Tag Archives: Russia

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.

NATO and the SCO. Doomed to be Enemies?

6 Sep

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance formed at the beginning of the Cold War to check the influence of the Soviet Union and its allies. Ever since the dissolution of their arch enemy, NATO has been having a bit of an identity crisis with many wondering if the alliance should be dissolved due to the lack of a common enemy. But recently it has taken on the role of a peacekeeping force, engaging in operations around the world and is a counterweight to the Eurasian dominance of China-Russia.

Collectively, NATO accounts for 70% of the world’s military spending and despite the seemingly bleak future of the European Union, the alliance is strong and relatively united despite occasional hiccups. New member states are added every few years after an intensive dialogue process, the newest prospective members being Georgia, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and possibly Cyprus once their dispute with Turkey is resolved. NATO also maintains several agreements with surrounding countries including the Individual Partnership Action Plan and the Partnership for Peace.

Member nations are currently wrapping up their operations with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, enforcing the no-fly zone in Libya, peacekeeping in the Balkans, monitoring the Mediterranean Sea,  pulling security in Iraq, combating Somali piracy, and assisting the African Union with peacekeeping missions on the Somali mainland.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is comprised of a soon to be superpower (China) and a shattered shell of a superpower (Russia) along with former Soviet central Asian countries, always state that the organization is not a military alliance like NATO. False. It started out as an economic group somewhat similar to the European Union but it’s slowly taken on a militaristic side, again, similar to the EU. Even Putin denied any similarities to NATO. But in recent years the SCO has raised some eyebrows by staging numerous military exercises and war games involving member countries.

As global economic power begins to shift to the east, and Russia attempts to tag along on the coattail of China’s recent success, the SCO will become an even tighter knit community which seeks an active leadership role in the world. However, if two autocratic, major powers on the UN Security Council with veto power should team up in enforcing their  often shady policies then the regional balance will be thrown into disarray. China will surely use SCO support to push its unfounded claims in the South China Sea and should India fall further under US influence then its admittance into the organization will be unlikely at best and the chances of territorial disputes breaking out into open conflict again will increase.

Russia is currently battling Islamic insurgents in the Caucasus region and is engaged in territorial disputes in the Arctic with several nations. It’s also against former Soviet republics joining NATO or Western alliances and isn’t above bullying them as in the cyber attacks on Estonia, war with Georgia, and politcal meddling in Ukraine.

SCO members in dark green. Nations with observer status in light green.


Including active duty, reserves and paramilitary forces, NATO currently has approximately 8,013,809 soldiers and boasts an unprecedented command and control system among all member states that serves to deter the machinations of larger, less friendly countries. Almost all armed forces in the alliance are highly trained and have access to the most advanced combat systems, and equipment available and the industries that produce them are located on friendly soil. NATO maintains a broad network of friendly nations around the world, bound by treaties such as ANZUS with Australia, New Zealand, and the US, and the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the US.

The SCO has around 6,932,300 available soldiers. China and Russia are rapidly modernizing and reforming their militaries but they have been plagued with setbacks. Their effectiveness has yet to be seen and remains suspect. Both nations are developing new fighters, ships, and armored vehicles to replace aging Cold War relics and are on pace to achieve complete modernization by 2020-2025. While NATO generally advocates democracy and the Rule of Law, both China and Russia are notorious for publicly supporting rogue regimes like those of Kim Jong Il, Ali Khamenei, Omar al-Bashir, and Bashar al-Asaad.


The SCO realizes that in the modern world, seeking out dialogue and cooperation with NATO and its allies is necessary and beneficial for all involved but there are numerous disputes, ranging from Russian support for Iran, Chinese support for North Korea, Chinese cyber incursions and Russian espionage in the US among many other issues. At the end of the day there can only be one big kid on the block. However both sides face incredible internal issues that will test their strength. How they handle those problems in the coming years will decide who will reign supreme.