Is Putin Building a Drone Sub to Deliver Dirty Bombs?
Policy + Politics

Is Putin Building a Drone Sub to Deliver Dirty Bombs?

© RIA Novosti / Reuters

In the Russia of President Vladimir Putin, state-run television airs a lot of footage of the country’s leader in very serious-looking meetings, frequently with military leaders, but rarely provides much important information. However, a segment broadcast on Channel One on Tuesday may have revealed too much when it appeared to show plans for a new and alarming weapon: a high-speed drone submarine capable of delivering a “dirty bomb,” or perhaps an actual nuclear warhead, to strategic coastal targets.

The image of a page in a briefing book, which appeared briefly on the screen, was later edited out by Channel One, but not before it was captured and placed on YouTube by reporters.

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Speaking to the media, Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said, “Certain secrets indeed were caught on camera that is why later they were deleted.”

“We are hopeful it will not happen again," Peskov said. “In the future, we will certainly take preventive measures not to let it happen again.”

The plan appeared to show an autonomous underwater vehicle that, according to the specifications on the sheet, could be transported while attached to the outer hull of a normal submarine and could later be released to attack a target on its own.

According to a translation of some of the document by the blog, the aim of the drone’s payload is “damaging the important components of the adversary's economy in a coastal area and inflicting unacceptable damage to a country's territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”

Defense reporter Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon reported in September that Russia is building an autonomous drone capable of delivering some sort of nuclear payload. However, the ostensibly inadvertent exposure of a detailed description of the device, and the suggestion that it might deliver not a nuclear device, but a dirty bomb, confused a number of observers.

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“Russia is not the only country that is working on underwater drones. But the payload looks like a massive ‘dirty bomb,’ which strikes me as absolutely crazy,” wrote one of the bloggers at “A number of people noted that the description does not necessarily exclude the possibility that the initial ‘damaging’ can be done by a regular nuclear device. Which only makes this whole thing even more insane - do they think that a nuclear weapon on its own would not inflict ‘unacceptable damage’?”

At The Daily Beast, David Axe weighs in with a warning that anything shown on Russian state television ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

“Soviet intelligence, which Putin once served, mastered the art of dezinformatsiya, or disinformation, the purposeful spreading of falsehoods in order to hoodwink the West,” he notes. “So while it’s certainly plausible [that] sloppy Channel One editing gave keen viewers a chance to glimpse perfectly intelligible specs for a new Russian weapon system, it’s just as plausible that viewers were shown exactly what the Kremlin wanted them to see — plans for something that doesn’t exist.”