- US intelligence believe super-weapon will go to war within the next six years
- This comes despite last month’s explosion during missile test in the White Sea
- A sizeable radiation leak caused at least five scientists and technicians to die
A new Russian nuclear-powered missile – capable of flying for days on end as it probes weaknesses in Western defences – is to be ready for deployment earlier than expected
Preparation: Burevestnik cruise missile is pictured being completed for its first deployment
Russia has made multiple attempts to test the unlimited range Burevestnik – also known as Skyfall – none of which have been successful, according to the US intelligence report
Some accounts have linked the White Sea incident (pictured) to the Burevestnik, although various experts dispute this, but the Kremlin has refused to reveal the truth
Both Sergey Pichugin and Vyacheslav Lipshev died during last month’s explosion during a missile test of a ‘doomsday’ weapon in the White Sea, leading to a radiation leak
A new Russian nuclear-powered missile – capable of flying for days on end as it probes weaknesses in Western defences – is to be ready for deployment earlier than expected.
This is according to a US intelligence assessment which forecasts that the nuclear-powered Burevestnik super weapon will be ready to go to war within the next six years.
The view comes despite last month’s explosion during a missile test of a ‘doomsday’ weapon in the White Sea, leading to a radiation leak in which at least five scientists and technicians died, and others were poisoned.
Some accounts have linked the incident to the Burevestnik, although various experts dispute this, but the Kremlin has refused to reveal the truth.
Modern cruise missiles use turbojet or turbofan engines and typically have ranges of 1,000 miles or so, a limit that is dictated by their fuel supply.
A nuclear-powered cruise missile could fly for much longer, perhaps staying aloft for days and flying intricate routes to exploit holes in enemy air defenses.
If Burevestnik becomes operational, Russia will be able to program its missiles to travel around the globe using any possible route – not just the shortest to save on fuel.
Most applications of nuclear energy simply swap a nuclear reaction out for whatever they previously used as a source of thermal energy.
In nuclear power plants and shipboard nuclear propulsion, for example, fission took the place of coal and oil burned to turn water into the steam used to spin turbines.
The same principle, in theory, works for multiple types of aircraft propulsion, but getting past the weight-to-thrust ratio required for flight would require making reactors lighter and more compact. But many scientists believe Russia is bluffing about having created a nuclear reactor small enough to fit inside a missile
Russia has made multiple attempts to test the unlimited range Burevestnik – also known as Skyfall – none of which have been successful, according to the US intelligence report.
Despite these failures, sources cited by CNBC with knowledge of the assessment say that there is now an accelerated timeline for it being ready for war.
It is believed to have been tested once earlier this year and four times between November 2017 and February 2018, on each occasion resulting in a crash.
But Russia boasted earlier this year that tests of the weapon’s nuclear power unit were successfully completed during a major stage of trials.
The trials ‘sustained the stated specifications of the reactor ensuring the missile’s unlimited range’, claimed a source.
A separate recent US intelligence assessment found that the explosion on 8 August off a missile testing range at Nyonoksa came during a recovery mission to salvage a lost Burevestnik from the sea floor, said CNBC.
The radiation released was ‘one thousand times higher than lethal’, it was reported.
The Burevestnik is seen by the Kremlin as a low-flying stealth cruise missile incapable of interception by existing Western air defences and delivering nuclear warheads anywhere around the globe.
Vladimir Putin has called it ‘a radically new type of weaponry’ with ‘unlimited range and unlimited ability to manoeuvre’.
Meanwhile, others have also waded in.
‘Russia is committed to a massive investment in new systems like this to defeat U.S. missile defences,’ warned Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
‘We are stumbling toward an arms race.’
He told CNBC: ‘(Donald) Trump’s personal friendship with Putin is no substitute for the treaties that restrained the nuclear superpowers.
‘Whatever the two leaders say, the U.S. and Russian militaries are spending billions on new nuclear weapons targeted at each other.’