Russia claims to be working on a nuclear bomber spacecraft

18 Jul 2016

The Boeing X-37B which is reportedly similar to the Russian nuclear bomber spacecraft design. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Russia and Vladimir Putin are making some international leaders rather anxious with news that the country is developing a new spacecraft capable of firing nuclear missiles at targets down on Earth.

Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear bomber aircraft has been gradually turned over to conventional weapons with the reality that there can be little justifiable reason to use them in modern conflicts.

However, according to the Russian state-owned website Sputnik News, the country is now looking into space as a means of creating a terrifying drone-like spacecraft that will fly above the Earth’s atmosphere and deliver nuclear payloads on targets below.

Future Human

First trial craft by 2020

The experimental aircraft being developed by the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy (SMF) is similar in design to the Boeing X-37 craft being developed in the US.

This highly advanced craft would be remotely controlled on the ground and would deliver payloads to space to the International Space Station (ISS) and beyond, much like the Space Shuttle of old.

Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, the commander of the SMF, revealed that plans for a nuclear bomber spacecraft are progressing quickly having already developed and tested a new engine.

With the engine expected to be displayed at an upcoming military technology expo in Moscow in September, Karakayev has said that the main objective is to have the first trial version of this ‘outer-space strategic bomber’ ready by 2020.

In direct violation of UN treaty

Explaining how the spacecraft will operate, Karakayev said: “The idea is that the bomber will take off from a normal home airfield to patrol Russian airspace.

“Upon command it will ascend into outer space, strike a target with nuclear warheads and then return to its home base.”

If everything goes according to plan, the Russian military said the aircraft would be capable of bombing any location on Earth within one or two hours after take-off.

Such a decision to send nuclear-armed craft into space is not only a terrifying prospect for security here on Earth re-igniting fears from the Cold War, but is directly in violation of a law passed by the United Nations in 1966, three years before humans landed on the moon.

According to the Outer Space Treaty, one of its main principles explicitly states nations “shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner”.

While the Soviet Union at that time ratified the treaty in 1967, Russia has since taken on this ratification which makes this announcement quite a statement of intent from the Russian authorities.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic