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Russia Is Building a Nuclear Space Bomber (thedailybeast.com) 256

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Beast: The Russian military claims it's making progress on a space plane similar to the U.S. Air Force's secretive X-37B robotic mini-shuttle. The tech is pretty basic. But alone among space-plane developers, the Kremlin is proposing to arm its space plane. With nukes. Lt. Col. Aleksei Solodovnikov, a rocketry instructor at the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy in St. Petersburg who is overseeing the space plane's development, said the orbital bomber would be flight-ready by 2020. It's unclear how much money the Kremlin is investing in the project, and how serious senior officers are about actually deploying the space plane, if and when Solodovnikov and his team finish it. In any event, the military space plane could give Russia a potentially history-altering nuclear first-strike capability. "The idea is that the bomber will take off from a normal home airfield to patrol Russian airspace," Solodovnikov said, according to Sputnik, a government-owned news site. "Upon command, it will ascend into outer space, strike a target with nuclear warheads and then return to its home base." Thanks to its orbital capability, the bomber would be able to nuke any target on Earth no longer than two hours after taking off, Solodovnikov claimed.
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Russia Is Building a Nuclear Space Bomber

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  • by quax ( 19371 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @03:34AM (#52523181)

    ... anti-missle systems.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2016 @03:41AM (#52523203)

      ICBMs hit their targets a lot faster then 2 hours after launch (~30 min give or take, given launch/target). Anything that can "intercept" a faster-moving ICBM can also intercept the bomber moving 25% of the same speed,, and they know it. It's part of why they are so pissed about the Thaad deployments and the rest of it. Yes, the bomber may be able to deply decoys, but it's no different then a crappy version of a MIRVing ICBM with extra dummy warheads.

      AKA *yawn*

       

      • "...strike a target with nuclear warheads and then return to its home base." Some people may still think that the use of one new clear bomb is enough to start/stop a war. They would learn a hard lesson on that topic. But lets consider the unignoreable facts, after bomb 27 goes off; it won't matter how noble you are.
    • Seems like a logical extension of nuclear subs, except that orbital space planes can be fully automated. WCGW?

      • WCGW?

        Not much, really. No, a nuclear weapon won't go off if the silly thing crashes.

        Nor will it make things radioactive, really. Remember, your basic ICBM warhead is already designed for reentry, so it's not going to vaporize and spread Pu239 all over the place if the spaceplane crashes.

        About all the nuclear bomber in space does, when it gets down to it, is give you an ICBM that you can change your mind about. Once you pull the trigger on an ICBM, it's done. With the spaceplane, you can decide not to

        • Spacecraft never "go dark," uncontrollable, unrecoverable. Re-entry from geo-stationary orbit would take too long (and GEOS is expensive to get to), so they'll likely be flying it LEO, with potential to re-enter basically anywhere if it loses command/control.

          I'm not sure which would be worse: fissile material scattered across hundreds of miles, or a mostly-intact warhead falling in a random (70% likely water) location.

          Ultimately, the space plane is cheaper to operate than a nuclear sub, but it lacks the st

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2016 @03:35AM (#52523187)

    Not sure how this is better than an ICBM? Sounds more like they are just grasping for an actual use for spaceplanes.

    • There's the real question. What applications would space planes have other than what some dumb ass in the kremlin would "light up" for?
      • The Boeing 707 was derived directly from the B52 bomber. It is quite plausible for both the US and USSR to fund a military spaceplane for its own purposes, in the process doing the essential big spend that no commercial company can afford to do. Then out of that work can come a derived fast commercial transport aircraft, providing all the benefits and more of the Supersonic Transport, without the sonic booms. Four hours London to Sidney, or New York to Capetown.

    • ICBMs have a 'minimum' range. In other words, close to the missiles launch position it can not shot.
      Also the existing ICBMs have quite huge war heads. I would assume such a plane would likely have plenty of very small ones.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @03:36AM (#52523193) Homepage Journal

    This is better than an ICBM because...? I don't see the point.

