Recent satellite imagery and aviation data indicate that Russia may be gearing up to test an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile. According to a study by The New York Times, these images hint at increased activity at the Rogachovo airbase in Russia's arctic region.
Satellite images from Planet Labs and graphics provided by The New York Times have captured the movement of aircraft and transport vehicles around the Rogachovo airbase. Furthermore, an empty launching pad was identified in the vicinity, hinting at the possible testing preparations for the 9M730 Burevestnik missile, also known as the SSC-X-9 Skyfall missile. It's worth noting that similar tests for this missile were conducted in 2017 and 2018.
Adding credence to these speculations, US reconnaissance aircraft have been identified in the region over the past fortnight. Concurrently, aviation alerts have warned pilots to steer clear of the neighboring airspace.
Russian Planes at Rogachovo:
Early in August, two Russian planes, designed to gather data on missile launches, were spotted stationed roughly 160 kilometers south of the potential launching site. These aircraft, affiliated with Russia's nuclear firm Rosatom, remained at the airbase until at least 26 September. Intriguingly, during the 2018 Burevestnik testing, identical aircraft types were observed in close proximity.
The Burevestnik missile stands out not merely due to its capacity to bear a potent nuclear warhead, but also its potential to unleash dangerous radioactive emissions should it explode or malfunction during trials. The remote and confidential nature of these tests obscures the real-time status of the missile – whether it's already been tested, is slated for testing, or both.
Components or Full Missile?:
While it's evident that there is activity suggestive of testing, The New York Times proposes that Russia might solely be testing a nuclear engine or another missile component, rather than the complete missile system.
Historical data suggests that Russia's past attempts to test this missile haven't been without setbacks. Between 2017 and 2019, the nation purportedly conducted 13 tests, all of which ended in failure, as per the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization that specializes in arms control. A particularly distressing incident occurred in 2019 when a missile test went awry, ultimately causing an explosion during a repair attempt that resulted in the unfortunate death of nine individuals.
This missile, Burevestnik, forms a part of Russia's arsenal of strategic weapons, which also includes the Kindzhal ballistic missile and the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle.
While it's clear that Russia is heavily investing in its missile technology, the secrecy surrounding these tests makes it challenging to pinpoint the exact status and success rate of these trials. As the global community watches closely, the potential ramifications of these tests on global security and nuclear disarmament initiatives remain to be seen.