Russia’s nuclear-capable underwater drone to be deployed

The Poseidon multipurpose ocean system in a screenshot from a video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry. Photo: AFP/Ministry of defence of the Russian Federation


Skeptics play down the threat posed by Moscow’s latest weapon, which is set to be used in the Pacific

Russia is ready to deploy nuclear-capable Poseidon underwater drones in the Pacific area as part of its oceanic multi-purpose system, Russian state media have reported.

Given the poor state of relations between the Kremlin and the United States, the American superpower is evidently the primary target of new Russian weaponry, but the deployment of Poseidon could eventually become an issue for China as well.

The Russians are used to presenting their “state-of-the-art” military hardware with great fanfare. Analysts are divided, however, whether the new drone-torpedo actually poses a credible asymmetric threat to US military assets in the Western Pacific and elsewhere.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the development of Poseidon last March. It is said the unmanned submersible vehicle can carry a two-megaton nuclear warhead and is capable of destroying enemy aircraft carriers and infrastructure facilities.

It would be able to travel at a very high speed and an operational depth of up to 1,000 meters, making its interception very difficult.

According to Tass newswire, the arms system is undergoing underwater trials, and two Poseidon-carrying submarines will be incorporated into the Russian Pacific Fleet – another two are expected to join the Northern Fleet. Each carrier will deploy a maximum of eight strategic drone-torpedoes.

Strategic significance

Untested system

China not immune

If the United States is concerned with Poseidon drones in the Western Pacific, China might not be that happy about their presence too. After all, the Chinese understand that these weapons can go in all directions.

“Based solely on objective capabilities, China, of course, has grounds to worry about Russia’s new strategic unmanned underwater vehicle,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

But the relationship between China and Russia is now in good shape, so “the Chinese probably will not view Poseidon as an immediate threat,” he noted.

Moreover, Koh said China and Russia should be seen as “strange bedfellows” rather than real long-term partners. “If the texture of future US-Russia relations were to change for better, this may spell some risks for Beijing,” he stressed.

A new arms race

For Savelyev and Goldstein, Poseidon is not a game-changer in a strategic competition between nuclear powers, but its development will have the obvious effect of aggravating the problem of proliferation.

The Russian expert said the diffusion of such weapons would open the way to a fresh nuclear arms race, also adding a new dimension to it.

“The system obviously falls under the category of strategic weapons, but is not covered by any existing arms control agreement such as the New START treaty of 2010,” he suggested. “The deployment of Poseidon will create serious difficulties for possible future arms control attempts with regard to aspects such as definition, verification, etc, in practice weakening this treaty and disrupting prospects for its extension after 2021.”

Goldstein emphasized that a bigger question concerned how such long-range unmanned systems might alter the entire landscape of undersea warfare. In this regard, he noted that according to past reports, China had been undertaking intensive work on “robotic submarines.”

In his view, this is a major concern and “the US may be confronted with the serious prospect of a new and dangerous AI-focused undersea arms race.”

Full article: Russia’s nuclear-capable underwater drone to be deployed (Asia Times)

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