    • by Gaerek ( 1088311 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @03:43AM (#52523217)
      If by better, you mean more effective, it's because we can detect ICBM launches which gives time to possibly intercept and destroy them. With this, they could drop a nuke from orbit and we would have very little time to react. Sure, we're going to be tracking this motherfucker and we'll know when it's overhead, but having to intercept during the re-entry phase only is much more difficult.

      This is a scary piece of technology. Could potentially lead to space race 2.0. If russia has nukes in space, it's only a matter of time before we will too.
      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        You don't re-enter. Detonate the bomb at the edge of space The EMP will cause havoc, and will be uninterceptable.
      • How many of these would be needed to produce even a 50% successful counterforce first strike?

        If god himself came down from heaven and gave them the planes they couldn't afford the oil to put in them.

      • Because a straight vertical line from directly overhead is the fastest delivery route.

        That's why.

        But...

        Missile silos are hard to pre-emptively destroy. A space plane on the other hand...

        • by DamnOregonian ( 963763 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @06:18AM (#52523519)
          One does not fire something straight down with 15,000mph of orbital velocity. there's no RV in existence that would survive such a maneuver. You have to hit the 15,000mph winds head on, which means *not* straight down. No matter what, your only way back in is ballistic. The only advantage this really has, is that you may potentially be able to get it into orbit without getting caught, which takes away the biggest early-warning to a hostile party that you're about to nuke them- the launch. With no early warning, a THAAD/Aegis, any terminal interceptor will likely not have enough warning to respond. The space bomber is the easy answer to terminal-stage interception. It carries the drawback of being very easy to shoot down, but likely not before it has de-orbited its payload. So, easy to take out in a first strike (making it a useless second-strike weapon), but also pretty much impossible to stop a first trike from the vehicle. This is an unwise escalation in nuclear armament. I thought we had treaties preventing this nonsense. It's a space Red October.
        • I saw moonraker, and you are wrong.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        So what's the plan, reduced the number of warheads but make it harder to stop them? Seems like at the moment the hear number of ICBMs and the submarine second strike capability make any kind of defence system largely pointless against an enemy with 1000s of nukes to throw at you.

      • Did you read it? Russia has single stage to orbit flight abilities. By 2020 that should tell you how much of this is bs

        Bombers have a limited flight envelope. 50-60 thousand feet but a few planes can go higher. To do an orbital hop requires much more. The best answer to 2020 possibility is an air launched ICBM.

        The ICBM Is loaded into the bomber, the plane gets to altitude climbs higher and launches. As the plane stalls it falls clear of the ICBM which is picked up by heat trackers that record launches.

      • This is a scary piece of technology. Could potentially lead to space race 2.0. If russia has nukes in space, it's only a matter of time before we will too.

        Not 'could' - it already did. In the article about the X-37B, you can find:

        The robotic space plane launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015, kicking off the X-37B program's fourth flight. This mission, dubbed OTV-4 (short for Orbital Test Vehicle-4), remains a clandestine affair. "I can confirm the fourth OTV mission is approaching one year on orbit," Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Annmarie Annicelli said in response to Space.com's inquiry about the X-37B's activities.

        So apparently a space race is already going on, initiated by the US (or possibly China), in which the US now has a head start of a few years on Russia. Same as with nukes, same as with H-bombs.

      • If by better, you mean more effective, it's because we can detect ICBM launches which gives time to possibly intercept and destroy them. With this, they could drop a nuke from orbit and we would have very little time to react. Sure, we're going to be tracking this motherfucker and we'll know when it's overhead,

        We'll know when it ascends, too. [gwu.edu]. It seems of limited use.

      • ...you mean that we likely already have one.

        http://www.space.com/30245-x37b-military-space-plane-100-days.html [space.com]

    • This is better than an ICBM because...? I don't see the point.

