On March 1, 2018 Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, gave his annual State of the Nation speech in Moscow. The last third of his 2-hour, 13,340-word speech dealt with nuclear treaties and nuclear weapons. On this day in this speech Vladimir Putin unveiled five new Russian nuclear-weapon systems (pausing after describing each one to show a video CGI simulation of it). Like Sputnik in the Cold War Space Race, these highly advanced strategic nuclear weapons checkmate U.S. military supremacy.
These weapons systems also render aircraft carriers and submarines obsolete. One is a drone, in this case a nuclear-powered underwater drone. It can travel 100 mph and descend to a depth of 3,000 feet. Its nuclear power unit is 100 times smaller than the ones that power submarines. This 75-foot-long submerged drone can carry a 100-megaton thermonuclear cobalt warhead, one that is 5,000 times more powerful than the atom bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan. Detonated off the coasts of North America it would create a tsunami wave 1,500 feet tall washing over cities on the east and west coasts. The drone also comes in a form carrying a conventional warhead for use as an anti-aircraft carrier weapon
Another one is the Sarmat heavy Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Weighing 200 tons, this nuclear-powered missile can go into orbit around the south pole so that its nuclear warheads will hit American targets from the south. They thus escape the U.S. missile defense system, pointed north to detect and destroy earlier generation ICBMs shot from Russia. By going into orbit the Sarmat heavy ICBM has essentially unlimited range. A small nuclear reactor provides propulsion for this missile, as it does for the new aircraft-launched Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile that he mentions. The small nuclear reactor that power these weapons is the key component in Russia’s new nuclear weapon systems.
Then there is the Avangard hypersonic projectile. Launched by the Sarmat ICBM, it can attain a speed of Mach 20—14,000 mph. In his address, President Putin put it this way: “It [the Avangard hypersonic projectile] flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire. The temperature on its surface reaches 1,600-2,000 degrees Celsius [2,900-3,600 degrees Fahrenheit] but the cruise bloc is reliable guided.”
Bomb-dropping airplanes made battleships obsolete in World War II, and hypersonic nuclear-powered cruise missiles and nuclear-powered underwater drones will do the same thing to aircraft carriers in World War III.
The U.S. February 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, updating the one published in 2010, states: “Expanding flexible U.S. nuclear options now, to include low-yield options, is important for the preservation of credible deterrence against regional aggression.” It adds, “DoD and National Nuclear Security Administration will develop for deployment a low-yield SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] warhead to ensure a prompt response option that is able to penetrate adversary defenses.”
Perhaps these newly declared U.S. nuclear-weapon intentions prompted Putin to make public Russia’s state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal. He gave this warning: “Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium or any range at all, will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences. There should be no doubt about this whatsoever.” [italics added]
Russia spends $47 billion a year on defense; the U.S., for 2018, $639 billion. Despite its 14-fold greater expenditure on “defense” compared to Russia, the U.S. lags well behind Russia, and China too for that matter, in developing hypersonic weapon systems. Hypersonic flight is defined as Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, ranging up to Mach 20 so far. The speed of hypersonic weapon systems enables them to avoid slower conventional missiles and air defenses. Russia’s hypersonic weapons render NATO’s missile defense system “useless.”
The U.S. spends $13 billion to build a Ford-class aircraft carrier. (So far, one has been built, 2 are under construction, 2 ordered, and 10 more planned.) The $1.5 trillion, “multi-role” F-35, with its many costly problems is designed to be a “dual capable aircraft.” It can carry B61-12 tactical nuclear bombs and drop them on selected targets (in North Korea? Syria?)
With the advent of hypersonic missiles and nuclear-powered underwater drones, it makes little sense for the debt-ridden United States to spend $195 billion on 15 outdated aircraft carriers. This amount, $195 billion, is 4 times more than Russia’s entire annual defense budget.
Prone to the conceit of exceptionalism, preoccupied with identity politics and gender issues accompanied by accusations that science is racist owing to the high number of white males in the field, U.S. weapon systems are taking a back seat to Russia, and to China with their hypersonic weapons. The United States is no longer the world’s superpower. In his speech, the Russian president made this point: “Our policies will never be based on claims to exceptionalism. We protect our interests and respect the interests of other countries.”
Dismissing U.S. claims to super power status, President Putin acknowledged Russia’s “comprehensive strategic partnership with the People’s Republic of China” and its “special privileged strategic relationship” with India.
The Cold War, from 1953 to 1991 between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) lasted almost 40 years. Putin calls the Cold War, like others do the “long peace.” This peace was based on the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction, which states that nuclear war can best be prevented if neither side can expect to survive a full-scale nuclear exchange.
Russia, allied with China, now challenges an imperialistic United States with its hundreds of military bases encircling the globe. Shorn of its Soviet socialist republics, this economically small country with its array of hypersonic strategic nuclear weapons developed by bright (white) Russian scientists have eclipsed U.S. military supremacy. The U.S. has met its match militarily and has fallen behind Russia (and China) in the development of hypersonic weapons.
President Putin’s March 1, 2018 address will likely mark the official beginning of a 21st century cold war, Cold War 2.0. And like with the 20th century one, the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction will once again reign. And one hopes that it will once again foster an equally long peace.
This article was first published on March 8, 2018.