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The Daily Mail claims

Russia has unveiled chilling pictures of its largest ever nuclear missile, capable of destroying an area the size of France.

enter image description here

Who estimated this level of destructive power? Based on what evidence? A weapon capable of "destroying" a country seems simply ridiculous.

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    I'm tempted to flag this for lack of precise falsifyable claim. They said "destroyed" without any precision. Destroying can mean anything from blast damage to fallout. – user5341 Oct 26 '16 at 2:35
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    "... is capable of destroying an area the size of France or Texas, according to Russian news network Zvezda, which is owned by Russia's ministry of defence" – user5341 Oct 26 '16 at 2:41
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    The total yield of all its warheads is 40mt. The biggest bomb ever detonated (Tsar Bomba) was 50mt. That bomb came nowhere near being able to destroy an area the size of France. – GordonM Oct 26 '16 at 15:49
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    @GordonM, small, scattered warheads are more destructive than a single large one. Tsar Bomba wasted most of it energy overkilling ground zero. – Mark Oct 26 '16 at 22:18
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    @Mark then again, this weapon reportedly has a 10 warhead bus, so could only take 10 warheads and some decoys. At 500KT each (the regular maximum yield of most current strategic weapons) that leaves it with enough damaging potential to take out 10 cities roughly the size of Bordeaux or Nice. – jwenting Oct 27 '16 at 19:06
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The original claim in English is from the 08 May 2016 article Russia's New ICBM Sarmat Can Penetrate Defense Shield, Wipe Out Texas which says:

The broadcaster added that the RS-28 is capable of wiping out parts of the earth the size of Texas or France

Where "the broadcaster" refers to the article http://tvzvezda.ru/news/forces/content/201605070850-p0pm.htm which says:

способную стирать с лица земли участки размером с Техас

or "able to erase from the land areas the size of Texas"

Texas has an area of 696,241 square kilometers.

As explained in Russian nuclear forces, 2016, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 72:3, 125-134 :

The RS-28 is a future delivery system, not capable of destroying anything itself, but carrying multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles each having a warhead.

According to Table 1 of the article the expectation is that RS-28 will be configured to carry ten 500 kiloton yield warheads.

For quantitative information concerning the destruction provided by a 500 kiloton warhead, see Destructive Effects of Nuclear Weapons

As seen in slide 16, in the diagram titled "EFFECT OF A 500-KT AIR BURST WEAPON":

Destruction of all but hardened facilities would extend to a 0.6 mile radius (area of 3 sq. km.).

Heavy damage to commercial buildings would extend to a radius of 3.2 miles (32 sq. km.).

Moderate damage to a radius of 5.8 miles (106 sq. km.).

Light damage to a radius of 8.8 miles (243 sq. km.).

So considering literally the language of the original claim "erase from the land areas the size of Texas", the claim is wrong by orders of magnitude.

However, as explained in the US military document MULTIPLE, INDEPENDENTLY TARGETED REENTRY VEHICLE (MIRV) TARGETING MODELS, associated with such a delivery system is an elliptical area of "typically" about 5 to 1 major to minor axis ratio and major axis of 200 miles. In other words, the area over which a single missile system can disperse its multiple reentry vehicles is an key aspect of the system's performance. This is important to consider when reading such a claim as the OP, either as a limitation on the area destroyed, or as a possible interpretation of the meaning of the area.

enter image description here

(Long exposure photograph of US LGM-118A missile system showing the reentry paths of the 8 re-entry vehicles deployed by the missile)


Update: In Russian nuclear forces, 2017 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists continues to predict that the RS-28 will be configured to carry ten 500 kiloton yield warheads. Deployment is predicted in 2020.

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False

Claims are it carries 16 2.5 Megaton warheads (40Mt/16 if I read right). A single 2.5Megaton warhead has an airburst radius of 10km: http://www.stardestroyer.net/Resources/Calculators/NuclearExplosions.html

That's 314 km² per warhead, or 5024 km² all up (assuming each warhead detonates over different land, maximising destructive area). France has an area of 643,801 km²... so the claim is exaggerated in terms of pure landmass.

It's worth noting that wiping out 16 important targets in France could certainly do incredibly damage to the nation.


Other combinations:

A single 40Mt warhead only has an air blast radius of 24.4km or 1870km²... still falling short. Even if we include the third-degree burns of 52.9km² we are only at 8791km².

Even if we are to take that largest figure of 8791km², and assume each warhead has that capability (40*16 instead of 40/16) we're still only at 140,656km², still far short of France's 643,801 km².

Since we're talking about 40Mt weaponry, it's worth noting that this is far above normal nuclear sizes and close to that of the tzar bomb:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlVPYsix9Z4

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    @DanGetz "Or do you mean the warheads somehow burst in different locations? " Correct, as that results in the largest possible area of destruction maximizing the claims chance of being correct. – NPSF3000 Oct 25 '16 at 21:52
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    @user5341 sure, but the quote is "capable of destroying" and I'm unaware of that term being used to describe zones irradiated by fallout. – NPSF3000 Oct 26 '16 at 2:36
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    Tsar Bomba, a 50 Mt blast, was capable of breaking windows at a distance of 900km. The distance from Dunkirk to the border of Andorra is approximately 900km. So, if the RS-28 Sarmat were equivalent to a single 40 Mt blast (which is questionable), and if it were detonated in the middle of France, and if we consider breaking windows as "destruction," then it is plausible that it could destroy an area the size of France. – ESultanik Oct 26 '16 at 13:36
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    @ESultanik feel free to post that as an answer, but don't confuse 'capable of breaking windows' with 'breaking every window' let alone 'destruction of an area'. – NPSF3000 Oct 26 '16 at 14:10
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    @ESultanik breaking windows is far from equivalent of "destroying a country". And yes, you'd have to show that the weapon has a blast radius large enough that it can flatten everything in an area the size of France, or at the very least make such an area uninhabitable for extended periods of time (and remember, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were rebuilt within years). – jwenting Oct 27 '16 at 7:06

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