      You can recall it if needed, unlike an ICBM. This a/c would allow you to launch a retaliatory strike if you thought you were attacked and still have time to sop it if you were wrong.

    • It is a very useful retaliatory weapon. Russia's ICBMs can be taken out in a United States first strike.

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @03:39AM (#52523201)

    I am not a legal expert but I believe their plan to produce a nuclear-armed spacecraft violates the Outer Space Treaty (to which Russia is a signatory) and specifically Article IV which says "States 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." (which sounds like exactly what Russia wants to do)

    Then again, with the way the Russian economy is these days, I dont think they have the funds to actually build or launch this thing so it wont matter...

    • by macklin01 ( 760841 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @03:43AM (#52523213) Homepage

      I am not a legal expert but I believe their plan to produce a nuclear-armed spacecraft violates the Outer Space Treaty (to which Russia is a signatory) and specifically Article IV which says "States 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." (which sounds like exactly what Russia wants to do)

      Then again, with the way the Russian economy is these days, I dont think they have the funds to actually build or launch this thing so it wont matter...

      Sounds like it's planned to only ascend when needed, so nothing stationed in space. (And in any event, not in orbit until the point where treaties are moot.)

      • by phayes ( 202222 )

        "planned to only ascend": What exactly is it "ascending" with? MPPSP? Magic Putin Pixy Snorting Powder?

        The X37B is launched with an Atlas V so if this russian nationalist's wet dream is anything like the X37B it's just a jumped up ICBM.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        Using this for Nukes is dumb. The advantage is that you could make a first strike at DC and take out the command structure but TACAMO should still be functioning. Now using conventional weapons from space makes a lot more sense. Russia could try and use it to take out our missile defense system or even an Ohio calls sub in port. A 1000 pounds (353 kg for the metric nazis) of tungsten at 15,000 mph (24140 kph for the metric nazis) could do a world of hurt to a sub or a ship. Ten 100 lb weapons at the same s

    • Your legal interpretation is, without any doubt, correct. That being said, Russia is well known for breaking international treaties when it is strategically or opportunistically convenient for them. And we are not trying to single out Russia by the way, there is plenty of other, "nations, that are too large or too powerful to be punished", that are doing the same or worse.

      There are two purposes:

      first one is to replay "Star Wars" military program in reverse. Russians would salivate on the idea of causing eco

    • I am not a legal expert but I believe their plan to produce a nuclear-armed spacecraft violates the Outer Space Treaty (to which Russia is a signatory) and specifically Article IV which says "States 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." (which sounds like exactly what Russia wants to do)

      Then again, with the way the Russian economy is these days, I dont think they have the funds to actually build or launch this thing so it wont matter...

      As if a treaty would stop Putin. Treaties are tools enabling ruthless leaders to get advantage over non-ruthless leaders.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        As an aside Putin has Stalin's library in his office and shows it off to visitors, getting them to read Stalin's comments in the margins of various texts.
  • On the other hand an arms race in space might be a real nice technology driver if we survive it.

  • What there wasn't a credible source like Gawker or the Weekly World News ?

  • by WoOS ( 28173 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @04:21AM (#52523305)

    I really like articles which make large claims (here "a potentially history-altering nuclear first-strike capability") without spending the minimum of thought on them.
    A first strike [wikipedia.org] capability encompasses disabling the second strike capability of the opponent. I would be interested to learn how a rather large and slow plane would be able to find all the space-radars switched off so no one noticed the fleet of planes flying two hours through outer space, the early warning system not detecting re-entry of the warheads, and all the nuclear subs in the ports.
    Very obviously the author of the article is privy to some information not about space planes but mind-altering capabilities of the Russians. I propose he gets a visits from the nice guys at CIA.

    • Re-entry isn't early warning. ICBM launch is early warning. By the time you see the plasma trail of reentry, your options are just about gone. This is a fantastic first-strike weapon, in that it can be done with precisely no warning. As for disabling second-strike capability? Na. This is just the Russians freaking out that THAAD/Aegis systems may be getting deployed around enough sensitive spots that they feel even their first strike capability is becoming limited. A plane boosting slowly into orbit can do
    • They thought about ad clicks. That is about it.
  • Physics ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by feufeu ( 1109929 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @04:32AM (#52523327)

    >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.

