Status-6 / Poseidon / Kanyon

President Putin’s statements in early March 2018 have highlighted a number of deep-rooted Russian weapons developments, including the Status-6 (AKA Poseidon, AKA Kanyon). On the one hand, it would seem that Russia is closer to developing a Science Fiction-like arsenal than to having conventional strategic forces. On the other hand, for years now, there has been discussion about the real viability of these weapons and developments.

It is true that the presentation of the new systems by the President of a nation as powerful as the Russian Federation gives a boost to their existence. It is no less true, on the other hand, that rumors have been reproducing for years and that, although scarce, there has been information on the subject for years for those who wish to delve a little into the matter.

In any case, we must not lose sight of two essential issues in all this:

  • President Putin’s remarks took place during the State of the Russian Federation Address and, moreover, in an election year.
  • The way in which Moscow traditionally, be it the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union or the Tsarist Empire, handles the information it makes public in such a way that it benefits or harms its possible adversaries.

We will talk in the following pages about one of the systems that, at least in theory, the Russian Federation is developing and that must be in a very advanced state for Putin to present it publicly to the International Community. It is known as Kanyon or Status-6, and in a very brief summary it would be an underwater drone with a strategic nuclear warhead and features and benefits that are beyond anything known.

The first public information that can be traced about this system comes from Pentagon reports that, back in September 2.015, spoke of a Russian long-range drone that they assigned the name of Kanyon. Although it was understood that the Russian Navy was working with underwater drones, it was surprising to see that the Pentagon attributed a strategic offensive character to this project, something very unusual.

Without leaking excessive information, the initial versions of the Pentagon speak of a drone capable of high speeds and depths as well as great autonomy. Although revolutionary just for incorporating these characteristics, the truth is that Russian naval construction inherits from the USSR precisely those two most advanced technologies: speed and operational depth, as could be demonstrated in the SSN Alpha or SSGN Papa. So on that side it is still a logical evolution, although applied to a drone.

It is the detail of assigning a strategic offensive aspect to it that is powerfully striking. In these initial measures of biased information, the question is recurring: why invest the scarce resources available to Russia in something that the expensive SSBN and SLBM already meet? It turns out that something that the Russian Federation has spent decades of effort and work developing (SSBN Borey) and that was now going to begin to yield its benefits by allowing old and expensive platforms such as the SSBN Delta III and IV to be withdrawn from service, was background. In addition, overshadowed by a submarine vector with a strategic attack head, which is incongruous in not allowing to attack targets inside the continental US and restricting its use exclusively against coastal cities and installations, unlike SLBMs of missile submarines in service or under development.

Actually, the whole thing is full of curiosities. One of them is that shortly after, on November 10, in a forum with President Putin where he is informed about the development of various military systems of the nation, in an oversight of the General who executes the presentation, he can be seen with a sheet in his hands in which the Kanyon becomes something much more concrete. Always on paper, of course.

The first thing that should be asked is if it was really an oversight, or a devious way of getting certain information to the rest of the opponents. It is hard to believe that such a serious slip-up could be made at these levels. And even more serious than knowing the iron control that is exercised over military information in the Russian media, the dissemination of the images was allowed. Here everyone who draws their conclusions.

Focusing on the sheet of the exhibition that interests us, let’s expose the information it presents in a clear and concise way. They officially define the system with the name: Status-6 Multipurpose Oceanic System. A device 1,6 meters long and 24 meters wide that could operate at a depth of 1.000 meters, at a sustained speed of 185 knots and with a range of more than 10.000 nautical miles. As far as the power of the warhead is concerned, this would be of the order of 100 megatons, more than enough to destroy any target, even if its main purpose is not physical (kinetic) destruction but contamination, in such a way that impossible to operate or inhabit the target area again. A way to eliminate, without the enemy being able to do anything to rebuild it, any military base or coastal city of strategic interest.

