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The Tsar Bomba

12 Oct

The Tsar Bomba, officially known as RDS-220 or Big Ivan to its Soviet creators, is the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by man. The first and only one of its kind was tested on October 30, 1961 at 11:32am. It was a 100 megaton bomb design but the uranium fusion stage tamper of the tertiary and secondary stages was replaced with lead, thus reducing the yield by 50% by disposing with the fast fissioning of the uranium tamper by the fusion neutrons. What that means is, the change in materials led to a much smaller explosion than originally planned but also had the added bonus of reducing the expected fallout by 97%. The effect of this bomb at full power would have been catastrophic on the Earth, increasing the world’s total fission fallout since the invention of the atom bomb by 25%. Do you understand? The fallout from one detonation of the Tsar Bomba would have been equivelant to 1/4 of all fallout from hundreds of atomic detonations up until that time.

The bomb was tested at Novaya Zemlya Island in the Russian Arctic Circle. It was airdropped and detonated at around 4,000 meters, being visible from1,000 kilometers away despite overcast weather. Even at the great height at which it exploded, the fireball reached down to the Earth and rose almost to the height at which is was deployed at 10,500 meters. The blast pressure below the burst point was 6 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb at 300 PSI. One cameraman recalled:

The clouds beneath the aircraft and in the distance were lit up by the powerful flash. The sea of light spread under the hatch and even clouds began to glow and became transparent. At that moment, our aircraft emerged from between two cloud layers and down below in the gap a huge bright orange ball was emerging. The ball was powerful and arrogant like Jupiter. Slowly and silently it crept upwards…. Having broken through the thick layer of clouds it kept growing. It seemed to suck the whole earth into it. The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural.

Shock waves were felt over 700 kilometers away, windows were broken at distances in excess of 900 kilometers, All buildings within 55 kilometers were destroyed and all wooden buildings within hundreds of kilometers were wiped out while stone or concrete buildings sustained massive damage. Radio communications were disrupted for almost an hour and atmospheric disturbance created by the blast orbited the planet an estimated three times. The mushroom cloud rose 64 kilometers into the atmosphere. The explosion shook the entire planet with seismic equipment on the other side of the Earth registering a seismic magnitude of 5.0 to 5.25. Ground zero had been glassed at the center of impact and eye-witnesses described the entire area as looking like a “skating rink” because the ground was swept clean and flat due to the blast wave and ultra high heat. All planes involved in the operation had been coated with a special reflective paint due to the calculation that the 50 megaton blast would be capable of causing 3rd degree burns at distances of 100+ kilometers. The effective damage radius of the weapon extended out to a 1,000 kilometer radius.

The Soviet Union was quickly condemned in the United Nations and the Western allies jumped back into the nuclear arms race. Thankfully, this monster never made it into the production line. The device’s size, weight, as well as it’s frightening destructive capabilities were deemed too extreme for use in a real conflict.

Russia’s Rearmament

3 Oct

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic depression, Russia’s armed forces have been in a steady decline for the last two decades, plagued by poor training in their conscript-based  military, outdated equipment, corruption, lack of funding and international embarrassment by its poor performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. But the Kremlin is breathing new life into its army by giving it a bigger budget, investing in new technology, changes in training and a much needed restructuring. Despite some groundbreaking ideas, Russia’s rearmament has encountered many obstacles and there are many old guard generals and politicians voicing their opposition to the “westernization” of the armed forces. Even in the face of intense criticism and the global financial crisis, Russia is still pushing ahead.

Moscow’s leadership is currently planning to abolish the WW2 era “mobilization” army which was designed to produce soldiers as quickly and cheaply as possible to fight in the million-man battles of the Eastern Front. Troop levels are expected to fall from 1.2 million to around one million active duty soldiers with a sizable reserve force and the military will spend much more money per soldier to bring their standards in training and equipment into line with other major powers. Most of the soldiers being laid off are part of the bloated officer corps. 37,000 alone were fired in 2009 for failing to meet the new standards. Russia has a fascinating phenomena called “phantom” divisions, which are pretty much officers who have no soldiers to command and do no actual work but reap the benefits of a high ranking position. Despite the decrease in manpower they are not expected to close any far-flung facilities or dismantle unused weapons systems. Even with these manpower reforms, government officials have time and again reneged on their promises to end conscription, a major grievance of the civilian population.

Russia has long been a leading arms producer of the world and is currently developing several new weapons systems including a joint venture with India to produce the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA stealth fighter. With a projected $650 billion to spend on modernizing the military, Russia is currently planning on procuring at least 150 new ICBMs, an advanced early-warning radar network, a fleet of supersonic Tu-160 strategic bombers, 600 other warplanes, 1,000 helicopters, 35 corvettes, 15 frigates, 20 submarines (of which 8 will be of the new nuclear Bulava class), at least one aircraft carrier, 2 French-made helicopter carriers, drone aircraft, French FELIN infantry combat suits and foreign small arms among other things. Whether Russia can ensure the funds go to where they are supposed to go is another thing. And the vast majority of industries that supplied the Soviet Union’s military industrial capacity during the Cold War have long since closed down after the budget cuts of the early 1990’s so it remains to be seen if their economy is capable of supporting a growing war machine.

Russia has come quite far in recent years in regards to its modernization efforts but there is still much improvement that needs to be done in order to turn its military into a world-class fighting force. Here are just a few examples of internal issues they are currently facing:

  • Corruption within all aspects of Russia’s military establishment is a critical issue that must be addressed. The chief military prosecutor has claimed that 20% of Russia’s entire military budget is stolen every year. However auditors have put the actual number at 40%.
  • The hundreds of thousands of soldiers being laid off will likely have no other opportunity for work with unemployment at 10%. Many are concerned that, like after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the jobless soldiers will have no other choice but to join the infamous Russian Mafia.
  • Soldiering is an unpopular career for the most part and authorities often employ questionable tactics when recruiting.
  • Sexual abuse and forced prostitution of young recruits by older soldiers is also fairly common.
  • Conscripts who finish their time at a young age are often unable to continue their education and receive no help from the government which greatly diminishes their chances of earning a prosperous living.
  • Treatment of soldiers by their superiors is often brutal and inhumane. There was even a case of soldiers being fed dog food to save money.
  • Russia’s military industrial complex is spinning out of control, with weapons developers exercising considerable sway in determining national policy, causing many alarmed analysts to claim that the MIC problem in Russia is far more dangerous than in the US. Interesting report on Russian MIC here.

As we can see, there are many serious problems that, if go unresolved, will result in not only instability in the military but in the rest of the population. It’s in Russia’s best interest to take care of these things so the rest of the military modernization can move along as smoothly as possible. You can’t raise the ultimate warrior on Kibbles n’ Bits.