Status-6 and Micronaval Priorities
The Pentagon has officially acknowledged the existence of Status-6, a Russian "intercontinental nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo" designed to not only destroy coastal targets, such as ports and naval bases, but render those areas uninhabitable for nearly a century. The acknowledgement of what is being called a doomsday weapon comes via a draft of the defense department's Nuclear Posture Review.
Although the existence of Status-6 has now been acknowledged, its reported capabilities - 100 MT warhead, cobalt-60 "salting," running depth of 1000 meters, range of 10,000 kilometers, speeds as high as 56 (or even 100) knots - have yet to be confirmed. But assuming Status-6 is in fact genuine, and that its features have not been exaggerated or its existence outright fabricated for disinformation purposes, then the United States is facing an alarmingly unique threat which can only be defeated by equally unique countermeasures. The value of the Atom-class submarine and Strikepods, therefore, has never been more clear, and the need for a well articulated doctrine for microsubmarine employment in undersea nuclear deterrence has never been more urgent.
By leveraging the flexibility and autonomy of the Atom-class microsubmarine, a Strikepod, or group of Strikepods, can be configured to act as a roaming, undersea ballistic missile-style defense network to intercept, disrupt and/or destroy incoming Status-6 vehicles.
Critical to mission success will be identifying and closely monitoring Status-6 launch platforms in order to maximize tactical warning lead time. Analysts believe the most likely launch platforms will be the forthcoming Project 09852 Belgorod or Project 0951 Khabarovsk submarines, both of which are capable of carrying up to six weapons. It is also possible that an as-yet undeveloped class of submarine or large displacement AUV could also act as a launch platform.
At this time, only a single unit of each boat appears slated for production, meaning that a maximum of twelve weapons could be deployed at one time. Given the destructive capability of even a single Status-6, this would seem adequate to ensure a devastating strike capability and hold NATO at risk.
Concentrating Status-6s within only two platforms, however, will make the entire Russian undersea micronuclear capability vulnerable to attack, potentially denying Russian planners a strategic option during either an initial or counter strike. We therefore believe that both Belgorod and Khabarovsk will operate either exclusively beneath the Arctic ice where background noise provides acoustic camouflage, or in nearby strategic bastions (see below) where they can be protected by Russian attack submarines or micronaval assets, such as Istina-class microsubmarines.
There are two deployment options available to Russian planners to protect Status-6: Strategic Bastion, similar to the Soviet and post-Cold War Russian practice of keeping SSBNs close to shore in areas heavily defended by sea and land-based ASW assets, and Strategic Dispersal, scattering Status-6s regionally or globally to increase survivability by presenting multiple autonomous, independently targeted vehicles.
Status-6s are held close to the Russian coastline either:
- Within host platforms defended by Russian attack submarines, surface ships, and air assets,
- On patrol in shallow littoral areas, accompanied by Istina-class microsubmarines, or
- Dormant on the sea floor, perhaps even housed within hardened shelters or fixed launch platforms, while guarded by pods of Istinas or other micronaval assets.
Status-6s are scattered throughout the world's oceans, far from their intended targets, obscured by the vastness of the sea and undersea geography while awaiting the order to launch. Such a strategy would be operationally challenging, requiring robust and reliable undersea communications, as well as a highly advanced command and control infrastructure that would involve multiple classes of micronaval assets to relay launch data and conduct counter-UUV operations. With a purported range of 10,000 km, Status-6s could be deployed anywhere in the world, far from their intended targets, attacking with little or no warning.
Status-6 can be defeated by leveraging the superior maneuverability and autonomy of the Atom-class microsubmarine, as well as the swarming capability of Strikepods. Given, however, that the top speed of a Status-6 is anywhere from two to four times that of the Atom-class, the key to mission success will be maximizing tactical lead time in order to plot and execute an effective intercept.
Given its high rate of speed, as well as limitations on the known design, it is unlikely that Status-6 engineers incorporated meaningful noise-dampening features, making the weapon vulnerable to acoustic detection. The Atom-class, with its BQQ-M1 bow-mounted sonar array, and M-LWWAA Micro Light Weight Wide Aperture Array, therefore, could detect an incoming Status-6 at a range of approximately 7 to 10 km (depending on environmental conditions), providing a lead time of roughly 4 to 6 minutes at a top speed of 56 kts, and 2.5 to 3.5 minutes at a speed of 100 kts, enough time for a Strikepod to plot an intercept solution and execute a multi-ship attack.
Unlike the Russian Istina, which incorporates sophisticated shielding for its micronuclear reactor, Status-6 design renderings suggest that no such shielding is present, making it vulnerable to radiological detection. The weapon will likely leave a trail of charged particles as it moves through the water, or generate a cloud as it lies in wait on the seabed.
While speed is an advantage for Status-6, Russian planners surely recognize that it may not always be enough to penetrate an integrated defense network comprised of Strikepods or other countermeasures. We therefore believe that Status-6s will often be escorted by Istina-class microsubmarines to screen for and neutralize micronaval threats in advance of an attack.
Continue to monitor developments with Status-6 and its host platforms, Belgorod and Khabarovsk. This will require immediate Strikepod deployments to the Barents and White Seas, as well as Sevmash shipyard.
Identify Russian operational doctrine with respect to Status-6 specifically, and undersea nuclear warfare generally.
Increase production of Atom-class microsubmarines and other micronaval countermeasures. Accelerate development of the proposed Block II Atom-class.
Articulate an operational doctrine for Strikepods in undersea nuclear deterrence and defense.
Fast-track development of the Atlantic Undersea Defense Network (AUDEN) for defense against micronaval threats to CONUS, including Status-6.