    Yeah, right. Why didn't anybody else build a plane than has the capability of ascending into orbit as needed and come back then ? Perhaps because the enormous energy needed to go from aerodynamic flight speed to orbital velocity can't simply be carried along in a pod or something ?

    Let's assume that Mr. Solodovnikov's outline of the modus operandi isn't exact but that what is planned is rather along the lines of Airplane takeoff (vs. ICBM rocket which is much more detectable) and going to orbit and drop a heat shielded nuke from there. (No need to land back, it's nuclear war all over anyway by then.) Even this would be so expensive that it will once again stretch Russia's financial capabilities beyond what's possible.

    • Yeah, right. Why didn't anybody else build a plane than has the capability of ascending into orbit as needed and come back then ? Perhaps because the enormous energy needed to go from aerodynamic flight speed to orbital velocity can't simply be carried along in a pod or something ?

      You're right... However, a significant suborbital fraction of orbital velocity is achievable with current cutting-edge-not-quite-functional technology, without massive tanks of oxidizer. I'm pretty certain their claim of 2020 for this being possible to them is a complete joke, and even if they could get the thing into a significant fraction of orbital velocity quiet enough not to be noticed... It sure as hell wouldn't be going home after.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Even this would be so expensive that it will once again stretch Russia's financial capabilities beyond what's possible

      Do you think they only export Vodka instead of vast amounts of oil and have close to a monopoly on gas sold in Europe? Sure, South Korea has an economy slightly larger but that's nothing to sneeze at either.

  • An ICBM takes 9 minutes to "strike anywhere".

  • And the Chair Force is working on moon-based drone submarine interceptors, because we can't have a Nukular* Space Planes gap.

    Idiots, all of them.

    *Grammar Nazi Disclaimer: intentional colloquial misspelling for sarcastic effect. Do carry on.

  • I am way too late with this, but it seems no one bothered to double check the links. Even the Russian MoD has stated this is totally incorrect:

    The media reports suggesting that Russia is developing a strategic bomber that is capable of performing tasks in space, do not correspond to reality, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement received by TASS on Thursday.

    The ministry said that the media had misinterpreted the words of a military academy representative about an alleged development of
  • Can you imagine how much better we all would be without squandering wealth on this level of military spending?
  • Nukes are only used to scare the public. In reality, precision bombing is used in war. Just think of the TV coverage of all the wars in the middle east. There is no need to obliterate a whole city, if you can take out the military capability alone.
  • This is just what the planet needs right now- an orbital weapons platform armed with nuclear bombs. What could possibly go wrong?

  • by laurencetux ( 841046 ) on Saturday July 16, 2016 @10:45AM (#52524191)

    do you really think that the launch facility for the x37 does not have in a LockUp the needed bits to go nuclear??

    all it would take is a swap of payload and maybe a swap of a server "blade" (to hook to the Football)

    trust me lawyers have nothing on Military folks on evading the truth

  • Sounds like the next Metal Gear, we need a super top secret mission to take it out.

  • Of course, Russian Federation is building a bomber. It can't manufacture cars, planes and despite its vast territory is forced to import food. But they are building technology more advanced than all industrialized countries can manage to, at this moment. I am guessing it's going to be manned by volunteers from RF who occupied Crimea. Didn't they say they were going to mars within 5 years at some point in the previous year? This is just another attempt at distraction or attention grabbing when the world's st
  • I thought we had stopped nuclear escalation. Thank you Mr. Putin, you fucking cunt. I don't give a rat's ass what all the armchair experts here come up with, an escalating nuclear arms race is not a trivial thing. Going to read A Canticle for Leibowitz again and hope I got the ending all wrong.

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