Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Russia Can Roar, But What Does It Mean?

Posted by K.E. White on October 4, 2007

That’s the question Wired asks in an article published today. The article explores the actual significance of Russia’s recent ‘father of all bombs’ missile test. And it even offers reasons not to fret over the return of Russia’s Cold War era nuclear patrols

John Pike, an analyst at Global Security, and Tom Burky, a Battelle research scientist, help assuage fears that this bomb signifies a newly resurgent Russian military prowess:

“It’s actually a niche weapon,” Burky says. “They have their place, in attacking caves. But there are only so many caves you’re going to attack. Not that we should ignore them.”

Indeed, the Father of All Bombs’ actual destructive force and military utility are perhaps less important than its apparent power.

“Some people claim Russia did this because they were upset about our (ballistic) missile-defense proposals for Poland and the Czech Republic,” Coyle says. “Other people say it has more to do with the upcoming presidential elections in Russia. Maybe (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is trying to preserve his legacy.”

And the article downplays concerns over the recent Russian decision to resume nuclear-armed air patrols:

Case in point, the much-hyped bomber patrols. In the past year, Russian long-range bomber types, including the Tu-160 featured in the video, have begun probing Western air defenses, in an echo of Cold War practices.

But according to Hudson Institute fellow Richard Weitz, the bombers themselves are old and poorly maintained — State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack referred to them being taken “out of mothballs.” Henry T. Nash, in his book Nuclear Weapons and International Behavior, describes deterrence as “being closely tied to the ‘politics of appearances.'”

So it doesn’t matter so much if a bomber is well-maintained, as long as it appears on U.S. radars. Nor does it matter if the Father of All Bombs is a fuel-air explosive or a thermobaric device, if it is really the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the world, or even if it is a new weapon at all. All that matters is that it makes an impressive explosion for the cameras.

The Russian bear may be able to roar, but perhaps we shouldn’t fear its bite—yet.

3 Responses to “Russia Can Roar, But What Does It Mean?”

  1. Neel said

    John Pike, an analyst at Global Security, and Tom Burky, a Battelle research scientist, have downplayed the Russian bomb, as if the US has nothing to fear from it, that is pure arrogance ! Will it be a matter of significance to the above analysts, if the bomb is made available to China ? The US would have to fight its next big war against countries like China, Russia and the muslim world combined. Arrogant attitude is not going to help !

  2. Anon said

    Neel, although I can understand why some (at first blush) would view Russia’s development of a very clunky, non-nuclear therombaric explosive device as really threatening, I think such views (as in your comments) exaggerate.

    Russia’s “Father of All Bombs” (FOAB) isn’t a suitcase bomb; rather, it is spatially very big, heavy and hard to deliver. Military planners would not want to use FOAB in a contested battle field.

    The Russians — and the Chinese, for that matter — have other choices if they wish to use nonnuclear munitions to destroy, indiscriminately, what is called an “area target.” They may have to do it with two or three nonnuclear munitions, but they can achieve a comparable effect. The fact that they could be really indiscriminate with one nonnuclear munition, FOAB, doesn’t really amount to a new, extraordinary threat.

    In general, when a military improves one performance characteristic of a weapon system (e.g., explosive yield, or accuracy of delivery), you need to understand that improvement in a larger context; the improvement may come at a big price. In this case, FOAB improves indiscriminate area destruction, but the Russians really have had to sacrifice compact-size, low-weight, easy deliverability, etc.

  3. […] The Russian Big Bang: World’s Largest Non-Nuke Bomb Tested Posted September 12, 2007 (Update: Wired questions the significance of the testing) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: