Russia Conducts New Test of Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missile With Virtually Unlimited Range (Source Popular
Mechanic) Russia conducted a new test of the Burevestnik (“Storm Petrel”) nuclear-powered cruise missile. The test of the missile was the first in nearly a year. The missile is designed to evade U.S. defenses, flying for hours or even days to exploit holes in missile defense networks that most weapons can’t reach.
According to The Diplomat, the test took place on January 29th, 2019 at Kapustin Yar, one of Russia’s major weapon testing grounds. The missile is known to the U.S. intelligence community as the KY30, or the SSC-X-9 “Skyfall.” The missile was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018. Putin stated “The launch and the set of ground tests allow to get to creating a radically new type of weaponry – a strategic nuclear weaponry complex with a missile fitted with a nuclear powered engine.” Putin further described the missile as having “unlimited range and unlimited ability to maneuver.”
In the early 1960s the United States attempted to build a similar nuclear-powered missile. Known as Project Pluto, the program would have resulted in the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile, or SLAM, designed to fly at Mach 3.5, low altitude, and eject a payload of H-bombs over enemy targets over the course of a long flight. Project Pluto was killed off by the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the fact that there was no way to practically test it without spewing radiation over a wide area.
Russia’s missile may not fly at Mach 3.5 or carry racks of H-bombs, but it would have one of the major advantages that lead the U.S. to pursue Project Pluto: unheard of range for a powered flying object. Modern cruise missiles use turbojet or turbofan engines and typically have ranges of 1,000 miles or so, a range largely dictated by their fuel supply. A nuclear-powered cruise missile could fly for much longer, perhaps even days flying intricate routes to exploit holes in enemy air defenses. If Burevestnik becomes operational Russia could launch cruise missiles from the Asian mainland, program them to cross the Pacific, go around South America, and penetrate U.S. airspace from the Gulf of Mexico. Really long, previously unheard-of flights would become a reality. This would force the U.S. to fund a number of expensive upgrades to its air defense network, which has commonly assumed that air attack would come from the north, west, and east, but not the south.