the “psychopathy of gigantism” in public works and military weapons—even if they are impractical. The “great leader” of enormous ego and messianic aspiration, in every civilization throughout history, wants to build outsize monuments to himself. Objects that will overawe subjects, terrorize and cow enemies, and immortalize the “great leader” in the memory of Man.
The Pyramids of Egypt and monuments of Ramses, the Great Wall of China, and the Palace of Versailles are a few examples of such works.
Tyrants and dictators, the man at the top of the pyramid of power, tend to like giant weapons too, even if they are militarily impractical. Perhaps the psychology of one-man rule biases the dictator to identify with his giant weapon, a singularity dominating the battlefield, as the dictator dominates his nation. He wants his monster to live and win, even if his scientists and generals warn him the giant is a waste of resources.
So in 1586 Russia built the Tsar Cannon, weighing 40 tons with a bore one-yard wide, inscribed for “The grace of God, Tsar and Great Duke Fyodor Ivanovich Autocrat of all Great Russia.” The Tsar Cannon, too heavy to move, never saw battle.
Mehmed the Conqueror, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, during his medieval siege of Constantinople had a giant bombard requiring 60 oxen to move, 400 men three hours to load, that could throw a 600 pound stone one mile. Reports conflict over whether the great Dardanelles Gun blew itself up.
Hitler commissioned the Great Gustav railway gun, weighing 1,350 tons and able to hurl a shell weighing seven tons 29 miles, which did good service at the siege of Sevastopol, but otherwise was a huge drain on scarce German resources. The Nazi dictator also had plans for the biggest tank ever conceived, the Land Monitor, weighing 1,000 tons, too large and heavy for roads and bridges, that would wade rivers and roll across fields and forests like a mobile steel fortress—a perfect target for Allied airpower.
Everyone knows the tragic fate of Hitler’s giant battleship the Bismark and of the pride of the Japanese Navy, the Yamato, the largest battleship ever built, whose enormous 18-inch guns could out-range U.S. 16-inch guns by miles. As a child, I could not understand, it seemed impossible and somehow unjust, that giant battleships could be such easy prey to tiny aircraft and torpedoes. Military dictatorships are likeminded, it seems, and never grow up.
Now Russian dictator Vladimir Putin apparently has taken out of mothballs the design of Russia’s gigantic H-bomb.
Can We Thank Arms Control For The Doomsday Bomb?
Dictator Putin and his General Staff may see some practical reasons for bringing back the Tsar. Nuclear weapons now play a more important role in Russia’s military doctrine for warfighting, deterrence, and diplomacy than they did during the Cold War. Russia is pouring resources into its nuclear forces, increasing their budget by 50 percent.
But Russia faces limits on how many nuclear weapons it can deploy under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that limits Russia and the U.S. to 1550 nuclear warheads on missiles and bombers.
New START may be driving Russia to emphasize quality over quantity by, in addition to modernizing its missiles and bombers, building one or a few super-weapons like the Tsar. This would enable Moscow to stay within the New START limits while surging ahead of the U.S. technologically with a new class of super-bomb to overawe the U.S. and its allies.
Moreover, Russia has lots of weapons-grade nuclear fuels in storage, laying around unused, from thousands of warheads dismantled under START, and nuclear weapons factories that need work. Tsar can harness these materials and talent to useful purpose.
Furthermore, the robot submarine proposed as the means to deliver Tsar may not, Moscow could argue, be covered by New START. The doomsday robo-sub is not a missile or a bomber. Arguably, it is a big nuclear mine, and may be categorized as a tactical nuclear weapon, despite its enormous yield, and therefore not limited by New START.
However, Dr. Schneider correctly observes that Russia is already building warheads beyond the New START limits and predicts Moscow plans to breakout of New START (see Dr. Mark Schneider The Russian Nuclear Weapons Buildup and the Future of the New START Treaty NIPP October 27, 2016). Moscow has a long history of violating arms control treaties.
Therefore, New START calculations may have nothing to do with Russia’s resurrection of the Tsar.
As an aside, the incoming Trump Administration should declassify President Reagan’s General Advisory Committee full report A Quarter Century of Soviet Compliance Practices Under Arms Control Commitments: 1958-1983 to finally explode the myth that arms control agreements with Moscow serve America’s national security interests. Moscow always cheats.
Is The Robot Submarine Disinformation?
Tsar would produce exactly the kinds of catastrophic effects described by the Russians, if detonated off the U.S. coast. A robot submarine could certainly transport Tsar’s 30 tons, but is not really a practical delivery system.
U.S. satellites would see the robo-sub leaving port for sinking by missiles, aircraft, and torpedoes. Even if the doomsday robo-bomb is intended to exact revenge after a nuclear exchange has destroyed U.S. satellites and the U.S. Navy, it likely would be a high priority target destroyed during the first salvos of a nuclear war.
