WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Russia is amassing unprecedented military might in the Arctic and testing its newest weapons in a region freshly ice-free due to the climate emergency, in a bid to secure its northern coast and open up a key shipping route from Asia to Europe.
Weapons experts and Western officials have expressed particular concern about one Russian ‘super-weapon,’ the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo. Development of the torpedo is moving fast with Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting an update on a "key stage” of the tests in February from his defense minister Sergei Shoigu, with further tests planned this year, according to multiple reports in state media.
ThE unmanned stealth torpedo is powered by a nuclear reactor and intended by Russian designers to sneak past coastal defenses -- like those of the U.S. -- on the sea floor.
The device is intended to deliver a warhead of multiple megatons, according to Russian officials, causing radioactive waves that would render swathes of the target coastline uninhabitable for decades.
In November, Christopher A Ford, then assistant secretary of state for International Security and Non-Proliferation, said the Poseidon is designed to "inundate U.S. coastal cities with radioactive tsunamis.”
Experts agree that the weapon is "very real” and already coming to fruition. The head of Norwegian intelligence, Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes, told CNN that his agency has assessed the Poseidon as "part of the new type of nuclear deterrent weapons.
Satellite images provided to CNN by space technology company Maxar detail a stark and continuous build-up of Russian military bases and hardware on the country’s Arctic coastline, together with underground storage facilities
likely for the Poseidon and other new high-tech weapons. The Russian hardware in the High North area includes bombers and MiG31BM jets, and new radar systems close to the coast of Alaska.
The Russian build-up comes amid NATO and U.S. troop and equipment movements. American B-1 Lancer bombers stationed in Norway’s Ørland air base have recently completed missions in the eastern Barents Sea, for example. The U.S. military’s stealth Seawolf submarine was acknowledged by U.S. officials in August as being in the area.
The Tsirkon and the Poseidon are part of a new generation of weapons pledged by Putin in 2018 as strategic game changers in a fast-changing world.
At the time U.S. officials scorned the new weapons as technically far-fetched and improbable, yet they appear to be nearing fruition. The Norwegian intelligence chief Stensønes told CNN the Tsirkon as a "new technology, with hypersonic speeds, which makes it hard to defend against.”