From all of the above, in order to understand what the Status-6 really is, we have to analyze two aspects separately: On the one hand, we have the weapon’s own technical characteristics, which we will focus on a little later in this article, as they are very important. On the other, the possible use that this drone could be given and the implications of its use. But first, let’s talk a little history…

Image leaked to the press detailing not only the basic scheme of the Status-6 system, but also information on its capabilities in terms of range, speed or operational depth and the auxiliary vessels that would help its deployment.
Image leaked to the press detailing not only the basic scheme of the Status-6 system, but also information on its capabilities in terms of range, speed or operational depth and the auxiliary vessels that would help its deployment.

The T15 Project

The beauty of history is that it repeats itself many times and one can always resort to it to explain the present. It turns out that we were talking about an underwater drone with a powerful nuclear warhead designed to destroy enemy cities or naval bases as if it were something new and revolutionary. Interestingly, studying the development of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union, the predecessor of the Russian Federation, we find an almost identical weapons system, at least as far as its use is concerned. Let me briefly summarize the history of this weapon, known as Project T15 and nicknamed “Supertorpedo”.

At the beginning of the 50s of the last century, the USSR was under the perennial paranoia, justified or not, of the American nuclear threat, to which it had no credible response. Lacking at that time strategic vectors that could launch nuclear warheads on the US, the Soviets came up with the idea of ​​designing a torpedo that would carry a powerful nuclear warhead destined to destroy and contaminate enemy naval bases. Does the idea ring a bell?

The thing is that Captain 1st Class VI Alferov, stationed at the Arzamas 16 nuclear study center, raised the idea. This is supported by Aleksandrov and Kurchatov, fathers of the Soviet nuclear program, and who defend it against Stalin. The latter, as the great Czar of his country, authorized his Minister Malinin to begin all the pertinent technical studies to give shape to that idea.

Studies of a torpedo capable of carrying a thermonuclear weapon of the necessary power, which at that time were monstrosities weighing several tons, lead to the following requirements: diameter of 1.550 millimeters and length of the torpedo of 23,5 meters. Weight of 40 tons and propulsion based on batteries and electric motor that allows it to reach 30 knots of speed up to 16 nautical miles away.

Curiously, removing the chosen propulsion method, the numbers are very similar to those of the Status-6 of the XNUMXst century. The fact is that once the brutal size of the weapon has been determined, they begin to consider what naval platform will be able to approach the enemy coasts to launch it, determining, logically, that the most appropriate thing is to bet on a submarine.

Minister Malinin, who was managing much of the Soviet program at the time, summoned the best submarine designer of the time, Captain 1st Class VN Peregrudov, and assigned him the task. After various preliminary studies, it was determined that only a nuclear-powered submarine would be capable of undertaking the task, with minimal chances of success, since a conventional one would have to emerge to recharge batteries and would be located. There is only one small problem: there are no nuclear-powered submarines in the USSR, so it is decided to build them to serve this supertorpedo. Almost nothing, we already know that the T15 is the direct cause of the existence of Soviet nuclear submarines, which indicates that it is a program rooted in the group of Russian shipbuilders.

The technical project for the carrier submarine, which would carry a T15 on board and 2 conventional 533 mm torpedoes without reloading for self-defense, was completed by 1954 and the keel of the first unit, the K-3 of project 627 SSN November, was laid on September 24, 1955. Things are going fast and it seems that the USSR will soon be able to launch this torpedo against New York, Gibraltar or the Panama Canal. There is only one small detail that has not been taken into account in all these years: No one has informed the Soviet Navy in detail about the program, due to the secrecy surrounding the development of nuclear weapons.

At that time, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy is Admiral NG Kuznetsov, Hero of the Soviet Union and World War II veteran. In July 1954, the complete program was presented to him, finished and its construction already underway. To be honest, Admiral Kuznetsov did know of the existence of a nuclear submarine program, but he did not know that its application with the Fleet was going to be exclusively to equip them with the T15… And what does the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Fleet say when they present him with What will be your new and magnificent naval weapon? “I don’t need these kinds of ships.” Kuznetsov, aware of the state of the Fleet and the threats facing the country, goes head-to-head against the entire T15 program, and rightly so.

