When it comes to nuclear weapons, there’s no denying that the United States and Russia remain the only heavyweight contenders on the planet. Although nine total nations have harnessed the destructive power of the nuclear weapons, the stockpiles America and the Soviet Union produced during the Cold War have solidified both nation’s places at the top of the heap, and although Russia’s total number of nukes beats out America’s, many within the United States have come to expect that American technological superiority is what makes up the difference. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.
Both Russia and China have unveiled new nuclear weapons platforms in recent years, with the United States lagging behind and only recently awarding contracts intended to produce a suitable replacement for the nation’s decades-old Minuteman III platforms. These new weapons, while certainly powerful, pose a threat outside that of simple yield — they’ve been purposely designed to try to circumvent America’s modern missile defense apparatus.
But if we were to compare just the yield of the nuclear weapons employed by the United States and some of its competitors, we’re left with a new sort of understanding: plentiful and capable as America’s nuclear weapons are, they’re absolutely dwarfed by Russia’s two latest entrants into the pantheon of nuclear weapons, and even fall short of China’s latest ICBM in most cases.
The scale of this difference in destructive yield is so substantial, in fact, that’s it’s nearly impossible to make it visually apparent on a single graph. Comparing the explosive yield of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki with Russia’s most powerful nuclear weapon results in a speck that’s too small to register when compared to Russia’s mighty nukes. Comparing America’s submarine-launched Trident nuclear missiles to that same Russian weapon produces nearly the same result — despite the Trident missile being capable of delivering more than six times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
So let’s begin with a comparison of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, along with America’s modern long-range nuclear missiles and North Korea’s first thermonuclear detonation from last year. The following figures are shown in kilotons (or per 1,000 pounds of TNT in equivalent destructive capacity):
That chart seems to indicate a significant increase in the destructive yield of these weapons since their first (and only) use in combat more than seventy years ago. However, America’s workhorse Minuteman III has been around since 1970 (with some updates along the way), and as such, it doesn’t stack up nearly as well when we start including China and Russia’s latest platforms (though America does have one ace up their sleeve in the form of an extremely powerful nuclear bomb).
Clearly, China’s new DF-31 is capable of doing much more damage per weapon than America’s ICBMs, though America’s B53 bomb (which would currently be delivered by either a B-52 Stratofortress or more likely, the stealthy B-2 Spirit) is capable of putting even the powerful DF-31 to shame.
If you think that nine megaton yield is impressive, you’re right, but when compared to Russia’s latest entry into the ICBM market, the RS-28 Sarmat, also known as the Satan II, even the massively powerful B53 nuclear bomb starts to look like small potatoes.
The 50 megaton (50,000 kiloton) yield delivered by the RS-28 Sarmat, like China’s DF-31, likely would come in the form of multiple warheads deployed alongside dummy warheads intended to confuse inbound interceptors. Russia, at the time of the RS-28’s unveiling, described the destructive capacity of this weapon as capable of destroying all of Texas or France with a single launch. If that makes you a little uneasy, buckle your seat belt. Although the 50 megaton yield of the RS-28 matches the most powerful nuclear test detonation ever conducted, it’s still small when compared to Russia’s Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6, which has been referred to as a “doomsday weapon” by American defense officials. Unlike the rest of the weapons on this list, the Status 6, or “Kanyon,” is actually a submersible drone equipped with a massive 100 megaton nuclear warhead. This weapon has an operational range of greater than 6,000 miles and is deployed via submarine. The Status-6 then travels to its intended target via remote control, where it can lie in wait for the order to detonate. The resulting explosion would not result in a massive release of destructive energy, but also an irradiated tidal wave that would travel even further inland than that radioactive fallout.
Featured image: An army truck MZKT 79221 under missile Topol-M (RT-2PM2) | By ru:Участник:Goodvint [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons