According to leaked documents, Russia has been shelling out on pricey military equipment. A pre-decisional draft of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), published by the Huffington Post, confirms that the state now possesses underwater nuclear drones capable of holding a 100-megaton nuclear warhead.
The document, which also outlines the Trump administration's nuclear policy, mentions an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) within a chart that maps out Russia's various nuclear delivery systems. The weapon, officially known as Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6 and nicknamed "Kanyon" by Pentagon staff, has a range of 9,980 kilometers (6,200 miles), a max speed of 56 knots, and can dive down to depths of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below sea level. This is according to Russian news sources cited by the Washington Bureau, so should probably be taken with a grain of salt.
According to the document, the AUV can be deployed from two types of nuclear subs, one being the Oscar-class (a Soviet-era cruise missile submarine that can carry up to four "Kanyons").
The Washington Free Beacon reports that the vehicle was tested in November 2016.
The authors of the review warn that Russia has been diversifying its nuclear capabilities and make the case that the US should do the same. While past administrations have been gradually winding down the US nuclear program, the new strategy calls for more nukes and, essentially, a more hawk-like nuclear policy.
Apparently, Russia is in the process of modernizing its old Soviet-era nuclear systems.
“These efforts include multiple upgrades for every leg of the Russian nuclear triad of strategic bombers, sea-based missiles, and land-based missiles,” the report states.
And it's introducing new nuclear delivery vehicles, including "Kanyon".
“Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo,” it continues.
The Pentagon justifies its decision to reverse Obama-era nuclear policy on the need for more effective deterrence. Proponents of the policy change argue that the majority of weapons in the US nuclear arsenal are too big and too deadly to use. To prove to other countries that the US is prepared to use nuclear weapons, the military needs to up their supply of low-yield (low-explosion) missiles.
“Our goal is to convince adversaries they have nothing to gain and everything to lose from the use of nuclear weapons,” the document states.
Critics argue that "smaller" weapons are more usable. Thus, they increase the risk of nuclear Armageddon. (FYI, the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki would fall into the "low-yield" category.) Others point out that the US already has plenty of low-yield nukes at its disposal.