It sounds like the stuff from a Cold War novel: A Russian intercontinental nuclear-armed torpedo that can travel thousands of miles and strike U.S. coastal cities with minimal warning. But that weapon isn’t just a work of fiction. It’s actually being developed in Russia, according to a new Defense Department report that assesses the arms advancements being made in other countries.
Such weapons research is a wake-up call for the U.S. to strengthen its own arsenal, the Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review said Friday. The report calls for the U.S. to develop two new additional nuclear weapons to keep other world powers at bay.
Called the “Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System,” the Russian torpedo is reported to be able to deliver a thermonuclear cobalt bomb of up to 100 megatons. The weapon could trigger a tsunami wave of radioactive water that would blanket a coastal city. Politicians have called the torpedo a “doomsday” weapon.
It was just one weapon highlighted in Friday’s report, which focused heavily on current and future capabilities of U.S. weapons, along with the advancements made in countries like Russian, China, North Korea and Iran.
Russia is developing at least two new intercontinental-range systems: A hypersonic glide vehicle, which are harder to detect after fired, and a nuclear-armed undersea torpedo. Both China and Russia are also developing new missile-defense systems, the report concludes.
North Korea has also increased its missile capabilities and its chances of reaching the U.S. mainland.
“While the United States has continued to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russia and China, have moved in the opposite direction,” the report says. “They have added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior, including in outer space and cyber space.”
The report calls for the U.S. to add new low-yield weapons, which would allow for a limited nuclear strike. The U.S. has mostly gotten rid of these weapons and the Pentagon worries this could be viewed as an “exploitable gap” because the choice would be between a much-larger nuclear attack or a less-lethal attack with smaller weapons.
The thought is with the low-yield weapons, other countries with the weapons would not use them for fears of retaliation from the U.S.
Despite being called low-yield, the weapons are extremely deadly. A low-yield nuclear weapon was used in Hiroshima, Japan. Critics worry the new weapons would make the U.S. more likely to use nuclear force and, hence, feed a nuclear arms race.
“This country possesses an extremely robust, highly credible nuclear deterrent that is capable of responding to any attack and defending our allies with decisive force,” said Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, adding the advanced weapons will “lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons.”
“It is important that we not let a button-measuring contest devolve into a button-pushing contest,” he said.
The report also calls for a modern nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile, which President George H.W. Bush stopped using and President Obama officially retired as part of the longtime strategy to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and lessen the role of the weapons in the U.S. defense policy.
The report notes the weapon “for decades had contributed to the deterrence and the assurance of allies” and the U.S. will “immediately begin efforts to restore this capability.”
The report follows promises made by President Trump to strengthen the nation’s nuclear arsenal. On Tuesday during his State of the Union address, the President called for a nuclear stockpile “so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression.”
But, under the Obama administration, the Pentagon had already planned to modernize the nation’s nuclear weaponry, which consists of missiles fired from land and sea and bombs from warplanes.
In 2016, the Pentagon had planned to spend about $100 billion from 2017 to 2022 to “sustain and modernize nuclear forces.” About $34 billion was slated to replace aging submarine-based weapons, intercontinental missiles, cruise missiles, bombers and bombs.
A new budget for the Pentagon, including its nuclear forces, is expected to be released in February, which should include plans detailed in Friday’s report.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the weapons play an import role in keeping the world at peace.
“This review rests on a bedrock truth: nuclear weapons have and will continue to play a critical role in deterring nuclear attack and in preventing large-scale conventional warfare,” he said. “…This, in turn, furthers global security.”