‘Flying Chernobyl’: US Says Russian Nuclear Missile Specifically Designed To Bypass US Air Defense System

Russia is preparing to test its nuclear weapon, 9M730 Burevestnik or Skyfall, satellite images show. Reports suggest the missile has been designed specifically to defeat the US defense systems.

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However, this is not the first time the 9M730 Burevestnik — NATO designated name SSC-X-9 Skyfall — is being tested. According to reports, earlier Russia carried out at least one test flight of its Skyfall missile from the same sight near the Arctic Circle.

The latest images obtained on August 16 by a commercial satellite imaging company, Capella Space, show that Russia has been preparing to test this nuclear-powered cruise missile, CNN reported.

There are strong indications Russia was preparing to test a nuclear-powered cruise missile at a launch site located near the Arctic Circle, Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies Center for Nonproliferation Studies who analyzed the photos, told CNN.

Satellite imagery of the Russian nuclear missile Skyfall launch site. (Image: Wikipedia)

Using a nuclear reactor would, in principle, give the cruise missile unlimited range to fly under and around US missile defense radars and interceptors, according to Lewis.

Experts have also flagged a concern that testing this system may pose a threat to the environment and human health.

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Due to these risks involved, the experts have referred to this weapon as a “flying Chernobyl”. Lewis also noted an incident in August 2019 when an effort to recover a missile, which had crashed in the White Sea, resulted in an explosion killing five Russian scientists.

According to reports, Russia has carried out at least one test flight of its Skyfall missile from the same sight near the Arctic Circle. Moscow has also reportedly held a series of tests in the following months, however, they have all been failed attempts.

Along with this, Russia had also issued a “notice to mariners” to inform and warn them about hazardous activities to be held between August 15-20 August near Pankovo on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago as reported by Moscow Times.

US’ Reaction To Missile Testing

In 2020 when Washington and Moscow were working to extend the New START treaty, a key arms control treaty which was set to expire in the next few months, there were speculations that Russia had been preparing to resume testing its Burevestnik missile. Top US negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, stated in his tweet that the US-Russia talks had reached an impasse.

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At that time, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that its nuclear-powered cruise missile was not covered under the New START treaty.

Russia’s preparations to test its Burevestnik missile come after the renewal of the New START treaty in February 2021 after the US had reportedly pulled out of two landmark arms control agreements namely, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, and the Open Skies Treaty in 2020.

Russia has been observed to develop and modernize its nuclear arsenal in its bid to combat the threats posed by the US and NATO. These developments also strengthen Russia’s claims of being a “major military superpower”.

— Written by Kashish Tandon/EurAsian Times Desk