Recent reports have sparked both excitement and concern due to satellite imagery and aviation data suggesting that Russia may be gearing up for an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile test with a potential range spanning thousands of miles.
The observed activities, involving aircraft and vehicles at a remote Arctic base, seem to align with past preparations for tests of the missile known as Burevestnik or SSC-X-9 Skyfall, dating back to 2017 and 2018. A comprehensive analysis by The New York Times supports this historical pattern.
It’s worth noting that historically, Russia conducted 13 documented tests of this missile between 2017 and 2019, all of which ended in failure, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization specializing in arms control. These failures can have serious consequences, as evidenced by a 2019 missile launch that resulted in a crash and explosion during a recovery attempt, tragically claiming the lives of seven individuals, according to U.S. officials. This latest development raises questions and concerns about the continued pursuit of this advanced and potentially hazardous technology.
So, what exactly is the Burevestnik missile?
Hidden within publicly available data lies a tantalizing glimpse into the realm of cutting-edge military technology—the Burevestnik. This mysterious creation is an experimental, nuclear-powered cruise missile developed for the formidable Russian Armed Forces, shrouded in secrecy. What makes it unique is its claimed limitless range, a feature that places it among the next-generation of weaponry.
But the intrigue doesn’t end there. The Burevestnik is just one part of a larger arsenal unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018. This arsenal of innovation includes:
Avangard Hypersonic Glide Vehicle: Imagine a technology that can travel at incredible speeds while gracefully evading missile defense systems.
9M730 Burevestnik Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missile: This is the missile in question, designed to be nuclear-powered and boasting an extraordinary range.
3M22 Zircon Scramjet-Powered Anti-Ship Hypersonic Cruise Missile: An engineering marvel, this missile races across the seas at hypersonic speeds, posing a significant threat.
Kh-47M2 Kinzhal Hypersonic Air-Launched Ballistic Missile: A precision weapon launched from aircraft, designed for devastatingly accurate strikes.
Poseidon Unmanned Underwater Vehicle: Picture an unmanned submersible armed with nuclear capabilities, ready to explore the depths for various purposes.
RS-28 Sarmat Liquid-Fueled, MIRV-Equipped Super-Heavy ICBM: It may sound like science fiction, but it’s a reality—a super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) recently deployed.
The fear surrounding the Burevestnik missile can be attributed to several key factors related to its design and capabilities:
Experts have highlighted the intriguing features of the Burevestnik missile. It starts at a length of 12 meters during launch but contracts to 9 meters in flight. Its distinctive elliptical nose, measuring 1 meter by 1.5 meters, sets it apart. Reports even suggest that the Burevestnik is significantly larger than the Kh-101 missile, potentially being one and a half to two times its size. The unique design elements, including the placement of wings atop the fuselage, contribute to its stealthiness, making it difficult for radar systems to detect and track.
The most remarkable feature of the Burevestnik is its nuclear-powered engine. Unlike conventional missiles that rely on limited fuel, this nuclear propulsion system offers the missile an unprecedented range, theoretically allowing it to travel vast distances without refueling. The prospect of a missile with virtually limitless range raises concerns about its ability to strike targets anywhere in the world.
Given that the missile houses a nuclear reactor and is relatively large, it poses challenges for deployment. It appears unsuitable for aircraft like the Tu-160 or Tu-95MS due to its weight, which leads experts to consider ships and ground-based Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) vehicles as potential carriers. This versatility in deployment options adds to its strategic significance.
Conventional cruise missiles often face design trade-offs, such as the need to balance speed and stealth. Achieving both simultaneously is challenging, as higher speed typically requires more fuel, resulting in a larger and more detectable missile profile. The Burevestnik, with its nuclear propulsion, has the potential to address these limitations by combining high speed with reduced detectability, representing a significant advancement in missile technology.
Certainly, conventional missiles frequently encounter a difficult trade-off between achieving stealth to evade radar detection and ensuring their effectiveness. Prioritizing stealth often requires compromises in areas such as fuel capacity, warhead size, and overall weight, which can lead to consequences like reduced speed, limited operational range, and diminished destructive capability.
(Views expressed in the article are author’s own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Business Upturn Asia)