A commission from the Navy is then appointed, headed by Rear Admiral Orël, in charge of the Submarine Forces at the Navy Headquarters, which completely dismisses the military value of the T15 and advocates the transformation of the launching submarine into a submarine. nuclear equipped with conventional torpedoes, which comes to be known as an SSN. Kuznetsov would strongly support this report, knowing that the initial mission was suicide for the launch submarine and that what the Soviet Fleet needed at that time were attack submarines capable of dealing with enemy ships and dislocating merchant traffic in the North Atlantic where appropriate. Shortly after the submarine would be transformed into an SSN and the T15 would be discarded as there were cheaper and more efficient ways to destroy enemy port facilities and naval bases.

Infographics of the Belgorod submarines, the Losharik mini-submarine (attached to the previous one) and the Podmoskovye. Russia maintains the world's largest fleet of spy and special-purpose submarines
Interpretation of the architecture of the Status-6

Technical characteristics

With the history of the T15 fresh in our minds, it might occur to us that someone in the Russian Federation has dusted off an old program from almost 70 years ago and brought it up to date with the new technologies available. At first, this is not a bad thing. The bad thing is dusting off ideas that 70 years ago had been discarded as useless and erroneous.

Let’s see its main characteristics, according to the data that has been “filtered” and let’s talk a little about them:

  • nuclear propulsion: We agree that to achieve a range of 10.000 nautical miles without refueling or logistical support of any kind, it is necessary to have a nuclear reactor as the main power source whatever the platform. The difficult thing is to achieve a reactor that gives the required power and that it does so in a small space of 1,6 meters in diameter and perhaps 3 or 4 meters in length. To achieve the required thermal power (and we are talking about propelling it at 185 km/h), perhaps the best option would be a reactor with a high power density, that is, capable of generating the highest number of CV per unit volume m3 . To date, the nuclear reactors that have achieved the highest CV/m3 ratios have been those cooled by liquid metal used in the SSN Alpha P.705 Lyra class of the former USSR. But these reactors, although small, still weighed several hundred tons including protection and auxiliary systems. Perhaps the reactor can be miniaturized, but for it to be a safe reactor, it would also require ancillary services, such as various cooling pumps, motors for moderator rods, and some sort of biological shield to protect the environment from radioactivity generated by the reactor itself. reactor. All this, as far as the author goes, requires volumes and weights that are incompatible with what has been presented so far. Without taking into account that the electrical supply of all the equipment, as we will see later, should also be generated at the cost of the reactor. It is true that perhaps, if one day they decided to fire this weapon, the world situation would be such that they would not care if they polluted the Ocean from the Kola Peninsula to the Atlantic coast of the United States to a deadly level, but of course, Despite this, one more question arises. What about the tests? Are they going to test this weapon by brutally polluting their own country? Perhaps the sea around Novaya Zembla will become even more of a polluted wasteland? I have no choice, in order to continue, but to think that the Russian Federation has found a way to miniaturize a nuclear, water or liquid metal reactor, to a truly impressive level. Due to current technology, I would have no choice, being realistic, to rule out the existence of this propellant, and therefore of the drone itself, as it has been suggested to us.
  • Thrusters and Speed: We must bear in mind that we are talking about a very high speed in immersion, in the range of 90 knots. Although there are underwater equipment that can reach these heights -the example may be the Shkval submarine missile-, for these speeds very special characteristics are needed and different from those of a conventional propeller, that is, propellers, such as a Mk48 ADCAP American that is supposed to be of the order of 55 to 60 knots. One should even think about the effects of sailing at high speeds for so long on the materials of the propeller itself. 10.000 nm at 100 knots is 100 hours of navigation, which is 4 days and a few hours. A very high resistance of materials, to which add the fatigue of materials for the pressure and temperature at which it will move. Once again we must think that the Russian Federation has something incredibly new on its hands… or that it has nothing. And it is that the power required to move said drone in immersion at those speeds is such that once again we have to return to the matter of the power of the reactor.
  • Operating Depth and Heating: The operational level, that is to say the one to which the document refers that it is going to navigate, is 1.000 meters deep. To get an idea, this assumes a uniform pressure of 101 kg/cm2. The current submarines, the same ones that the Russian Federation also possesses, can range from 600 to 700 meters, being very sensitive and classified information. Once again, it could be said that there are different submarines that reach that depth, but they have been and are scarce, and it is not the norm. If the normal thing was to submerge to 1.000 meters, would not such technology be applied to the submarine fleet first on a large scale? The truth is that the cost of the helmet skyrockets by having to resort to special materials, such as titanium, or to great thicknesses, which in any case make them unaffordable. Proposing a series of strategic weapons based on such expensive hulls, much more than ICBMs or SLBMs, does not seem like a way forward for the current state of the economy of the Russian Federation. The depth also adds a small detail that usually goes unnoticed: the cold. Although many pieces of equipment work better at low temperatures, such as electrical conductors, the truth is that at these temperatures heating will be required to prevent freezing of many pieces of equipment and fluids. Although the thermal source could be the nuclear reactor itself, then it would distribute the heat throughout the rest of the ship through a circuit of pressurized hot water or steam, which would increase the complexity of the weapon and its construction and maintenance, compared to to electric heating. Adopting the latter, on the other hand, would increase the needs of the generator or electrical source. Finally, temperature and pressure tend to have a bad habit of making some materials brittle, such as steel, and although the hull may be made of titanium, other points such as the flying buttresses or the propeller shaft and the propeller itself would require very complex studies and materials.
  • Guidance and navigation: The Status-6 is supposed to have an autonomous intercontinental navigation capability. It is not impossible, since it could be done through the use of powerful underwater mapping and the use of active and passive sonars. It should, therefore, be able to reach its objective only with those systems, since when sailing at 1.000 meters it would not be able to maintain communications with other support stations, nor send messages of any kind, given that it would not surface because at 100 knots of speed its acoustic signature will be quite powerful and detectable, at various distance convergence zones. But it is easy to say that of “underwater cartography”. We are talking about cartography at a level of detail such that a drone without communication is capable of navigating alone, exposed to the effect of currents and possible damage from Russia to the US, either through the Atlantic or the Pacific, and furthermore, following complex routes. Once again, this program alone supposes an unprecedented cost and logistics, even though there is a fleet of advanced ships capable of doing them, such as the Yantar ship or others.
