December 5, 2015

Comments on Russia's (possibly) nuclear armed, nuclear propelled torpedo.

The following diagrams and torpedo and submarine specifications are from H I Sutton's excellent Covert Shores website .  H I Sutton's specific post with H I Sutton's full analysis is "Analysis - Russian Status-6 aka KANYON nuclear deterrence and Pr 09851 submarine", November 20, 2015. 

The test submarine preceding the KHARBAROVSK is known as the SAROV. See SAROV photo below.

                          See the Covert Shores post on the Sarov of September 9, 2014. 

H I Sutton has provided the following description of the SAROV's extraordinary powerplant: the "propulsion arrangement is one of the things that makes [SAROV] so unique and interesting. There isn't even a designation for it. SSKN? How it works (apparently) is that the nuclear reactor on board is much smaller than the ones in regular submarines, and is not used to power the boat directly. Instead it is used to recharge the batteries, which power the electric motors which in turn drive the propeller. This is a form of air-independent propulsion [unlike any] installed on the latest conventional submarines. [SAROV] also has an auxiliary diesel powerplant as back-up."

Status-6 "KANYON" torpedo 

The Status-6 aka KANYON, described as an unmanned midget submarine, is better thought of as a massively-large nuclear powered and nuclear armed torpedo. It is huge 1.6m in diameter and about 24m long. To put that into perspective, it is about 27 times the volume of a regular 533mm  heavyweight torpedo. 

Above is the outer casing and cross section of what the Status-6 "KANYON" nuclear armed, nuclear propelled torpedo may look like. (Cross section according to the "leaked" Russian plans)

The Status-6 torpedo may be intended to strike coastal cities and strategic targets (eg. Pearl Harbor, Norfolk Virginia, even the SSN base at Guam, the SSBN base in Georgia, US or the SSBN base at Kitsap Washington State). The warhead's high reported yield of 100 megatons sounds excessive and may indicate its fear-deterrent value rather than practical military value. 

The following are excerpts from H I Sutton's comments. Pete has redded some particularly interesting parts.

Depth: The stated running depth of the torpedo of 1,000m is possible as there is no inhabited pressure hull to worry credible and places it below current countermeasures.

Speed: The claimed speed of 100 knots is fast for a torpedo. The leaked cutaway drawing shows that there is a nuclear reactor coupled with a steam turbine driving a propeller shaft.

Range: The leaked document claims that the weapon can be launched from as far as 10,000 km (5,400 nm) away. At 100kt, it would take 4 days to reach its target at maximum range. It also seems likely that some of the distance would be accomplished under ice adding additional complexity both to navigation and to NATO countermeasures.

The speed parameter seems unrealistic and the range is not operationally necessary. To put it nicely, most people exaggerate their projects to their bosses. I’d wager that they are lying to Putin and themselves as much as to the West. This does not mean that the project is not (at his stage) real. 

Status-6 "KANYON" Torpedo Specifications:

Length: 24m (estimated) [4 times longer than a long 533mm heavyweight torpedo]

Diameter: 1.6m [3 times diameter of a standard 533mm heavyweight torpedo]
Weight: TBC - heavy and negatively buoyant
Speed: Stated as 100kt
Endurance: 10,000 km (5200 nm) and ~100 hrs
Maximum Operating depth: 1,000m
Crew: unmanned
Warhead: Nuclear with Cobalt shell. Payload to be confirmed but speculated to be as high as 100 megatons.
Powerplant: 1 x nuclear reactor driving a pumpjet.
Sensors: Long range internal guidance, possibly with external update/abort. Obstacle avoidance sonar.
No decoys?

Trail of radioactive contamination 
It is not feasible that the structure of the torpedo contains shielding for the reactor so the device must leave a trail of radioactive contamination behind it as it runs. This is true even in test runs.

The lack of shielding also means that the reactors cannot be test-run while inside the launch tube. Maintenance is thus much harder than on the ICBMs carried in other strategic submarines, and the weapons are essentially sealed containers. 

KHABAROVSK submarine

The main launching platform of KANYON is likely to be the new Project 09851 "KHABAROVSK" submarine. Similar to but smaller than the Project 955 'BOREI'  SSBN


-  may be 120m long versus 160m for the BOREI. 
-  does not require the missile section behind the sail. 
-  may share components and even hull sections with the BOREI
-  stated displacement of 10,000 tons (surfaced) makes it large but much lighter than the 13,000 ton BOREI.

The leaked graphic strongly hints toward the KHABAROVSK having two side-by-side hulls in the bow. This is a highly unusual arrangement but is similar to the SAROV submarine used to test the Status-6 torpedo. The basic reason behind this arrangement is that the torpedoes have to fire forward, and are carried externally to the inhabited pressure hulls. Therefore a stack of six massive torpedo tubes occupied the space where the forward pressure hull would ordinarily be, thus shifting occupied space into smaller hulls either side. 

Above is a front on cross-section of KHARBAROVSK  (right). The orange circles indicate the tubes for 6 x Status-6 nuclear torpedos. 

Below is a cutaway view. As the weight of the KHARBAROVSK  is an estimates 10,000 tons surfaced what appear to be 6 average sized torpedo tubes are actually large Status-6 torpedos.

