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May 19, 2022
Notes from the Pentagon

Russia to deploy nuclear-armed drone torpedo

By Bill Gertz
Russia’s navy later this year will deploy a drone torpedo armed with a megaton-class nuclear warhead capable of destroying entire cities or ports, according to the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Adm. John Aquilino, the commander, disclosed in House testimony Tuesday that the drone torpedo, dubbed Poseidon by the Russians, will be carried on a massive new special-purpose submarine called the Belgorod that will be deployed this year. In addition to the Belgorod, the Russian military is adding at least one Dolgorukiy II-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine to the two Dolgorukiy I missile submarines already in the Pacific Fleet.

The four-star admiral did not say whether the Belgorod would be deployed with Russian forces in the Atlantic or the Pacific, but the Belgorod is said to be one of the most worrying new strategic systems because of the introduction of the Poseidon.

According to Pentagon officials familiar with intelligence reports, the Poseidon will be equipped with a nuclear warhead measured in the tens of megatons of explosive power. A megaton is the equivalent of 1 million tons of TNT. Additionally, the drone torpedo will be capable of traveling at speeds as high as 100 knots, considered extremely fast for an underwater robot vehicle.

The Belgorod is believed to be capable of carrying six Poseidons. Each torpedo would be capable of destroying a port or city by detonating near the coast.

The four-star admiral stated that Russia wants to become “a center of gravity in a multipolar world order by undermining democratic, free and open societies in favor of authoritarian structures.”

Most of that effort is in the European region. In the Pacific, Moscow is supporting the Myanmar military junta, and providing aid to North Korea in evading and undermining U.N. Security Council sanctions.

According to defense officials, the Poseidon drone torpedo is one of several nuclear “superweapons” that are part of President Vladimir Putin’s bid to return Russia to nuclear superpower status. Others include the nuclear-armed, ICBM-launched Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle and the Skyfall nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed cruise missile.

U.S. Strategic Command commander Adm. Charles Richard said last year that the Poseidon, Avangard and Skyfall “threaten to redefine Russia’s nuclear force with asymmetric strategic weapons capabilities never before fielded.”

The Navy has no weapons comparable to the Poseidon and the Pentagon is in the process of retiring all its megaton-class nuclear weapons that were intended for use against deeply buried targets.

China preps for missile attacks on U.S. warships
Satellite photographs over China’s desert have revealed a rail-based target shaped like a U.S. aircraft carrier that analysts say will be used for testing whether Chinese military’s medium-range ballistic missiles are accurate enough to hit moving ships at sea.

Maxar Technologies spotted the carrier target at a special facility in Ruoqiang province in western Xinjiang last fall. Past satellite photo discoveries have shown the outlines of ships in the Chinese desert, including guided-missile destroyer shapes.

But the Ruoqiang facility is unique for showing an actual ship mockup that moves on a rail to simulate the transit of an aircraft carrier or amphibious assault carrier through the sea.

The carrier mockup appears designed for testing two Chinese ballistic missiles, the medium-range DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile and the DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missile, currently in the arsenal of the People’s Liberation Army rocket force.

“The recent commercial satellite imagery showing mock ships in port in China’s western deserts reminds us of the PRC’s long standing effort to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers,” said retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former intelligence director for the Pacific Fleet.

“For almost 20 years the PLA rocket force, in conjunction with the PLA navy and strategic support force, have been diligently working to develop an anti-carrier ballistic missile program that can sink U.S. Navy aircraft carriers operating within the first and second island chains,” he added.

China’s military has been building up forces to control two Pacific island chains stretching from the northwest Pacific south through the South China Sea.

The DF-21D was the first missile able to reach any U.S. Navy large-deck platform inside the first island chain. The DF-26, an extended range version of the DF-21D, can reach as far as Guam in the second island chain.

“The purpose of these two PLA programs is to create a ‘counter intervention’ strategy that would push U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft and expeditionary carriers outside of these two island chains and thus provide the rest of the PLA the time and opportunity to conduct a successful invasion of Taiwan,” Capt. Fanell said.

Both missiles were flight tested in the fall of 2020 against moving targets in the South China Sea and now should be considered fully operational, he said. Capt. Fanell said the Navy now needs to adopt countermeasures that will allow carriers and expeditionary strike groups to operate within the missile envelopes of the two strike weapons.

Naval affair blogger H.I. Sutton said the desert satellite images indicate the Chinese are honing their ship-killing skills in preparation for a future conflict. The Ruoqiang facility is part of a string of large-scale target ranges running along the eastern edge of the desert.

About eight miles southwest of the carrier layout is a target with full-scale piers and a destroyer-sized target that was built in December, Mr. Sutton said.

Anti-ship ballistic missiles, “if they are able to discern a ship from a pier, could inflict a killer opening blow against an enemy navy,” Mr. Sutton stated in a post last week in the online outlet USNI News. “The fear is fleets could be decapitated before they can escape to open water or disperse.”

DNI on climate change
President Biden and members of his administration frequently refer to climate change as “an existential threat.”

However, his most senior intelligence adviser, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, recently declined to describe climate change in those terms in the intelligence community’s annual assessment of threats around the globe.

Mr. Biden used the phrase about the threat of climate change most recently during remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner May 1.

“We honor members of the press, both national and local, covering a once-in-a-century pandemic where we lost a million Americans, a generation reckoning on race, and the existential threat of climate change,” the president said.

Last week during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Ms. Haines included a section of her threat assessment on climate change that indicates there is no intelligence supporting the claim that the problem poses a threat to the survival of humanity on the planet. Instead, DNI intelligence analysts assessed that climate change poses minor risks to national security.

“We assess that climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to U.S. national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge,” Ms. Haines said in her prepared testimony. “Meanwhile, environmental degradation will increasingly intersect with and worsen climate change effects in many countries, particularly low-income countries.”

The only impact from climate change predicted by the analysts is an increase in geopolitical tensions, and a “likely” increase in domestic and cross-border geopolitical flashpoints that could produce instability.

Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who testified alongside Ms. Haines, echoed the less-than-dire assessment of climate change in his testimony. No wording in the DNI assessment or the DIA testimony described climate change as an existential threat.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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