Russia Builds First Batch of Nuclear Poseidon Torpedoes: Report

  • The Russian Navy has taken delivery of its first Poseidon long-range nuclear torpedoes.
  • The torpedoes, powered by a nuclear reactor, can outrun NATO submarines and torpedoes.
  • Poseidon includes a 2-megaton nuclear warhead designed to smash coastal cities and ports.

Russia has reportedly taken possession of the first Poseidon nuclear-tipped torpedoes. The Poseidon has been under development since 2015 and is equipped with a warhead more than 100 times the explosive power of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The weapon is designed to ensure US coastal cities remain at risk from nuclear attack should Washington decide to scale up its missile defenses.

According to TASS, part of Russian state media, the first batch of Poseidon torpedoes has been manufactured and will soon be delivered to arm the Russian Navy submarine Belgorod. The report does not mention how many torpedoes are included in the batch, but naval expert HI Sutton believes Belgorod is designed to carry up to six Poseidons at once.

Poseidon is a large, nuclear-powered torpedo designed to attack enemy coastal targets from thousands of miles away. Poseidon is about 65 feet long and 6.5 feet wide, making it the largest torpedo ever deployed. It’s so large that it’s arguably an underwater drone. The use of nuclear power gives it nearly unlimited range. Theoretically, a weapon like Poseidon could be launched from a port or naval base, but deploying it on a submarine makes it more difficult to locate and destroy.

poseidon torpedo

A size comparison of the production version of Poseidon versus development models.

HI Sutton/Covert Shores

Range isn’t the only benefit of nuclear power. Poseidon can also reach speeds of up to 70 knots, or 80 miles per hour on land. That would make it impossible for NATO submarines and torpedoes to catch up with a Poseidon racing to target—for now, anyway. No country has ever fielded a weapon capable of moving at 80 knots underwater, so no effective defense currently exists.

Experts believe Poseidon is armed with a 2-megaton thermonuclear warhead, the largest warhead fielded by any country in decades and the equivalent of 2,000 kilotons of TNT. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had explosive yields between 15 and 21 kiltons, respectively. A 2-megaton thermonuclear bomb detonated on land will create a fireball 1 mile in diameter and cause third-degree burns at distances of nearly 9 miles. Dropped on New York City, such a bomb would kill 1.7 million people and injure another 2 million.

Belgorod began life in 1992 as an Oscar II guided missile submarine. The Russian Navy was unable to complete the unfinished submarine for more than two decades, due to lack of funds, but in the mid-2010s, construction was restarted with the aim of finishing her as a “special mission auxiliary” submarine.

The “special mission” modifications included six extra-large torpedo tubes to carry and launch Poseidon torpedoes. Belgorod is 583 feet long, approximately 50 feet wide, and displaces 30,000 tons fully loaded—making her 50 percent larger by displacement than the US Navy’s Ohio-class missile submarines.

Belgorod Poseidon Canyon

A cutaway of the special mission submarine Belgorod.

HI Sutton/Covert Shores

Russia is believed to have a requirement for 30 Poseidons. Poseidon is not a first strike weapon that will destroy US cities out of the blue. It’s large, noisy, and once launched, it will take days to reach its target. The torpedo is meant to ensure that, in the event the US scales up its missile defense program to deal with nuclear strikes from Russia, Moscow will still have the means to threaten the US, especially naval bases capable of reloading American ballistic missile submarines and major Economic targets such as Los Angeles or New York City.

The Poseidon report comes from TASS, a Russian state-controlled media source. TASS reporting should be taken with a grain of salt; in the past, the news agency has reported Russia’s destruction of 200 Ukrainian military helicopters, or more than the country had at the beginning of the war, and 367 combat aircraft, far more than the Ukrainian Air Force actually operated. It has also under-reported Russian casualties and war crimes against civilians.

Could the report be made up? Possibly, but Poseidon is a known system and a priority for Russia. At the minimum, it shows that Russia still wants the world to fear the new weapon—and Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

Headshot of Kyle Mizokami

Writer on Defense and Security issues, lives in San Francisco.

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