The Russian Navy has taken delivery of what is the world’s longest known submarine, one its maker touts as a research vessel – but what others say is a platform for espionage and possibly nuclear weapons.
The Belgorod was turned over to the Russian Navy earlier this month in the port of Severodvinsk, according to the country’s largest shipbuilder, Sevmash Shipyard.
What sets the Belgorod apart from any of the nuclear-powered submarines in the Russian fleet – or indeed from any of the nuclear submarines operated anywhere in the world – is its mission.
TASS has reported that the sub will carry the in-development Poseidon nuclear-capable torpedoes, which are being designed to be launched from hundreds of miles away and to sneak past coastal defenses by traveling along the sea floor.
“This nuclear ‘mega torpedo’ is unique in the history of the world,” American submarine expert H. I. Sutton wrote on his Covert Shores website in March.
“Poseidon is a completely new category of weapon. It will reshape naval planning in both Russia and the West, leading to new requirements and new counter-weapons,” Sutton wrote.
Both US and Russian officials have said the torpedoes could deliver warheads of multiple megatons, causing radioactive waves that would render swathes of the target coastline uninhabitable for decades.
In November 2020, Christopher A. Ford, then assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, said Poseidons are being designed to “inundate US coastal cities with radioactive tsunamis.”
A US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in April said Poseidons are intended as retaliatory weapons, designed to hit back at an enemy after a nuclear strike on Russia.
According to the CRS report, the Belgorod would be capable of carrying up to eight Poseidons, though some weapons experts say its payload is more likely to be six torpedoes.
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