What the KHARBAROVSK may look like. Note standard 533mm (and/or 650mm) torpedo at top above bow then just above bow is the much larger Status 6 nuclear powered, nuclear warhead Status-6 torpedo (Original artwork by H I Sutton) 

KHARBAROVSK submarine specifications:

Displacement: 10,000 tons surfaced
Length: 120m (estimate, see analysis)
Diameter: 13m main hull, 16m across forward section (estimates, see analysis)
Speed: TBC but almost certainly over 20kt
Endurance: Unlimited. At least 60 days supplies
Maximum Operating depth: TBC - likely 400-500m
Crew: TBC
Powerplant: 1 x nuclear reactor (probably ОК-650В) driving a single pumpjet.

Armament: 6 x Status-6 nuclear torpedoes. Unspecified capability to launch 533mm or 650mm torpedoes and decoys.

H I Sutton assesses SAROV, KHARBAROVSK and Status-6 to be real projects and "far too expensive to play such a ruse."


The leaking of Status-6 (‘KANYON’) nuclear torpedo details [around November 11, 2015] may be a  piece of Putin propaganda. The concept of firing a huge nuclear armed, nuclear powered Status-6 torpedo would be very unstealthy and easily countered. However, Putin is the kind of unorthodox leader who may preside over such a project.

Treat the Status-6 as an underwater cruise missile that only travels at 100 knots, compared to around 10,000 mph for an SLBM. It may take days of submerged travel of the KHARBAROVSK carrier submarine and/or Status-6 independent travel to hit a target.

Undersea sensor arrays may give several hours of warning of a  KHARBAROVSK submarine or Status-6 torpedo approach. The sensor arrays may be slaved to fast moving mines, missiles, depth bombs or torpedos to destroy the a KHARBAROVSK or Status-6. Here is a commercially available radiation sensor.

Unlike an ICBM the Status-6 is not MIRVed and carries no known decoys. The Status-6 torpedo is particularly unstealthy because it will shed a radiation trail and have an unusual (probably loud) acoustic signature. Underwater radiation sensors exist - that may be on the seafloor, tethered 1,000 meters deep or nearer the surface   

While the KHARBAROVSK and Status 6 may be of limited military value they may act as a feared deterrent in the spirit of mutually assured destruction (MAD)

Some of the many additional articles from H I Sutton's superb Covert Shores include:



MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

Water is a perfect shield for radiation. The next thing is an enemy may know that a torpedo is coming but what counter measures are available to defeat weapon with a submerged speed of 100 kn? Does the US have some supercavitating torpedoes with homing sensors?


Anonymous said...

The idea of using a generator running at constant speed to recharge batteries that in turn power the motors driving propellers are found on most diesel electric ships like the latest cruise ships. It is not clear if a Sarov's nuclear-electric propulsion presents any advantages over a traditional nuclear propulsion implementation. After all you cannot shut off a nuclear reactor like a diesel generator to run silent on batteries alone. A nuclear reactor will still need cooling so all those pumps will still generate noises.
I do not see any uses to this Status-6 when Russia already deploys advanced mobile RS-24/26 launchers that are much harder to counter.

Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

I don't know enough about the dynamics of radiation spread underwater to be sure about the efficiency/degree of sensitivity of underwater radiation detectors. Might be a classified field.

Countermeasures against a torpedo moving at 100 knots need not be restricted to torpedos fired underwater that need to catchup with the 100 knot torpedo. For example:

- lighweight torpedos dropped by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft in front of the 100 knotter could hit a 100 knot torpedo from the front. If the LWT is doing 30 knots the closing speed will be a 130 knots. I'm sure Lockheed Martin can develop the guidance/trigger system.

Western improvements to the Chinese 1980s technology would be quite acheivable.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

Going to the trouble of using a reactor to recharge batteries seems to expose the noise/heat (and shutoff lag) downsides of reactors while note providing the the usual speed advantages of reactor use.

The reactor-battery hybrid solution may indicate Russia's failure (in public so far) to produce a modern AIP system. There seems to be no developed Russian fuel-cell AIP so Russia has had major problems developing and marketing the Lada/Amur or Kalina class subs.

Yes, as I said in the text, the Status-6 seems to be like a slow 100 knot "cruise missile" which is inferior to 10,000 mph SLBMs. Russia has put enormous effort into making its newer ICBMs and SLBMs manoeuvrable, some low azimuth, with chaff and other decoys.

Nuclear torpedos against cities were under development by the superpowers in the 1950s then shelved in favour of SLBMs/ICBMs. I think Putin is revisiting them more as a propaganda, terror weapon than an efficient military weapon. Also doomsday weapons of 10 MT have/are being phased out making a 100 MT weapon a reversal of nuclear arms treaties.



Anonymous said...

Mr. Putin just shows off by having his Kilo fired off several Kalibr (I think 7 in the video) from the Mediterranean sea. This is still a unique capability among diesel submarines I think.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [Dec 9, 11:38AM]

Here's the Kilo - Kalibr video

Just goes to show that Russia is finally perfecting long range cruise missiles for submarine decades after the US used them in 1991