More Nuclear Nuggets

This is in the “weird tales of nuclear bombs or power” department. I don’t get enough of these, so I won’t make it a cagegory.

India Not Quite Nuked Pakistan

Yes, it’s apparently true, India sort of nuked Pakistan on March 9. India has promised to investigate, and Pakistan is officially unsatisfied with that.

Here’s the story: [vice]

The Indian government has sacked three Indian Air Force officers over the “accidental” firing of a missile into India’s neighbour Pakistan earlier this year. 

The decision concluded a six-month investigation by India into the unprecedented incident on March 9, after an Indian nuclear-capable missile was fired from the Indian Air Force base in the city of Sirsa, into the Pakistani city of Mian Channu, over 170 miles away. It escalated tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations, which have a history of bitter rivalry.

No casualties were reported as India called it a technical malfunction in their newly launched land-attack cruise missile called BrahMos. But Pakistan called it an “unprovoked violation” and demanded a joint investigation. 

This week, the Indian Air Force concluded the investigation. “A Court of Inquiry set up to establish the facts of the case, including fixing responsibility for the incident, found that deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures by three officers led to the accidental firing of the missile,” the Indian Air Force said in a statement. 

There are so many things an enquiring mind wants to know. So, this missile appears to have sort of hit a city 170 miles away, and – what? Obviously it was not carrying an armed warhead. “A deviation from standard operating procedures” sounds like a bit of an understatement, to me. Pakistan and India are both nuclear-armed states and are not on the best of terms. It does not appear that the Pakistanis have sophisticated missile detection and response capabilities. “huh, what’s that?” sticking of of the town square. What is the protocol? Does one send a “thank you for the cruise missile” letter?

Fun aside, this incident illustrates the kind of problem with nuclear deterrence. That could have sparked a nuclear exchange and then everyone would be forgetting about Russia for a decade. Some models argue that a full-up nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would have severe enough consequences to affect planetary weather for a few years, including causing massive crop failure. This is not shit that irresponsible shitheads like Modi (or Putin!) should have as an option for their breakfast destruction-fix. Unfortunately, that’s another consequence of Putin’s attack on Ukraine: every smallish nation will be back to thinking about getting nukes. It’s what happens when we are forced to confront the fact that superpowers are only deterred by the threat of over-the-top retaliation.

Russian Nuclear Sub Sinks

This got surprisingly little play. Perhaps you remember the NR-1: the US nuclear-powered sub/bottom-rover that found all kinds of amazing things [stderr] including potentially the Titanic (but it’s classified so, unless you’ve got a Mar a Lago document cache, you won’t know). The Russians have a deep diver submersible that they appear to be using to get … something from the Moskva. There’s only one thing I can think of that’s worth the effort.


It’s unclear what exactly the Russian salvage team might be looking for, but it might include cryptological materials – radios and keys indicating secret codes – as well as any weapons or logs that might be of interest to a foreign power.

Not buying it about codes – the Russians are pretty sophisticated about cryptography and would have immediately de-keyed the Moskva’s encryption keys. The Russians (last I know, circa early 2000s) used systems similar to the US NSA produces: revocable cipher keys embedded in physical media. (the slots on the side of the key are contacts for what is basically a memory chip embedded in the “handle”. You can disable a key by snapping it at the convenient break-point.) It’s not like the 1940s where everyone was trying to get their hands on a German Enigma machine because the design of the machine was unknown – cryptography left that neighborhood in the 70s.

According to naval expert H.I. Sutton, the eight-ship salvage flotilla includes the world’s oldest active warship, the Russian auxiliary Kommuna. The 110-year-old Kommuna with her unique double hull carries the deep-diving submersible AS-28.

The 315-foot Kommuna in essence is a floating gantry – a bunch of tall steel arches stretching from one of the twin hulls to the other over the open water. Her main function is to winch things into and out of the water. Submersibles … or pieces of sunken ships.

Sounds like a Russian version of the Glomar Explorer.

One I Missed

Then, in 2019, a Russian “research” submarine lost bigly from its crew doing mysterious spooky research stuff, taking 14 sailors with it permanently. [us naval institute]

“On July 1, 14 submariners – sailors – died in Russian territorial waters as a result of inhaling combustion products aboard a research submersible vehicle designated for studying the seafloor and the bottom of the World Ocean in the interests of the Russian Navy after a fire broke out during bathymetric measurements,” read a translation of the statement from the state-controlled TASS news service.

Wow, that sounds like totally a research vessel for studying communications lines and the squishy life-forms on the bottom of the Atlantic. I was tempted to edit the statement to say it was “a special operation” and “extreme deep dive” etc. but it’s probably not funny.

The fire was extinguished “thanks to the self-sacrificing actions of the team,” the ministry said. The incident is believed to have occurred off Russia’s northern shore in the Barents Sea on Monday, but the MoD has not specified.

It was a high-value casualty event:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said seven captains of the first rank and two Heroes of Russia have died in the incident.

Losharik is definitely no ordinary Russian submarine:

Losharik is among the most mysterious of the closely guarded fleet. Fielded in the late 1990s, specifics for the nuclear-powered boat are few. It’s estimated to carry a crew of about 25 and can dive to thousands of feet below the surface, according to the Military Russia blog.

The about 2000-ton boat can travel slung under the belly of a specially modified Delta III nuclear ballistic missile submarine, according to open source intelligence analysts. The purpose and capabilities of Losharik are shrouded in mystery.

I think it’s safe to say that the Russians are not trying to compete with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which has done its share of spooky stuff, on the research angle. Other than tapping cables or being prepared to cut them in a timely manner, there’s not that much worth doing down there. This is a projection of what the ship might look like, inside:

I.e: it’s a chain of bathyscaphes with a hull around them to provide that proper “ugly soviet sub” aesthetic. That’s a projected design; we don’t really know. But if the last two balls are separate, presumably that’s where the electrical fire was. Just getting in that damn thing and submerging would make any seaman a hero of the Russian navy, in my opinion.

China is apparently also getting into the deep diving sub game. I did not realize that having a deep diving sub somehow lets nations pee on the deep shelves and claim parts of them as territorial waters, or some nonsense like that. Nationalism is so god damned stupid.

Midjourney: /imagine a russian bathyscaphe exploring the wreckage of the moskva to try to recover cryptographic secrets or perhaps a nuclear warhead.


  1. Tethys says

    Air scrubbers malfunctioned? I have heard many complaints about ‘air candles’ and the fumes they release, which have the unwanted result of turning all your navy whites into dingy yellows. I don’t remember all the details of the fire hazards of underway submarines, but son was quite peeved he had to purchase all new uniforms after every at sea.

  2. keithb says

    Every time I get COMSEC training we are informed that there are still devices out there that are keyed with paper tape.

  3. cvoinescu says

    That key looks suspiciously like an ordinary 28-pin DIP integrated circuit (0.1″ pin spacing, body about 0.2″ wide — the pins are then bent down to fit two rows of holes 0.3″ apart), but with a fancier mold and the pins cut off.

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