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The strange revelation of Russia's newest nuclear weapon National TV networks ‘accidentally’ leak a classified document about an underwater drone prototype

Source: Meduza
Photo: Kremlin Press Service

On November 9, Vladimir Putin held one of his biannual meetings with top advisors to discuss the development of Russia's military-industrial complex. Television news cameras were on hand to cover the conference, and they happened to film documents mentioning a multipurpose oceanic system named the "Status-6." The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed that the media really did broadcast images of a secret document, and the TV stations that aired these images have already begun deleting them from their websites. Meduza summarizes what happened.

On November 11, bloggers started sharing images of a secret nuclear weapon being developed by Russia. The pictures were allegedly stills from a video report that aired on the national TV networks Pervyi Kanal and NTV. The footage was from a meeting on the development of Russia's military-industrial complex. Cameras also filmed the top page of a presentation about something called "Status-6." On a LiveJournal blog run by the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), which monitors new kinds of military hardware, Internet users devoted particular attention to the new weapon system.

In the screenshot pulled from the TV news report, the text of the classified report is easily visible. It reads, "Damaging vital components of the enemy's economy near its coastline and causing an assured level of unacceptable damage to the country's territory by creating zones of extensive radioactive contamination, making these areas unsuitable for military or agro-economic activities, or other kinds of activities, for a prolonged period."


The authors of CAST's LiveJournal blog say the new weapon will presumably be loaded onto the Project 09852 (Belgorod) cruise missile submarine or the future Project 09851 (Khabarovsk) nuclear submarine. The leaked image of the report also depicts another apparatus, though it's unclear from the page what it is. Bloggers speculate that it's some kind of underwater drone.

Military aficionados online say Russia has for years been developing a robotic underwater vehicle. The Pentagon has reportedly code-named the drone "Kanyon." There are several theories about what this weapon does. It could be a rocket capable of launching from the bottom of the sea, or some projectile that travels some distance underwater and then takes to the air as a cruise missile for attacks on targets on the ground. The Kanyon project is reportedly being developed by the Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering “Rubin,” whose designs are the foundation for more than 80 percent of the Soviet and now Russian submarine fleet. This same design bureau is also named in the document leaked on Russian television today.

On September 8, 2015, The Washington Free Beacon reported that Pentagon officials claim "Russia is building a drone submarine to deliver large-scale nuclear weapons against US harbors and coastal cities." According to the website, the drone would be capable of delivering "a nuclear warhead ranging in size to 'tens' of megatons in yield" (more than a thousand times the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima). The Russian news agency RBC says a source in the defense industry claims the Kanyon is a guided torpedo, built on a concept first proposed by Russian nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, originally code-named T-15, and later abandoned in 1954.

No underwater weapon called "Status-6" was ever mentioned anywhere on the Internet before the news reports on television today. Since then, bloggers and analysts online have hotly debated whether the revelation was an honest mistake or a deliberate leak. Making matters more intriguing, the Kremlin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, who typically denies almost every rumor or bit of speculation from the public, unexpectedly confirmed to reporters today that images of a secret report were in fact leaked to the press by accident. Peskov even responded specifically to commentary in the Russian blogosphere (not reports in the mainstream media, where news about the leaked military document hadn't yet generated much interest). Peskov said that he is unaware if anyone has been or even will be punished for leaking the classified information, but he promised that "preventative measures" would be taken to prevent the incident from reoccurring. 

After Peskov's press briefing, journalists were informed of a new rule applying to the President's meetings with military personnel that prohibits filming or photographing anyone but the President himself.

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