  • Communications: Communications with a submerged element are practically nonexistent, due to the physical inability of radio waves to penetrate much into the oceanic mass. There is the option, which is the one used today, of communicating through the VLF network that only sends a few digits of information to the submarine hundreds of meters away. Once these digits are received, they usually need to approach a shallower depth where they receive more information through other means, usually a buoy with an antenna. The antennas at the transmitting centers of these VLF signals are often tens of kilometers long, and are expensive both to build and to maintain. Their location is known and they are easy targets in case of conflict. The US uses a variant of an aircraft-towed antenna for the same purpose. Well, with this technological base, and it is not because humanity does not try, what communication can we maintain with a drone at such a deep depth to give and receive orders? Let the reader think that communication is necessary for everything, from knowing its location to correcting the target or course, self-destruction… It seems difficult to imagine a strategic weapon which, once fired, does not have the slightest possibility of cancel the attack What if a failure occurs? I insist, we have better communications with the probes on Mars than with a submarine on patrol at a depth of 300 meters.
  • Combat Head: Interestingly, this is the only aspect of the whole program where I don’t think the Russian Federation will have much of a problem. It is a high power head (100 Mt) miniaturized. Although a complex technical aspect, the truth is that it could be part of the technological developments of recent decades. Even reducing the power, which would not affect the performance of the weapon too much, which would make the problem easier for the builders.
  • Peacetime and maintenance: An arsenal of a certain number of Status-6s spread across the Russian territory requires exceptional logistics and maintenance. Something obvious. The former USSR is famous for the number of accidents suffered by its weapons of all kinds, including nuclear ones. The problem with Status-6, as it is presented to us, is that its maintenance in peacetime is almost as risky as its own use. We have a nuclear reactor -remember that it lacks adequate biological and radiological protection-, in some naval base. The reactor must be cooled, which would require quite expensive installations in regions that are not easily accessible, as is often the case with Russian bases. It is already costing Moscow enough to maintain its fleet of submarines, even reducing their number and replacing old models with more modern and efficient ones, to waste the scarce budget on these systems that, like any weapon, must attend to cost/effectiveness ratios . Likewise, the personnel required for its maintenance must be qualified personnel, something that also costs the Russian Navy to pay and retain. It is not that it is impossible, but surely those technicians would be more desirable for the Navy itself in the maintenance of its operational ships. Let’s think about the years of reforms carried out by the Kirov cruisers or other submarines or the problems, more than remarkable, to undertake the modernization of the Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.
  • Acoustic Signature: Those of us who have taken an interest in underwater warfare, and even hobbyists, know that platforms moving underwater are detected pretty much by the sound they make. Said sound is produced by the equipment that works on board, by the propellers and as a consequence of the speed of the submarine itself. A drone at 100 knots emits such an amount of sonic energy into the underwater environment that its propagation through the ocean makes it a very easily detectable platform at long distances, from the moment it begins to exceed 30 knots. And let’s also remember that there is a thing called SOSUS that, they say, has managed to detect submarines at lower speeds hundreds of nautical miles away. The 1.000 meters of depth do not help to keep the silence. The greater pressure of the water at that depth, on the contrary, favors the propagation of sonic waves. And the thermal layers are constant, and decades ago they were overcome by anti-submarine warfare teams at different depths. Besides, even the Russians themselves say, years ago, that they had developed equipment that detects the radioactive particles that a nuclear submarine leaves behind as it passes through the water. Equipment that the Royal Navy is more or less supposed to have developed as well. A little higher we talked about the radioactive trail that this drone would leave behind. If invisibility is the main advantage of the submarine, the Status-6 ignores it completely, as the Alpha submarines already did, but with the difference that the Alpha was conceived as an interceptor submarine for short distances and the Status-6 was calls for an intercontinental reach. It is a very important question and it is frankly difficult for me to understand how they have been able to solve it in the Russian Federation.
  • Technological and Structural Fragility: Last but not least, the drone’s resistance to possible attacks must be taken into account. It is true that we can assume that his hull is titanium at best, which gives it a great capacity for resistance. But let’s not forget that if it travels to a very high depth, the titanium is already subjected to 101 kg/cm2 of pressure, with which any increase in the surrounding pressure due to an attack starts with that advantage pressure towards the structural limit of the hull. . Not to mention those pipes that connect with external water such as the cooling circuit. I know that many would think that there are currently no ASW weapons that reach these heights, but it seems easier to me to develop reinforced depth charges (why not nuclear? Given what they are going to face…) capable of reaching these depths. As it also seems that it would not be particularly difficult to locate it. In fact, depending on the distance at which it is launched, it can take up to days to intercept it. If the drone had to emerge or leave the areas of high depths, to receive communication or if it did not meet all the requirements that Moscow makes an effort to publicize -something almost certain-, it would be even easier to intercept it.

So far we have talked about the Status-6 itself as an independent element and its technological cons. As benefits that the Status-6 brings to the current capabilities of the Russian Fleet the main one is the ability to permanently destroy enemy naval installations, including cities. But that is something that ICBMs or SLBMs can already do much more efficiently, quickly and cheaply than the Status-6, and even ALCMs launched from strategic bombers, precisely now that Russia is betting on them again. Why, then, develop this weapon?

The only option that this author can think of is that today Status-6 would be very difficult to intercept, although that could be solved in a few years. But according to Moscow’s own statements, the US missile shield is also ineffective. And as a tactical naval weapon it doesn’t make much sense either, considering the Russian Federation’s arsenal of SSM. So one of the great mysteries for this author remains what has been the operational or strategic need that has led the Russian Federation to this development.

Infographics of the Belgorod submarines, the Losharik mini-submarine (attached to the previous one) and the Podmoskovye. Russia maintains the world's largest fleet of spy and special-purpose submarines.
Infographics of the Belgorod submarines, the Losharik mini-submarine (attached to the previous one) and the Podmoskovye. Russia maintains the world’s largest fleet of spy and special-purpose submarines.


This drone also has a very curious peculiarity, within the concept that has been presented to us: It requires an underwater platform to be launched. Later we will see which submarines are chosen for this function, but let us first think about the concept as it is. If the Status-6 is designed to be a strategic weapon with limited capabilities (because it can only attack coastal points) or a second response weapon, with the same limitations, due to its technological characteristics it requires specific platforms to be able to use it. Therefore, is it profitable for the Russian Fleet to build a series of nuclear submarines for the exclusive use of the Status-6? Due to the lack of funds, crews and available units, it does not seem like the way forward for the Russian Submarine Forces. And just to comment, the SSBNs of the Fleet fulfill the same mission, offer greater flexibility and are able to carry out their task in a more practical and efficient way. We must not forget that the USSR invented the SSBN concept and that in recent years the SSBN Borei and SLBM Bulava have been two of the pillars of Russian Defense financing.

Like any experimental weapon, the Status-6 has been passed through various underwater naval platforms as the project has evolved. We say that it has been happening because it is true that the following ships have been involved in secret naval weapons programs, although without being able to testify for sure, this one has been among them. Let’s see them.

The first would be a relatively famous submarine: the B-90 Sarov. It is a conventional submarine based on the Kilo class but has been dedicated to experimentation and has undergone many modifications in recent years. Virtually without possible discussion the Russian Fleet operates and maintains the world’s largest fleet of submarines for espionage and special underwater missions. The Sarov falls into this category, being an excellent research and testing platform, something that is not within the reach of many countries.

In 2009 the Sarov was modified in the bow third, adding some longitudinal protuberances in what would become the bow torpedo chamber. This makes us think of the inclusion and handling of some type of special weaponry that requires special dimensions, or in some type of antennas for a new sonar system, although a sonar that required such structural modifications has not yet been presented nor localized, so we must initially rule it out. The Sarov is assumed in Western Intelligence to have been the first carrier, with a single torpedo tube, of a new weapon or submarine drone of a special size. If some type of test or test of a new equipment has been carried out, the tests, which are not operations -a very important difference-, are being carried out from the Sarov.

Since 2014, according to the official Russian agency Tass, the Sarov has been working on research projects related to the use of underwater robotic equipment. Although it is a definition in which the Status-6 enters, many other things also enter, such as the equipment that Russia is deploying on the seabed of the Arctic, and that require this type of submarine.

The leak mentions two other submarines, which are also special platforms, not operated by the Russian Fleet, but by the 29th Submarine Brigade, which operates in a parallel and secret command structure, and which has a large fleet of submarines. very particular, unique in the world and that must cost the Russian Federation a good pinch of the budget of its submarine forces.

The K-139 Belgorod, meanwhile, was an Oscar II SSGN class submarine. Its construction abandoned due to lack of funds, the platform would remain in the Severodinsk shipyard, waiting for better times for the public coffers. In 2012, the Belgorod would be reclassified as project 09852, a special duty ship. The modification that would be carried out would involve increasing the length of this ship by 30 meters, becoming the longest submarine in history, above the SSBN 941 Typhoon.

The Belgorod is still under construction and the initial forecasts spoke of its delivery to the Russian Fleet for the year 2018. We already know that the industrial planning of the Russian Federation depends on many factors, and we will have to see if they really come true, although not It would be nothing traumatic or surprising if the ship were delayed a couple of years, especially considering the large amount of new equipment that is expected to be integrated.

Although it is mentioned in the leak as the carrier of the Status-6, the truth is that it is a mother ship for special and deep-sea submarines. Although it can fulfill both functions if desired. This ship is expected to support operations in the Arctic, and elsewhere, or participate in the installation of the Harmony system (a Russian equivalent to the American SOSUS but under the Arctic ice pack), for which they already operate a modified SSBN Delta IV. It is difficult, although not impossible, to allocate a platform to two different tasks of an experimental nature that necessarily require specific equipment and trained personnel for each task. The Belgorod has the volume and structural strength to accommodate, if desired, six Status-6s, although it would be necessary to see what auxiliary equipment these torpedoes would require inside the submarine to be able to confirm this.

