An underwater drone armed with a nuclear warhead is slated to join Russia's arsenal no earlier than 2027, people familiar with a U.S. intelligence assessment told CNBC.
In November, the Kremlin carried out the 11th and last-known test of the nuclear-powered weapon, dubbed "Poseidon," which can navigate autonomously and travel continuously after launching from a submarine, CNBC reports.
"What we are basically dealing with is a Russian submarine, that is difficult to detect, launching a drone, that is difficult to target, equipped with a nuclear warhead," said one person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The Russians have ambitions of using the nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered autonomous underwater vehicle as a retaliation device if their legacy nuclear weapon launch capability is neutralized during war."
While the strategic nuclear weapon is expected to join the Kremlin's arsenal as early as eight years from now, the Russians have yet to successfully test the system's nuclear propulsion heart, which guarantees the device's everlasting power.
Russian state media has previously announced that the Russian navy will place at least 30 Poseidon drones on combat duty. The U.S. Navy does not have a similar weapon.