The real purpose of Russia's 100 megaton underwater nuclear doomsday device

underwater nuclear explosionThe aftermath of a small nuclear detonation underwater.AtomCentral.com

  • Russia has built a new 100-megaton underwater nuclear doomsday device and repeatedly threatened the US with it.
  • The device goes beyond traditional ideas of nuclear warfighting and poses a direct threat to the future of human or life on Earth.
  • Nobody has ever built a weapon like this before because there's almost no military utility to so badly destroying the world.
  • But an expert on nuclear strategy told Business Insider the weapon may have a larger role in helping Russian President Vladimir Putin break down NATO with the threat of nuclear destruction.

Ever since 2015 when images of a Russian nuclear torpedo first leaked on state television, the world has asked itself why Moscow would build a weapon that could potentially end all life on Earth.

While all nuclear weapons can kill thousands in the blink of an eye and leave radiation poisoning the environment for years to come, Russia's new doomsday device, called the "Poseidon," takes steps to maximize this effect.

If the US fired one of its Minutemen III nuclear weapons at a target, it would detonate in the air above the target and rely on the blast's incredible downward pressure to crush it. The fireball from the nuke may not even touch the ground, and the only radiation would come from the bomb itself and any dust particles in air swept up in the explosion, Stephen Schwartz, author of "Atomic Audit" previously told Business Insider.

But Russia's Poseidon reportedly uses a warhead hundreds of times stronger, and perhaps even as strong as the largest bomb ever detonated. Additionally, it will come into direct contact with water, marine animals, and the ocean floor, kicking up a radioactive tsunami that could spread deadly radiation over hundreds of thousands of miles of land and sea, rendering it uninhabitable for decades.

In short, while most nuclear weapons can end a city, Russia's Poseidon can end a continent.

Read more: Why Putin's new 'doomsday' device is so much more deadly and horrific than a regular nuke

Even in the mania at the height of the Cold War, nobody took seriously the idea of building such a world-ender, Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told Business Insider.

So why build one now?

A NATO-ender

Russian status 6 nuclear torpedo dirty bombA briefing slide of the alleged Status-6 nuclear torpedo captured from Russian television.BBC

Davis calls the Poseidon a "third strike vengeance weapon," meaning that Russia would attack a NATO member, the US would respond, and a then devastated Russia would flip the switch on a hidden nuke that would lay waste to an entire US seaboard.

According to Davis, the Poseidon would give Russia a "coercive power" to discourage a NATO response to a Russian first strike.

Read more: Navy chief says the US needs to hit first and get 'muscular' with Russian and Chinese ships

Russia here would not only seek to re-occupy Eastern Europe, "but coerce NATO to not act upon an Article V declaration, and thus lose credibility. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has made it clear he seeks the collapse of NATO. If NATO doesn't come to the aid of a member state, it's pretty much finished as a defence alliance," he continued.

Essentially, Russia could use the Poseidon as an insurance policy while it picks apart NATO. The US, for fear that its coastlines could become irradiated for decades by a stealthy underwater torpedo it has no defenses against, may seriously question how badly it needs to save Estonia from Moscow's clutches.

"Putin may calculate that NATO will blink first rather than risk escalation to a nuclear exchange. Poseidon accentuates the risks to NATO in responding to any Russian threat greatly, dramatically increasing Russia's coercive power," Davis continued.

Davis also suggested the Poseidon would make a capable but heavy-handed naval weapon, which he said could likely take out an entire carrier strike group in one shot.

Russia's new nuclear ferocity

Russian SSC 8 missile.JPGJournalists and military attaches attend a news briefing, organized by Russian defence and foreign ministries and dedicated to cruise missile systems including SSC-8/9M729 model, at Patriot Expocentre near Moscow, Russia on January 23, 2019.REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Recently, Russia has signaled its willingness to use nuclear weapons to coerce the West with its violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, said Davis. These missiles are purpose-built for taking out European capitals from the Russian mainland.

Read more: How the US's nuclear weapons compare to Russia's

But Russia has frequently engaged in nuclear saber-rattling when it feels encircled by NATO forces, and so far has steered clear of confronting NATO with kinetic forces.

"Whether that will involve actual use or just the threat of use, is the uncertainty," said Davis.

While it's hard to imagine a good reason for laying the kind of destruction the Poseidon promises, Davis warned that we shouldn't assume the Russians think about nuclear warfare the same way the US does.

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