Russia published a picture of a nuclear missile known as Satan 2 on Tuesday that spurred new concerns about the country’s work on a modern nuclear weapon, but how much should we really worry about the missile with the scary name? Here’s what we know — or at least think we know — about this nuclear demon.
Work on Satan 2 has been public since 2013; development began in 2009. But this new image (below) is the first glimpse the world has gotten at a device that is said to be able to destroy an area as large as Texas.
The missile’s formal name is the RS-28 Sarmat. It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is said to be able to reach the coasts of the United States. It can carry a thermonuclear payload or more conventional warheads that leave room for a plethora of anti-detection tools.
ICBMs are made to travel long distances in a short amount of time. The land-based “Minuteman” system, developed by the United States, has a range of 13,000 kilometers (almost 8,100 miles) — that’s much larger than Satan 2’s reported 6,000-mile range. But Satan 2 has the benefit of a larger payload and more modern control systems.
Satan 2 is a followup to the R-36M that debuted in the 1970s. That missile was also capable of delivering nuclear warheads, though the size of the payload changed depending on which variation of the R-36M was being used. Either way, though, the R-36M was larger than the “Peacekeeper” missiles that were developed by the United States.
The work on Satan 2 is alarming, but there’s little reason to worry about Russia nuking the United States. Satan 2 is unlikely to nuke Texas, though: It can’t travel that distance and carry a nuclear payload — it’s one or the other.
Satan 2 also seems scary because so much of the world’s nuclear arsenal hasn’t been meaningfully updated in a long while. The United States continues to use a floppy disk system for its nukes, for example, but that doesn’t mean upgrading to a modern control mechanism would spell doom for Russia.
Russia’s efforts are worth taking more seriously than, say, North Korea’s. But if it weren’t for the fear-inspiring name (Satan 2 is much scarier than Peacekeeper), this missile probably wouldn’t be getting so much attention. It’s powerful, terrifying, and unlikely to ever be used.