The Belgorod has been designed, in the opinion of this author, for a wide range of missions, but it is difficult to understand why assign it a strategic combat mission when it already has a series of strategic auxiliary missions. It would be another matter if its involvement with the Status-6 program was the integration and testing of the entire combat system, 6 units, on an already built platform, with the idea of ​​being able to develop doctrine and determine failures or improvements. In any case, the ship is still under construction, and it has been a few years since its keel was laid, and it may still undergo some more changes.

The other platform associated with Status-6 is Project 09852 Khabarovsk. The information about this submarine, unlike the Belgorod, is totally speculative, having very little official information and much less verifiable. It is a project of the Rubin design office, specialized in SSBNs, hence the platform is supposed to be that of a Borei SSBN without the missile compartment, but with the bow section specially modified to be able to carry six Status-6s. The design of the platform has been from its origin a design dedicated to missions with special teams. The keel of the unit – at the moment there is only one and it is not known if there will be more – was laid on June 27, 2.014 in Sevmash, Severodinsk and its delivery to the Navy is planned for 2.020.

The Khabarovsk represents an enigma in the Fleet. It is a new-build submarine, not an unfinished hull that is modified, specifically intended for operational research, and expensive, very expensive to build and maintain. Unlike the Belgorod, which as we have indicated is a multi-mission platform, the Khabarovsk seems to have been conceived from the outset as a single-mission ship. This platform could indeed be the carrier and operator of a weapons system like the Status-6. The simple fact of its existence does not prove the existence of the Status-6, since as we know the Russian Federation operates the largest fleet of special and secret submarines, but it does show us the interest that Moscow places in any program to be developed, for the invested resources.

Sarov Special Purpose Submarine Infographic
Sarov Special Purpose Submarine Infographic.

Strategic necessity of the Poseidon

It is time to reflect a little about how a weapon with the announced characteristics would fit into the Russian arsenal, and above all, about the real need for such a weapon and its operational cost versus other equipment with more efficient analogous functions.

We know that the Status-6 is a strategic weapon. Its function is not tactical or operational, that is, it would not attack enemy ships but rather naval bases, ports and coastal areas, in short, the population and the environment of the target country. However, that mission is the same, although expanded since they could attack inland targets, and not just coastal ones, as that carried out by ICBMs, SLBMs and ALCMs. The classical nuclear triad. The inability to intercept the Status-6 is commented on, but this capacity does not seem particularly complicated or excessively expensive, due to what is stated in its technical characteristics. The only reason such a weapon would be developed would be that the US ABM and AEGIS systems had really put the Russian Nuclear Triad in check, for which a “patch” weapon would need to be developed.

There is another possibility, even more remote, in which the Status-6 would form part of a retaliation system in case the Russian Federation fell to an enemy strategic attack and its nuclear forces were incapacitated. It is known as the Perimeter system, and it is based on a series of sensors and automated order systems, quite complex by the way, that by themselves would trigger a nuclear response. In that context the Status-6 would fit, although we could not say at what cost.

On the other hand, President Putin introduced other systems in early March, which appear to completely circumvent the US ABM, thereby nullifying the need for Status-6. Too many contradictions for a strategic and expensive weapons system.

Certain sectors among the well-known Defense news commentators cling to President Trump’s presentation of his New Nuclear Policy (NPR) in which another leak, and now two high-level leaks, present Status-6 as a of the new threats against the security of the United States. This leak has served by itself for part of the Defense journalists to take for granted the existence and operability of Status-6. Now it turns out that US Intelligence is the real Oracle of Delphi, without vested interests. I don’t mean to belittle either one or the other, but I personally take this leak with a grain of salt. I cannot help but remember the famous Missile Breach of the Eisenhower Administration that served Kennedy to gain access to the Presidency, although later Kennedy himself would be informed that the gap existed… in favor of the US, since that the USSR maintained at that time a whopping 6 operational ICBMs.

