Poseidon: Russia unveils new underwater nuclear drone
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Vladimir Putin’s much-hyped nuclear torpedoes may not actually work, a UK-based defence expert has suggested, despite Russia’s claims they are ready for deployment. Iain Ballantyne was commenting on an unnamed Russian source who told state news agency TASS the first set of Poseidons, autonomous, nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicles, have now been manufactured.
The insider claimed Belgorod nuclear submarines will in the near future be equipped with the weapon system, which both the US and Russia say can be used to trigger radioactive ocean swells to render coastal cities uninhabitable.
TASS reported that the Poseidon’s main components, including a nuclear reactor to providing the torpedo with its own power source, had been successfully completed.
The crew of the Belgorod nuclear submarine has also completed tests with models of the torpedo, it was claimed.
Nevertheless, Mr Ballantyne, editor of Warships International Fleet Review magazine, remains sceptical.
He told Experss.co.uk: “It’s hard to know how close we are to Poseidon becoming a terrible reality, as talking the talk is as much part achieving a deterrent effect – seeking to put a chill in the enemy’s soul and close off their options for action to counter your own – as actually being able to walk the walk and field the weapon.
“Russia has always been pretty good at the weapons side of naval warfare, even when their submarines and surface warships were pretty ancient and ramshackle.”
Vladimir Putin intends to equip Belgorod submarines with Poseidon missiles (Image: GETTY)
Zircon hypersonic weapons are tested by Russia (Image: NC)
Mr Ballantyne explained that he had visited a Soviet guided-missile cruiser at Sevastopol in the early 1990s, and while the warship itself had been “like something out of WW2” the actual missiles “seemed pretty serious, modern pieces of kit.”
He continued: “By the end of the Cold War, Russia was gaining on the US Navy and Royal Navy in terms of quality and capability of its undersea weapons AND submarines, and that has continued to be the case today, after a lull in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“In the 2020s it would be nonsense for the Russians to build a submarine like the Belgorod and then fail to give it the weapons that make it effective as a tool to threaten and/or deter the West.
“In late 2022 it appeared that weapons tests for Poseidon in Arctic seas were abandoned, hinting at problems with the launch system or weapon itself.
“It is, however, said the Belgorod’s crew very recently carried out successful training with a model of the Poseidon, to test the submarine’s launch system.
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Russia: A memorial to the Russians who died in the Kursk disaster on August 12, 2000 (Image: Getty)
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“Teething problems in new vessels and weapons are normal. Were they only ever pretending to do tests at sea with Belgorod and Poseidon in late 2022 to try and scare NATO from giving too much support to the Ukrainians?”
This year had already seen the frigate RFS Admiral Gorshkov deployed to the Mediterranean, armed with the Zircon hypersonic missile, a move Mr Ballantyne suggested was intended to “pile deterrent pressure on the West”.
He added: “News of Poseidon getting closer to reality being leaked is surely part of that same lethal mind game.
“If the first set of actual Poseidon nuclear-powered super torpedoes have only just been produced, surely they were not available for those earlier tests? It seems to confirm they were just talking the talk, trying to scare the West.
“There remain doubts about whether the nuclear warhead is ready for the weapon. When it comes to operational feasibility, there will be a lot of challenges in making it work safely due to the nuclear propulsion units.
“It will require the utmost care to maintain and handle them under the sea in the confined space of a submarine, even one as large as Belgorod.
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Vladimir Putin profile (Image: Express)
“Apparently the idea that the nuclear warheads for Poseidon are ready is in doubt, and that aspect of the story in some circles is a mistranslation from Russian – which is not uncommon.”
Nuclear-armed torpedoes were not a new concept, Mr Ballantyne stressed.
However, he explained: “Sticking a mini-reactor in a torpedo – rather than it using electric propulsion or a tried-and-tested conventional fuel – so it can zoom at massive speed into an enemy port and destroy it, is a whole different ball game. A different order of risk.
“And the spectre of the Kursk hangs over the Russian Navy. That submarine was destroyed and all its crew killed in August 2000 in the Barents Sea when the test firing of a torpedo went wrong and it detonated, setting off some of the Kursk’s other weapons.
“If the Russians can avoid blowing themselves up in launching the real Poseidon weapon, and if one ever gets loose in the vastness of the Atlantic – possibly prowling on autonomous mode – then it really might be a potentially ‘unstoppable weapon’, as Putin terms it.
“However, just as in the struggle to dominate the Atlantic of WW2 and in the Cold War, the US Navy and its allies, including the Royal Navy, are undoubtedly working on counter-measures and their skills at detecting and destroying all manner of undersea threats are being sharpened all the time.”