Even if the robo-sub could survive a nuclear exchange and penetrate the screen of U.S. aircraft and attack submarines hunting for this top priority target, it would be a non-optimal way of attacking the United States.
A 100-megaton weapon would do tremendous damage by blast, thermal effects, and tsunamis. But the damage radius of all these effects would not be enough to destroy more than a fraction of the entire east coast.
The alleged chief mission of the underwater doomsday bomb is to contaminate the populous U.S. seaboard with radioactive fallout. But the prevailing winds and weather on the U.S. east coast moves from west to east—out to sea.
Radioactive fallout is the effect that could cover the most territory. Fallout needs weather to be on its side if it is to be an effective lethal mechanism. Weather works against maximizing fallout effects on the U.S. east coast.
Weather moves in the right direction for maximizing fallout effects from the U.S. west coast.
However, the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor is not nearly as high priority to Russian targeteers as the Washington, DC-New York City corridor. Washington-New York is the locus of government and military leadership and control, and the heartland of elite society and civilization. While Washington is the capitol of the United States, New York is the capitol of the West.
Vladivostok is the only big Russian naval base in the Pacific to support the robo-sub and would be heavily targeted by the U.S. in a nuclear exchange, because of the presence of the Russian Pacific Fleet and large numbers of ballistic missile submarines. Traveling from Vladivostok across the vast Pacific to the U.S. west coast would be much harder for the robo-sub than crossing the Atlantic.
Russian ballistic missile submarines can strike the United States launching from their berths in Vladivostok. The warheads from a single Russian ballistic missile submarine, targeted for ground-contact bursts on U.S. cities, would inflict blast, thermal, and fallout effects collectively more lethal and damaging than a single 100-megaton warhead detonated off the coast. In every respect, in reliability and effectiveness, a single Russian ballistic missile submarine is already a far better doomsday weapon than Russia’s planned robo-sub.
Attacking across either ocean is almost certain to be a suicide mission for the robo-sub, that will probably be sunk before it gets far from port. The robo-sub and its 100-megaton bomb, destroyed in or near port, could pose a greater doomsday threat to Russia than to the United States.
Bottom-line is that Russia’s scheme for a doomsday robotic submarine makes no military sense, not even as a vengeance weapon. It may be a ruse to conceal the real purpose of the Tsar.
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack
The only militarily sensible mission of Tsar is a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
A 100-megaton weapon detonated 400 kilometers above the center of the U.S. would generate a manmade geomagnetic-superstorm, like lightning striking everywhere nationwide simultaneously, but far more powerful than lightning. Such a man-created electronic storm would deluge North America with the kind of powerful long-wave EMPs that directly destroy transformers and generators. It would plunge the entire nation into protracted, perhaps permanent, blackout.
Russia already has what it calls Super-EMP weapons, designed to generate powerful short-wave EMP that would destroy most electronics, and put transformers and generators at risk indirectly. But these low-yield (1-10 kilotons) Super-EMP weapons would not make long-wave EMPs as powerful as the Tsar.
The Tsar combined with Super-EMP weapons would cover the electromagnetic spectrum with redundant electronic mass destruction—EMP overkill perhaps, but historically and doctrinally mass and firepower overkill is Russia’s way of war.
The Tsar could be disguised as a satellite and delivered by a Space-Launch Vehicle (SLV) over the South Pole to evade U.S. National Missile Defenses–making a surprise EMP attack. This is exactly what Moscow planned to do during the Cold War with a secret weapon called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS). Russia’s Proton-M SLV is highly reliable and should be capable of delivering the massive Tsar warhead on a fractional orbit to North America.
North Korea appears to have revived the FOBS, orbiting two satellites over the U.S. from south polar trajectories. Maybe Moscow is reclaiming its original idea.
A surprise EMP attack could enable Russia to win a nuclear war with a single blow by paralyzing U.S. military forces and C3I—perhaps this is the real reason for the return of the Tsar.
A high-altitude EMP attack by the Tsar would also, more assuredly than an underwater detonation, be doomsday for the United States by causing a protracted blackout of U.S. life-sustaining critical infrastructures. The Congressional EMP Commission warns that a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill 90 percent of the population through societal collapse and starvation.
The robo-sub and its experimental prototype could be part of a disinformation campaign to conceal the real military purpose of the Tsar, while Russia still reaps the diplomatic and psychological benefits from putting the West on notice that Moscow has a 100-megaton doomsday bomb.
Russia’s Doomsday Way Of War And Diplomacy
Is Russia’s KANYON project—the official name of the robo-submarine and its 100-megaton bomb—all disinformation? Unfortunately, almost certainly not.
