MIGHTY TACTICAL

America's nukes are absolutely tiny compared to Russia's

(WikiMedia Commons)

Here in the United States, we tend to think of nuclear weapons in much the same way we think of the space race and the Cold War: like a relic of a bygone era in which America emerged victorious. Unfortunately, that era isn't quite as bygone as it seems: space defense is once again a topic of serious concern, America is once more at the precipice of an international arms race, and both China and Russia have unveiled massive new nuclear weapons in recent years.


America does still boast the second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons on the planet, lagging just behind Russia who, like the Soviet Union, has always invested heavily in deterrence through guaranteeing Armageddon. The problem is, America has largely chosen to rest on its nuclear laurels since the fall of the Soviet Union, resulting in a significant difference between the nuclear tech in Uncle Sam's arsenals and that of America's most powerful competitors.

Russian Topol-M nuclear ICBM preparing for the annual Victory Day Parade.

(Vitaly V. Kuzmin via WikiMedia Commons)

The Air Force is currently on the hunt for the company that will build America's next generation of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), but until that contract has been completed, the U.S. will continue to rely on silo-launched Minuteman IIIs and submarine-launched Trident missiles, with yields of 475 and 100 kilotons respectively. These weapons are quite powerful, with the weaker trident producing an explosive yield more than six times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the Minuteman III clocking in at nearly five times more powerful than even that.

However, despite all the carnage one could deliver with 475 kilotons of nuclear fury, America's mighty Minuteman III missiles are not only far behind Russian and Chinese competitors in terms of technology and the ability to counter missile defense systems, they are woefully underpowered.

These mushroom clouds represent the yields of each nuclear weapon.

(Individual mushroom cloud courtesy of Flickr)

China's newest ICBM, the DF-31, for instance, boasts a massive 1 megaton yield, or 1,000 kilotons. That means China's new 42-foot nuclear missile has more than twice the destructive power of America's workhorse ICBMs. Powerful as the DF-31 may be, if you're impressed by that, you haven't looked in Russia's inventory lately.

Russia's massively powerful RS-28 Sarmat, or simply, the Satan II, carries a whopping 50 megaton nuclear warhead. For those who aren't fond of arithmetic, that's the equivalent of 50,000 kilotons and is so powerful that America's Minuteman III missiles barely even register by comparison.

America's ICBM's would barely be visible compared to the RS-28 Sarmat's yield.

(Individual mushroom cloud courtesy of Flickr)

Like China's DF-31, the RS-28 Sarmat could forgo the single large warhead for a group of smaller ones, but the reduction in yield would likely be offset by the distribution of the weapon's payload: in short, multiple warheads can destroy a larger swath of territory than a single large warhead tends to.

Of course, with Russian officials claiming their doomsday-weapon nuclear torpedo carries a positively gigantic 100-megaton warhead, even the Satan II isn't the biggest kid on the nuclear block.

Of course, the sheer destructive yield isn't the only measure of a nation's nuclear capabilities, but it does pay to maintain a healthy frame of reference when it comes to ways the world could end. After all, when it would take more than 105 American ICBMs to match the destructive power of just one Russian nuke… we should all be a little concerned.