Shortly after President Donald Trump's controversial meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Russian government published several videos that appear to show off a host of new nuclear weapons systems.
Putin first publicly described that nuclear-powered device on March 1 during an address to the Russian Federal Assembly. He said the autonomous drone would quietly travel to "great depths," move faster than a submarine or boat, "have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit," and "carry massive nuclear ordnance," according to a Kremlin translation of Putin's remarks.
"Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications, and infrastructure," Putin said.
The videos the Russian president presented in March were primarily computer renderings, though Putin claimed Russia had finished testing a nuclear-powered engine for the torpedo in December. However, on July 19, the Russian Ministry of Defense uploaded several new clips to its YouTube account that may show real-world hardware — including one of a torpedo-shaped device called "Poseidon."
Defense analyst H.I. Sutton wrote in a blog post that the prototype in the new video is "generally consistent" with Russia's prior depictions of a giant, autonomous, nuclear-powered, nuclear-weapon-armed submarine. The device also goes by the code names Oceanic Multipurpose System Status-6, Skif, and Kanyon.
Based on still images from the video, Sutton said he figures Poseidon could be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide and 20 meters (66 feet) long, with room for a nuclear reactor in the center and a large thermonuclear warhead toward the front.
"It is really fantastic," Putin said of the device in March, adding, "there is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them."
Why the Russian 'doomsday' device could be terrifying
The Russian government reportedly leaked a diagram of a Poseidon-like weapon in 2015 that suggested it would carry a 50-megaton nuclear bomb about as powerful as Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear device ever detonated.
In a 2015 article in Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear policy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, dubbed the hypothetical weapon "Putin's doomsday machine."
Nuclear physicists say such a weapon detonated below the ocean's surface could trigger a local tsunami, causing great devastation. US nuclear tests of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, including the underwater operations Crossroads Baker and Hardtack I Wahoo, demonstrated why.
These underwater fireballs were roughly as energetic as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki in August 1945. In the tests, they burst through the surface, ejecting pillars of seawater more than a mile high while rippling out powerful shockwaves.