There is also an insistent rumor about a test of the system carried out by Sarov on November 17, 2017. If we really analyze the original available sources, what they come to say is that Sarov has carried out tests somewhere without knowing the result of the same. We have to keep in mind that the Sarov is an experimental ship whose very purpose is the testing of new equipment. Also, the original Status-6 leak spoke of starting the testing program in 2.019. Complex engineering projects (and this one is) do not usually go ahead in their planning and the Russian Naval Industry does not exactly shine for its successes in its large projects lately. Even the original source of the news itself warns that it may be a mere Russian diversionary maneuver, so we can put the information in quarantine.

Until now we have seen a series of points of view that rule out, mainly from a technical aspect, the existence of the Status-6, but given the cold analysis of the existing evidence we have to ask ourselves what the Russian Fleet is really doing in this country. Because what we should not doubt is that they are working on something, although obviously we do not have reliable information.

Both the leak and the March 2018 statements are advisories to mariners. The Russian Federation is working on a new dimension of naval weapons, perhaps strategic capabilities. The leak, however, was aimed at the foreign market, but also at domestic consumption due to the proximity of the presidential elections in Russia. In both cases, there was a marked interest in publishing this news.

Infographic of the Status-6 compared to a Bulava ICBM and a conventional 533mm torpedo. You can see the huge size of the new device, more similar to a mini-submarine.
Infographic of the Status-6 compared to a Bulava ICBM and a conventional 533mm torpedo. You can see the huge size of the new device, more similar to a mini-submarine.

The existence of projects 09851 and 09852, Belgorod and Khabarovsk, confirm a very important interest on the part of the Fleet to increase the special capabilities of its nuclear submarines. However, this does not have to be directly related to Status-6. The operations of special submarines under the Arctic sea ice, which is now one of the main underground international conflict points of Russia, could be a reason important enough to launch these new series of submarines, without having anything to do with the Status -6.

Both projects fit more within the framework of tests at an operational level, that is, to develop a new concept of submarine warfare based on the intensive use of unmanned submarine systems. Perhaps the West will be surprised in a few years if we see small fleets of drones operating from a mother submarine under the Arctic: that would be revolutionary, without resorting to nuclear devastation. furthermore, it would not be at all strange considering that the Russian naval school of thought differs greatly from the Western one and they are used to exploring unpublished concepts. Once again I remember that this nation invented the SSBN and SSGN concepts or weapons like the Shkval out of nowhere.

The Status-6 strikes me as a broader concept than just a supertorpedo. A submarine warfare system with a new dimension and capabilities. The future of submarine warfare? No one knows yet, but it’s nice to see new areas of research with real platforms.

The Sarov surely ran a test in November 2017. The question is, a test of what exactly? That is the great mystery. First of all, we have to keep in mind that the Sarov is an experimental ship and, by definition, every time it goes to sea, it is to carry out tests of experimental systems, not to carry out patrols. The reforms carried out in its forward third make us think of “something” that requires extra space in the torpedo chamber or external torpedo tubes to the resistant hull. Although it would fit into what they tell us about Status-6, it would also fit into many other things, so we have to be careful. And regarding that test, without traces of nuclear contamination, or something was launched with a conventional propulsion, which could not be a Status-6 or perhaps its tests were of another nature.

It is the opinion of this author that, even with the fantastic characteristics shown by the famous leak, the Status-6 would be neither invincible nor capable of circumventing future defenses and that it does not even make sense within the new concept of Strategic Forces. The consumption of resources in this field would be such that it would threaten the existence of the current SSBN and SLBM programs, which, after so many years, offer superior capabilities at lower costs.

Therefore, we live some interesting and historical moments. We know that the Russian Federation is working on something. We know that they want us to think that it is a weapon whose concept is terrifying and that was devised almost 70 years ago and whose objective is to exterminate human, animal and plant life in large coastal areas. We presume that the fantastic capabilities they tout are not yet within the reach of current technology. But we long to know what they are really studying and testing. Surely it is not what was announced, but it will not cease to amaze us and lead us to an evolution of submarine warfare. Or maybe not and over time it’s just another expensive failure. Only time will tell.


Armies thanks HI Sutton for the permission granted to reproduce the illustrations on its website Covert Shores that you can visit at the address:

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