Moscow has an affinity for doomsday weapons—and for revealing their existence in a crisis.
Tsar was tested in part as an act of nuclear diplomacy, one year after Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev pounded his shoe on his desk (October 12, 1960) to seize the floor at the United Nations and warn the West not to provoke the USSR. “We will bury you!” Khruschev had repeatedly warned during this period, when both sides were building nuclear fallout shelters and nuclear war was considered imminent.
The dramatic Tsar test and the Cuban Missile Crisis were contributing factors to the first arms control agreement, the Limited Test Ban Treaty, signed by the U.S. and USSR on October 10, 1963, that prohibited nuclear testing in the atmosphere. This began an arms control process that enabled the USSR to catch-up and eventually surpass the United States in nuclear offensive and defensive capabilities.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, when Russia was at its weakest, during the September-October 1993 coup attempt by hardliners against Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Moscow conducted a major military and strategic forces “exercise” called TSENTER. TSENTER in fact probably was not an exercise, but a real mobilization of conventional and nuclear forces, intended by a Moscow still deeply paranoid and fearful of the West to deter aggression or intervention by the United States. (See War Scare: Russia And America On The Nuclear Brink Praeger, 1999.)
Amidst the crisis, on October 8, 1993, the New York Times broke a story that Russia has a doomsday computer called “Dead Hand” (officially PERIMETR) that would automatically launch Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, in the event that the president and top military leaders are killed in a surprise attack. Russian General Varfolomey Korobushin, former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Strategic Rocket Forces, was among the high-ranking sources warning the West about Dead Hand.
Most analyst assess that the evidence really does support the existence of Russia’s Dead Hand system for launching a nuclear doomsday automatically. In 2011, Russia’s Chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces, General Sergey Karakaev, affirmed the continued existence of Dead Hand.
Dead Hand is described as a system for automatically launching a retaliatory strike, based on sensors that would detect blast and thermal effects from nuclear explosions on Russian territory. However, another Russian doomsday computer is known to exist called VRYAN (the Russian acronym for “Surprise Nuclear Missile Attack”). VRYAN would predict, based on thousands of intelligence indicators, when the U.S. is preparing to make a nuclear attack—so Moscow can launch a preemptive strike.
Let us hope Dead Hand and VRYAN are not wired together to make a preemptive first strike—automatically.
So why resurrect the Tsar now? What crisis is at hand that has moved Moscow to reveal the existence of its latest doomsday weapon, KANYON, and its 100-megaton bomb?
That the answer is not obvious signifies just how dangerously unpredictable is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. While few in the West see any crisis that would warrant nuclear war, Moscow obviously thinks otherwise.
A warning to those who would try to impose a Syrian no-fly zone on Russia, who would have the U.S. intervene in Ukraine against Russia, who would wage economic warfare to try dethroning Vladimir Putin—be mindful that Russia’s way of warfare is total annihilation.
Historically, since Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1565-1572) Moscow’s way of warfare has been doomsday for the Mongols, for Napoleon, for Hitler, and for “enemies” domestic too. Ivan executed, tortured, and exiled 12,000 of his own nobles at the hands of his roving terror henchmen, the Oprichniki. Imperial Russia’s secret police, the Okhrana, through their ruthless cruelty gave birth to Vladimir Lenin and helped set the stage for the Russian Revolution. Lenin’s Red Terror and Stalin’s Great Terror, through the Cheka and NKVD (predecessors to Putin’s KGB) killed 20 million innocents.
Moscow has been a doomsday machine to its own people. The Kremlin is no less dangerous to us.
How dangerously paranoid is a regime that thinks it must imprison an all-girl punk rock band for praying to the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin?
Pussy Riot was right to pray—and so should we that the incoming Trump Administration can find a way to de-escalate and reset relations with Russia on a more constructive course, or at least on a course heading away from doomsday.
Cocky fools, unread in Russian history, who are eager to “challenge Russia” and “poke the Bear” over matters merely tangential to core U.S. interests are no friends of the Free World or of collective humanity at this dangerous hour.
The challenge President-Elect Trump is inheriting from Obama is extraordinarily difficult. Appeasement will only encourage Russian aggression. Trump must be strong during one of the most perilous times in U.S. history, when Obama has left U.S. military forces and the nuclear deterrent at their weakest in decades, while avoiding confrontation at least until the U.S. can rebuild its strength.
Ironically, President Obama’s neglecting U.S. nuclear deterrence while questing for a utopian “world without nuclear weapons” has bequeathed to President-Elect Trump and our children a dystopian legacy–the New Cold War and Russia’s doomsday bomb.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, both congressional advisory boards, served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of the books Blackout Wars and The Long Sunday—Nuclear EMP Attack Scenarios.