A recently released Pentagon document has confirmed the existence of a new nuclear weapon being developed for the Russian military. This new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo is rumored to be the most powerful nuclear weapon developed by any nation in decades.

The weapon, dubbed “Kanyon” by U.S. Defense officials and “Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6” by the Russians, is often referred to as a nuclear torpedo, though it may be more appropriate to consider it an autonomous submersible, or undersea drone. Estimates based on intelligence gathered primarily through media leaks in Russia itself claim the submersible weapon is about 5.5 feet wide and 79 feet long, capable of covering thousands of miles beneath the sea undetected to standby for detonation near coastal cities. The vessel is said to have a maximum speed of 56 knots and be able to travel continuously at depths exceeding 3,280 feet below the surface. The platform’s range is a supposed 6,200 miles, meaning when deployed by Sarov-class Russian Navy submarines, the Kanyon can secretly reach any coastal city in the world.

The Kanyon’s stealth and autonomy aren’t what has caused some experts to refer to it as a “doomsday” weapon however – it’s the 100 megaton payload.

A low resolution picture of the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review shows Russia’s Kanyon, or “Status 6,” circled in red. (DoD)

To better appreciate just how massive the destructive capability presented by Russia’s Kanyon submersible is, consider that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was approximately 16 kilotons. It’s detonation laid waste to the city and killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people, and was equivalent to approximately 16,000 tons of TNT.

A single megaton, however, is equivalent to a thousand kilotons, or one million tons of TNT. Kanyon’s 100 megatons, then, is the destructive equivalent of parking 100,000,000 tons of dynamite just off of the American coast, accompanied by radioactive fallout that would bar a human presence in the affected region for a century, particularly because the payload is rumored to be “salted” with an additional radioactive isotope, Cobalt-60, which would increase the weapon’s fallout potential as an area denial measure.

The detonation would also almost certainly cause a tsunami of irradiated water that would flood further into the coast that the bomb itself may potentially reach.

This supposedly leaked image of the “Status 6” platform appeared on Russian television last year. (Twitter)

If these rumors are true, “Kanyon” is twice as powerful as the most powerful nuclear weapon ever even tested (Russia’s Tsar Bomba), and would easily circumvent most existing American nuclear defensive measures, as they are primarily focused on aerial and orbital attacks via nuclear-tipped missile. Aegis, THAAD, and the GMD missile defense systems would be left helpless to defend population centers if Russia launched a nuclear attack on the United States using a fleet of Kanyon submersibles, rather than their latest and most powerful ICBM also in development, the aptly named, Satan II.
Although reports of the Kanyon platform have emerged in Russian media on at least two occasions, until recently, it was widely considered to be propaganda. The Pentagon’s acknowledgement of the platform in internal documents, however, seems to suggest that their intelligence has verified the existence of the weapon.

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Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons