Russian President Putin watches a missile launch during naval exercises in 2005. REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE
President Donald Trump's nuclear posture review, leaked to HuffPost this month, seems to show the US believes Russia is building a dangerous new undersea nuclear weapon that critics say could cause widespread death and damage.
"Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers," the leaked review says, adding that these systems include "a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, undersea autonomous torpedo."
Printouts of plans for such a nuclear torpedo had been spotted in state TV footage of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and military chiefs in November 2015.
A briefing slide of the alleged Status-6 nuclear torpedo captured from Russian TV. BBC
The footage showed plans for a submarine that could travel 6,200 miles at 100 knots underwater and detonate a megaton-class thermonuclear weapon to create "wide areas of radioactive contamination," according to a BBC translation of the photographed document.
The submarine was designed to "destroy important economic installations of the enemy in coastal areas and cause guaranteed devastating damage to the country's territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination, rendering them unusable for military, economic or other activity for a long time," the BBC reported.
Since then, many have disputed the notion that Russia would build such a system. But the leaked draft of Trump's nuclear posture review indicates the US government at its highest levels believes the torpedo, known as the "oceanic multi-purpose Status-6 system," is real.
Jeffrey Lewis, a leading academic on nuclear matters, quickly gave the Status-6 a catchier name: "Putin's doomsday machine."
Not only could the weapon obliterate the area with potentially 100 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, but it could also leave behind long-lasting radioactive waste.
Lewis has described the weapon as "bat-s---" crazy and "absurd." He previously told Business Insider that the idea was "deeply, deeply, deeply immoral" and that the US never considers weapons like this for its nuclear arsenal.
When the plans for the Status-6 leaked in 2015, the Brookings Institution characterized their appearance on camera as deliberate messaging rather than sloppy work.
Nuclear weapons have been used exactly twice in combat — both times by the US, and both times dropped by a propeller aircraft over largely unprotected Japanese airspace at the close of World War II. No fancy intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines, or long-range bombers or cruise missiles have ever delivered a nuclear weapon fired in anger.
The real function of nuclear weapons today is political. Countries build them and bank on their deterrent effect, meaning they calculate that no one will attack a nuclear-armed nation.
For Russia, the Status-6 doomsday machine wouldn't make much sense unless everybody knew about it.
As Russia has become increasingly aggressive in its foreign policy while maintaining a weaker military than the US's and NATO's, it may have convinced itself it's time to show its doomsday weapons.