As if the world wasn’t already belligerent, Russia has embarked on an ambitious mission to militarize space. According to Sputnik, a state-owned news website, the country’s military is designing a special spacecraft that could fire lethal weapons anywhere on the planet in less than two hours. If that isn’t alarming enough, the plane will also boast an array of powerful nuclear weaponry.
Such a step, the Daily Beast writes, could result in a renewed nuclear arms race between Russia and the United States, thus increasing tension between nations across the globe. As reported by Sputnik, the formidable bomber, which could be used to launch nuclear explosives from outer space, will likely be ready for operation by the year 2020.
The plane, according to the developers, works similar to the Boeing X-37 (X-37B), a reusable unmanned shuttle that actually doubles as a miniature space station. As part of the initiative, Russian military is planning to equip the robotic craft with nuclear warheads. Speaking about the decision, Lieutenant Colonel Aleksei Solodovnikov 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 the claims made by Russia are indeed true, it would be a clear breach of the Outer Space Treaty, which came into being back in the early 1960s. Among the countries that signed the treaty were Russia as well as the United States. As its name suggests, the treaty proscribed the militarization of space. It reads as follows:
… parties to the treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.
Interestingly, the Russian government’s decision to develop a nuclear bomber comes less than six years after it accused the U.S. of dispatching weapons to outer space on board the X-37B shuttle. David Axe states in the Daily Beast:
That’s not only a gross violation of international law, it represents a fairly profound act of hypocrisy on Russia’s part.
Although very little is actually known about the nuclear bomber, experts believe that it could be similar in design and functionality to Virgin Galactic’s space planes. The latter is built such that it can be carried on board a transport plane before being hurled into orbit. Such a system, however, would require a versatile engine that is capable of working in two different ways. First, it should be able to burn liquid propellant for launching into outer space.
Following that, the engine has to ingest atmospheric oxygen, using it to attain supersonic speeds, much like the way a SABRE engine operates. Such an engine, also known as combined-cycle engine, was until now only a concept, with the US government working on it for several decades with little success. Last year, however, an official revealed that the Strategic Missile Forces Academy in Russia had already managed to turn the concept into a reality. He said:
We have accomplished the task of developing a power plant for a plane that allows it to alternate between the air-breathing regime during a flight in the atmosphere and rocket propulsion regime during a flight in space.
According to the current report by Sputnik, the prototype of the engine will be on display at the upcoming International Military Technology Forum to be held near Moscow in September of this year. Lieutenant Colonel Solodovnikov revealed:
I think that its lift-off mass must be 20-25 metric tonnes for it to be a strike aircraft. It will [be able to accelerate to] hypersonic speed in rocket mode.