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“Severodvinsk” launched cruise missile

Russia's new multi-purpose submarine "Severodvinsk" sails the White Sea. Photo: Sevmash

Russia’s new multi-purpose submarine has test-fired a Caliber cruise missile in the White Sea. This missile blurs the difference between a strategic and tactical nuclear weapon.

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Nuclear weapons arms control was easier in the old days when a strategic missile was the one that could hit a target far away and a tactical weapon had a near-battle field range. Not so any more after Russia’s successful launch of the submarine based Caliber cruise missile in the White Sea yesterday.

The new supersonic missile hit its target, reports Rossiskaya Gazeta. The Calibr missile has a flight range that exceeds 2,500 kilometer, according to the portal NavalToday. With such range, the cruise missile can be defined as a strategic weapon if tipped with a nuclear warhead. The new START agreement between Russia and USA does, however, not include long-range cruise missiles into account, a fact said to weaken the deal.

Another cruise missile the submarine is believed to carry has an even longer range, 5,000 kilometer according to an infographic posted by RIA Novosti.

A total of three cruise missile tests will take place during this voyage as reported by BarentsObserver last week, two from submerged position and one from surface.

Cruise missiles tipped with nuclear warheads were officially removed from all the Northern fleet’s multi-purpose and attach submarines in 1992. An agreement between President Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush (the older) from October 1991 stipulated such removal. This was two months before the breakup of the USSR. In January 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin confirmed the deal to remove all non-strategic nuclear weapons from naval vessels and scrap 1/3 of them. The rest were put into onshore storage facilities.

Since then, multi-purpose and attack submarines sailing in the Barents Sea and other world oceans have not been armed with nuclear weapons. At least not officially. Speculations that “Kursk” - the submarine that sank in the Barents Sea in 2000, carried nuclear weapons were denied with the reference to the 1992 agreement.

Then, in 2009, BarentsObserver reported with reference to the navy’s deputy chief of staff that tactical nuclear weapons again would play a key role for the submarine fleet in the future. 2009 was the same year as Moscow gave order to go ahead with full priority to finish “Severodvinsk.”

The submarine had at that time been under slow-motion construction since 1993.

This week’s missile launch is part of the final tests for “Severodvinsk.” Last week, she set sails from the naval yard Sevmash in the town which from the sub got her name. “Severodvinsk” is scheduled to be at sea until November 25, as reported by BarentsObserver.

If approved, the sub will thereafter be transferred for active duty for the navy.