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WASHINGTON — A new Russian nuclear-powered submarine fleet, capable of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles outfitted with hypersonic weapons, will be ready for war by 2024, according to a person with firsthand knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report.
In order to finance eight of the submarines, Moscow cut funding for other military modernization programs, such as the nation's surface vessel fleet, according to the person, who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.
The Borei II submarine, also designated Borei-A, is a fourth-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine that is slated to join the Russian Navy's Northern and Pacific Fleets. The U.S. Navy, by comparison, boasts one of the largest submarine fleets in the world, with 14 Ohio-class vessels tasked with the nuclear deterrence mission.
The Borei II, which is the first class of submarines of its kind developed by Russia since the Cold War, can launch up to 20 Bulava intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. Each Bulava can carry a bomb yielding 100 to 150 kilotons, which is approximately 10 times more powerful than the Little Boy atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
What's more, unlike a traditional missile, which carries one warhead, the Bulava missile is capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear and hypersonic weapons on its tip. That means one Borei II submarine could potentially launch 200 hypersonic weapons, a threat the U.S. is currently unable to defend against.
A hypersonic weapon can travel at Mach 5 or higher, which is at least five times faster than the speed of sound. This means that a hypersonic threat can travel about one mile per second.
The latest revelations come a little more than six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin touted his nation's growing hypersonic arsenal as "invincible." Inevitably, Moscow's sprint to field this new breed of weapon has sparked fears over a budding arms race.
"I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country's development: You have failed to contain Russia," Putin said during his March national address.
Of the six weapons Putin debuted in March, CNBC has learned that two of them will be ready for war by 2020, according to sources with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence reports.
At the moment, the U.S. must rely on deterrence against hypersonic weapons, according to the top nuclear commander in the American military.
"We don't have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us," Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, following Putin's comments.