Russian President Vladimir Putin, in language suggesting the start of a new Cold War, revealed Russia is building nuclear-powered cruise missiles, drone submarines, and other strategic arms designed to attack the United States.
During an annual address, the Russian leader boasted the new cruise missile was tested in December and utilizes small nuclear reactor technology recently developed by Russian weapons designers.
Videos shown during the speech showed a model of the new missile and other high-tech arms, including one that simulated a Russian nuclear strike on the United States.
“We’ve started the development of new types of strategic weapons that do not use ballistic flight paths on the way to the target,” Putin said. “This means that the missile defense systems are useless as a counter-means and just senseless.”
The White House quickly fired back. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the new Russian forces are destabilizing and violate arms agreements.
“President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along, which Russia has denied: Russia’s been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade, in direct violation of its treaty obligations,” she said.
“As the president’s Nuclear Posture review made clear, America is moving forward to modernize our nuclear arsenal and ensure our capabilities are unmatched.”
The State Department criticized Russia’s video showing the simulated nuclear strike. “We don’t regard that as the behavior of a responsible international player,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
The Pentagon said the new weapons were known to U.S. intelligence and are one reason U.S. nuclear forces are being modernized. “We’re not surprised by the statement,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White.
“We need to ensure we have a credible nuclear deterrent, and we are confident that we are prepared to defend this nation no matter what,” she told reporters.
Putin also confirmed development of a nuclear-armed, long-range underwater drone. The drone submarine was first reported by the Free Beacon in 2015.
The drone can attack aircraft carrier battle groups, shoreline defenses and infrastructure, and also cannot be countered. The drones can be armed with either nuclear or conventional explosive warheads, Putin said.
The Russian leader, who is expected to be reelected in elections this month, said the very small, high-powered nuclear reactor on the missile is also being used to power the underwater drone the Pentagon has code-named Kanyon.
The underwater drones will be capable of diving “to extreme depths” while traversing long distances at speeds several times faster than a torpedo, he said.
“They are quiet, highly maneuverable and have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit. There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them,” Putin said.
Putin made clear that his nuclear power “is not a bluff” and he told those living in the past to “stop rocking the boat we are all in and which is called the earth.”
The nuclear bluster is part of Russia’s promised response to the U.S. deployment missile defenses in Europe over the past decade that are designed to counter Iranian missiles.
Expanding U.S. missile defenses, according to Putin, had nullified “all agreements” under the 2010 New START arms treaty. He also said the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2002 prompted the nuclear arms buildup.
The Pentagon is putting missile defense interceptors in Romania and Poland and has numerous missile defense ships in the region.
Russia insists the defenses are targeting Moscow’s missiles.
White, the Pentagon spokeswoman, denied that. “Our missile defense has never been about them,” she said of the Russians.
The tough talk from the Russian leader follows the publication of the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review that warned about the growing nuclear threat from both Russia and China.
The Pentagon announced last month it will modify current nuclear warheads to produce low-yield weapons to counter Russia’s development of small warheads.
White said the new Russian nuclear arms unveiled by Putin were factored into the nuclear posture review.
The posture review report said nuclear dangers are increasing as Russia and China expand their forces and North Korea gains new strategic capabilities.
“Russia’s strategic nuclear modernization has increased, and will continue to increase its warhead delivery capacity, and provides Russia with the ability to rapidly expand its deployed warhead numbers,” the report said.
The use of a nuclear reactor-propelled missile is not unprecedented. The Air Force designed and tested a nuclear scramjet-powered supersonic low-altitude missile, or SLAM in the 1950s called Project Pluto. The weapon was abandoned in 1964 in favor of land-based ballistic missiles.
Among the new technical developments, Putin said is “creation of a small-size highly powerful nuclear power plant that can be planted inside the hull of a cruise missile identical to our air-launched X-101 [KH-101] or the United States’ Tomahawk, but at the same time is capable of guaranteeing a flight range that is dozens of times greater, which is practically unlimited.”
“A low-flying low-visibility cruise missile armed with a nuclear warhead and possessing a practically unlimited range, unpredictable flight path, and the capability to impregnate practically all interception lines is invulnerable to all existing and future anti-missile and air defense weapons,” Putin said.
The nuclear propulsion system produced enough thrust and power during flight tests and ground tests and permit “work to create a fundamentally new type of weapon—a strategic nuclear missile equipped with a nuclear power plant,” Putin said.
Former Pentagon nuclear policymaker Mark Schneider said the nuclear-powered cruise missile could be Moscow’s Kh-101 long-range cruise missile.
“You can’t flight test one of these without a mini-nuclear disaster,” he said. “If the guidance system fails, you have no idea where this will hit.”
Schneider, who closely monitors Russian nuclear affairs, said the Putin remarks were “the most rabid speech I have ever seen him give.”
“The missile launch videos are unprecedented,” he said. “Usually he has a paragraph or two of attacks on the U.S., and then his militarism and nuclear threats. This time it is immediate retaliation and the standard super-weapons pitch only take it to an extreme.”
The new cruise missile also appears capable of maneuvering during flight, a capability designed to frustrate missile defenses.
Current U.S. missile defenses are designed to knock out missiles with a predictable, unchanging trajectory.
“This shows the way it will be coping with defense lines,” Putin said of the video. “The range is unlimited, so the maneuvering can go on indefinitely.”
Putin boasted that no nation has similar capabilities and should similar arms eventually be produced, “our guys will come up with something else by then.”
Putin insisted Russia wants peace but said any attempt to use nuclear arms against Russian will be met with immediate retaliation, he said.
“I believe it as my duty to say this: any use of nuclear weapons of any yield—small, medium, or whatever—against Russia or its allies will be regarded as a nuclear attack against our country. Retaliation will be instant with all the ensuing consequences.”
Putin bragged that its new weapons showed the United States that Moscow has rebounded from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
He also denounced those seeking an arms race and unilateral advantage over Russia through sanctions and other international restrictions on Moscow’s military development. “Everything you have tried to prevent through such a policy has already happened,” he said. “No one has managed to restrain Russia.”
Other new arms discussed in the speech include the heavy intercontinental ballistic missile called Sarmat, or RS-28 that Putin said could reach U.S. territory by flying over the South Pole. Polar trajectories are designed to frustrate missile sensors and defenses, including U.S. interceptors based in Alaska.
Russia also showed off two variants of hypersonic weapons—ultra-fast missiles that travel at five to ten times the speed of sound.
One is an air launched hypersonic vehicle called Kinzhal, or Dagger, that travels at Mach 10, or 7,672 miles per hour, with a range of up to 1,240 miles. The missile can be armed with nuclear or conventional explosive warheads and is being tested for combat duty in southern Russia.
A second hypersonic missile, a glider deployed from space, is capable of traveling at Mach 20, or 15,345 miles per hour. It is called Avangard, or Advance Guard.
Russia also is building a laser weapon that was deployed for the first time last year that appeared from a video to be an anti-aircraft weapon.
The Russian leader said the weapons will provide new leverage in Moscow’s dealings with foreign states, and would not have been needed if Russia’s security concerns were addressed.
“Nobody wanted to talk with us on the core of the problem. Nobody listened to us. Now you listen!” he said.
Russia’s relations with the west soured after Moscow forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and has backing covert paramilitary operations to destabilize Ukraine, which Russia is seeking to control.