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Thread: The Deadhand: Putin's Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missile

  1. #1
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    The Deadhand: Putin's Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missile

    https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/pu...-an-1823588286

    Last week Vladimir Putin, a frequently shirtless equestrian ghoul who also happens to run the Country Formerly Known As The Soviet Union, gave a long, mildly unhinged state-of-Russia speech that made reference to a number of new Russian weapons systems, including an anti-Mar-A-Lago missile system and a nuclear-powered cruise missile. This nuclear-powered missile is interesting because it appears to be a copy of something America thought was too batshit back in the 1960s.

    In his speech, Putin described the nuclear-powered cruise missile as having

    “...unlimited range, so it can keep going like this forever.”

    Frame from Russian animation showing vast range of missile
    This unlimited range means the missile is not limited to ballistic flight paths, and could evade nearly all known conventional anti-missile defenses. The missile was shown in the animation playing behind Putin as skirting terrain at a very low altitude, presumably to evade radar defenses, all at hypersonic speeds.

    Putin claims that they had a successful test of the nuclear-powered missile in 2017, and they are ready to begin manufacture of the missile. This image from the video seems to show that test in progress, with the missile itself on the inset of the video feed from a chase plane:

    The video also highlighted the missile’s ability to evade missile defenses, ducking and weaving around any attempts to target it.

    Putin goes on to say

    “As you can understand, this is unheard of, and nobody else has such a system in the world. They may create something similar in the future, but by that time our guys will come up with new ideas as well.”
    Okay, let’s stop him right there. First of all, this is by no means “unheard of”—the United States had developed essentially this exact missile concept and system back in 1955, and were developing it until about 1964, when it was cancelled. This missile was called by a few names: SLAM, for Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile or Project Pluto, or, my favorite one, The Flying Crowbar.

    The U.S. scrapped the project because it was just too insane, too cruel, and would have proven to be an absolute nightmare, a literal doomsday weapon.

    It just so happens that this missile was crazy enough for us to not just write about it, but make a video as well, so if you want to get up to speed, have a watch:

    What Putin is describing is essentially a scaled-down Project Pluto system. The biggest difference seems to be one of scale; where Project Pluto was a massive, locomotive-sized cruise missile that carried at least 16 hydrogen bombs, the Russian re-animation of the idea appears to be a smaller system, based on the Russian Kh-101 cruise missile, and likely would carry only a single nuclear warhead.

    Other than the size, the system Putin described appears nearly identical to the Flying Crowbar: effectively unlimited range, a low-altitude flight profile, the ability to maneuver as much as needed in flight, and a nuclear ramjet engine.

    That nuclear engine is worth mentioning in more detail, because, like Project Pluto this Russian missile would have an added deadly effect from the incredibly radioactive exhaust the missile would spew as it rockets around the globe.

    So not only would such a cruise missile be capable of striking nearly anywhere on the globe, everywhere that happened to be in its flight path would get a nice dose of highly radioactive exhaust dumped on it. Back in the 1960s, the developers of Project Pluto even envisioned a scenario where the massive missiles would just circle over enemy territory after their load of bombs was dropped, blanketing the area in radioactivity, really sealing the fate of the poor bastards on the wrong end of that missile.

    The United States abandoned the SLAM/Flying Crowbar/Project Pluto system because, on some level, it was just too brutal, too cruel, too terrifying a weapon to contemplate, even at the height of the Cold War.

    The fact that Russia has dusted off these awful old plans and are seriously planning a modern, smaller (which likely means that these could be built in quantity), but still equally terrifying version of this nightmare weapon should give anyone pause.

    There’s no question the Russians have the technology to build these; hell, we did it over 50 years ago. The question is will they, and if they do, how bad is it?

    We know these are weapons of unmatched cruelty and terror. There’s ethical, environmental, humanitarian, pretty much every category of something to be concerned about that this weapon poses severe danger to. Nothing good will come of Putin building these.

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    We didn't stop the crowbar because it was too cruel. We stopped because there was no point after we developed ICBMs.

    This cruise missile and the underwater James Bond villain device are hedges against our missile defense capabilities.

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    Former Staff Senior Contributor Ironduke's Avatar
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    We already have a countermeasure to these new weapons:

    https://youtu.be/FtJzF6PD2nM?t=14

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    Russia 'test-fires hypersonic Kinzhal missile'

    Russia says it has successfully test-launched a hypersonic missile, one of a range of nuclear-capable weapons announced by President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.

    The country's defence ministry released video footage showing the missile detaching from a fighter jet and leaving a fiery trail behind it.

    It said the intended target was hit.

    On 1 March, Mr Putin described the Kinzhal missile - named for a type of dagger - as "an ideal weapon".

    The Kinzhal is said to travel at 10 times the speed of sound and have a range of 2,000km (1,200 miles).

    The defence ministry said the missile was launched from a MiG-31 jet that took off from an airfield in south-west Russia on Saturday.

    "The launch went according to plan, the hypersonic missile hit its target," the ministry said.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43362213

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    i would have love to have been a fly on the wall, when the powers that be in Kremlin contemplated the pro and cons of publicly revealing their new toys.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ironduke View Post
    This development may seriously change all the rules of the naval warfare - Kinzhal is just first in its class, clearly other countries will follow this path and more hypersonic missiles will be deplyed if you think of a 30 year horrizon.

    Defending a large and easilly detectable target like Nimitz class will now become a very costly task with no warranty of success. I guess that Naval warfare will evolve further and away from aircraft carriers.... Most probably next naval king will be a long-range aircraft/missile carrier....

    Just my ammature speculation... what do you think?

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    This is about nuclear cruise missile development back in 1960es... since then technologies went far ahead....
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto

    what do you think of the nuclear cruisse missile anounced by Putin?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Garry View Post
    This development may seriously change all the rules of the naval warfare - Kinzhal is just first in its class, clearly other countries will follow this path and more hypersonic missiles will be deplyed if you think of a 30 year horrizon.

    Defending a large and easilly detectable target like Nimitz class will now become a very costly task with no warranty of success. I guess that Naval warfare will evolve further and away from aircraft carriers.... Most probably next naval king will be a long-range aircraft/missile carrier....

    Just my ammature speculation... what do you think?
    I'm sure the Russians can design a small gas turbine with Global Hawk range capabilities? Why nuclear power? You have the weight of coolant, shielding, that is if you want the vehicle and the support staff to last any length of time.

    Missiles that has always been the Soviet way of naval warfare. BrahMos comes to mind. Granted they have been subsonic but two US Navy warships have survived anti-ship missile strikes in the Middle East. What to say the airfield launching the missile carriers aren't immune to attack.

    Mr. Putin has a very robust weapons build up. Does he have the money and the manufacturing capabilities to make the words reality? I see Russia is reopening the 1980's Tu-160 line.

    Also the ICBM and SLBM are still wicked fast, but that hasn't discouraged weapons procurement.
    Last edited by Dazed; 12 Mar 18, at 08:29.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Garry View Post
    This is about nuclear cruise missile development back in 1960es... since then technologies went far ahead....
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto

    what do you think of the nuclear cruisse missile anounced by Putin?
    How good is the reactor shielding? Otherwise a cruise missile with a very large multi-spectrum signature is just asking to be seen and shot down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Garry View Post
    Defending a large and easilly detectable target like Nimitz class will now become a very costly task with no warranty of success
    US carriers are certainly large, but easily detectable is another matter. A carrier on a wartime footing is going to be moving quickly at all times, sanitizing the ocean in a 400 mile radius around it. It is also surrounded by cruisers, destroyers and submarines that are going to make getting anywhere near a carrier a very hazardous proposition.

    So how do you target US carrier without getting close enough that it kills you first? A spy satellite in LEO might be able to distinguish between a US carrier and other shipping, but they aren't very helpful for real time targeting due to only being overhead for a couple of minutes before they spend another 90 minutes circling the earth. They are also exceptionally vulnerable to the kind of ASAT weapons sitting in every DDG's VLS cells.

    There are a lot of long ranged missiles, but they generally either go after targets that don't move, or require some kind of external targeting instructions once they arrive. A Tomahawk cruise missile for example can either hit a designated GPS coordinates if attacking a stationary target, or fly to an indicated area and start sending a video feed back to satellites while waiting for additional instructions about what to attack if you are going after a mobile target. The second strategy isn't going to work for a hypersonic missile however; it doesn't have time to communicate with a satellite while searching for targets because it is traveling too fast. A stealthy aircraft like an F-22, or F-35, or perhaps an RQ-180 could sneak past enemy defenses to provide real time targeting instructions to high speed, long ranged missiles, but I don't know that Russia has such ISR assets available to them.

    Plasma and heat present another challenge to hypersonic missiles. Radio waves don't penetrate plasma well. This is the source of Russian claims of "plasma stealth". The plasma shell around a high speed missile is a double edged sword however, as it also means that the missile itself can't use radar for targeting purposes. This is the source of the communications blackout experienced by spacecraft returning to earth. The prodigious heat that builds up on the airframe of a supersonic missile also means that in addition to radar being unusable, infrared targeting is also out, while the missile itself is going to show up on IR sensors a long way out against a cold sky.
    Last edited by SteveDaPirate; 12 Mar 18, at 22:45.

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    Former Staff Senior Contributor Ironduke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garry View Post
    This is about nuclear cruise missile development back in 1960es... since then technologies went far ahead....
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto

    what do you think of the nuclear cruisse missile anounced by Putin?
    Garry, I know you're a Russian patriot and you take as much pride in your country's accomplishments as anyone else here does with theirs, but I think that this is more about Putin stroking his own ego and feelings of inadequacy than anything else.

    In my view, this technology is as pointless in 2018 as it was in 1964, and it doesn't change the strategic calculus when it comes to nuclear war. If this technology had any actual value, we would have developed it past its experimental stage and added it to our nuclear arsenal. The only value I see in this weapon is as a tool of propaganda, for Russian domestic consumption.

    The thing is, there's no real way to defend against a saturation of MIRVs and decoys deployed from conventional ICBMs anyways. A nuclear war would play out exactly the same way and the end result would be the same. So something like this hypersonic nuclear-powered scramjet cruise missile, whether it works or not, or is practical or not, is beside the point.
    Last edited by Ironduke; 13 Mar 18, at 18:31.

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    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ironduke View Post
    In my view, this technology is as pointless in 2018 as it was in 1964, and it doesn't change the strategic calculus when it comes to nuclear war.
    While it is certainly a message of Russian strength ahead of the 2018 elections I can only really think of two operational uses for such a weapon.

    Either the US has made a lot more progress on the Midcourse defense system than the Pentagon is letting on and Russia is losing confidence in their robust ICBM fleet in the medium term or they want an option for nuclear signalling that can be recalled. (Although that already exists in the Tu-95 fleet...)

    When it comes to carriers, submarines and large salvos of ASHMs remain the most effective options to cripple them without triggering WWIII. A cruise missile with a nuclear engine is going to be considered a WMD whether the warhead is conventional or not, and attacking a US carrier with such will trigger nuclear retaliation. At which point the same result could be achieved with a considerably cheaper nuclear tipped Iskander.

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    Right. All this posturing suggests to me that Russia believes they are still completely outclassed in conventional warfare and feels nervous about US ABM.

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    Former Staff Senior Contributor Ironduke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveDaPirate View Post
    or they want an option for nuclear signalling that can be recalled. (Although that already exists in the Tu-95 fleet...)
    Recalled where, exactly? I certainly would not want to recall such a Strangelovian weapon back home with its radioactive fallout. I'd assume that if they were to use it for signalling, they'd recover it at somewhere like Antarctica and have a forward team there prepared to do so.

    One of the problems with this weapon, assuming it's a viable, practical and they actually have it all worked out, is that US military bases, ground forces, and naval forces are so widely distributed throughout the world, it's going to be hard not to interpret this thing flying around as not representing an incoming attack against any number of them, even if the intent were only signalling.
    Last edited by Ironduke; 18 Mar 18, at 21:39.

  15. #15
    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ironduke View Post
    Recalled where, exactly? I certainly would not want to recall such a Strangelovian weapon back home with its radioactive fallout. I'd assume that if they were to use it for signalling, they'd recover it at somewhere like Antarctica and have a forward team there prepared to do so.

    One of the problems with this weapon, assuming it's a viable, practical and they actually have it all worked out, is that US military bases, ground forces, and naval forces are so widely distributed throughout the world, it's going to be hard not to interpret this thing flying around as not representing an incoming attack against any number of them, even if the intent were only signalling.
    I don't actually think recovery of such a device would be practical. The radiation would be too much of a headache to deal with compared to building a new one. Most likely it would be turned away from CONUS and ditched into the pacific.

    Which just reinforces the point that cold war era bombers are a much better tool for such signalling.

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