On October 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in his speech at the 20th Annual Meeting of the “Valdai” International Debate Club that Russia had successfully test-fired the “Haiyan” nuclear-powered strategic cruise missile and that its development work was nearing completion.
The concept of nuclear-powered cruise missiles first appeared in 1957. At that time, the U.S. Nuclear Energy Commission selected Lawrence National Laboratory to study the possibility of directly using nuclear reactor heat to drive a ramjet engine, also known as the “Pluto Project.” The concept of a nuclear-powered ramjet engine is actually not complicated: the aircraft flies forward, and after reaching a certain speed, the air entering the inlet will be compressed (so-called “ramjet”), and the compressed air flows through a nuclear reactor, which is responsible for The air is heated, the pressure of the high-temperature air is further increased and it is ejected from the nozzle, generating huge thrust.
The final product of Project Pluto is expected to be a supersonic low-altitude cruise missile code-named SLAM, which uses a solid rocket booster to accelerate to the speed required to activate the ramjet engine. After reaching cruising altitude, it will fly away from densely populated areas and the nuclear reactor reaches critical point. Because it is nuclear-powered, it has an almost unlimited range and can fly in circles over the ocean. After receiving an order to start an attack, it dives and flies towards the target. The SLAM missile can carry multiple nuclear warheads and attack multiple targets one after another, just like an unmanned bomber. After all warheads are fired, the missile can continue to fly at low altitude for several weeks, using the sonic boom and nuclear radiation generated to cause damage. After the missile eventually loses power, it will fall, and the contents of its reactor will leak out, causing radioactive contamination. In view of the possible consequences of the “Pluto Project” that even the U.S. military considered “excessive”, and with the subsequent advancement of ballistic missile technology, research on such nuclear-powered aircraft was shelved.
Russia’s “Haiyan” missile came into public view in March 2018, when Putin publicly announced that the Russian military was conducting relevant research and development. A Russian professional military journal previously published an article stating that the “Haiyan” has a theoretical range of up to 20,000 kilometers and can be deployed anywhere in Russia to attack U.S. targets; its theoretical flight altitude is only 50 to 100 meters, which is far lower than conventional powered cruise. The height of the missile makes it more difficult for it to be detected by air defense radar. A report released by the U.S. Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center in 2020 stated that if the “Petrel” is successfully put into use in Russia, it will be a “unique weapon with intercontinental range.”
However, the reliability of this missile has been questioned because the development of its nuclear propulsion device faces huge technical challenges and multiple test failures are suspected to have occurred before. A report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative concluded that Russia conducted 13 known tests between 2017 and 2019, all of which were unsuccessful. According to Western intelligence, the latest test, which Putin claimed was successful, may have been conducted at the Pankovo test site on Novaya Zemlya Island in the Arctic Ocean. Western media reported that satellite images on the morning of September 20 showed many vehicles around the launch pad of the Russian base, including a truck whose trailer seemed to match the size of the missile; the shield usually used to cover the launch pad The awning moved about 50 feet and the trailer disappeared that afternoon. Satellite images on September 28 showed that preparations on the launch pad were busy again. A similar trailer appeared, the awning was opened again, and two Russian military aircraft specially used to collect launch data were parked. at the airport 100 miles south of the launch site. According to public reports, the overall length of the “Haiyan” missile before launch is about 12 meters, and it can be ignited and launched from platform launchers at different angles.
When Putin delivered his State of the Union address on New Year’s Day this year, he showed a simulation on a large screen, showing the strange flight path of Russia’s nuclear-powered strategic cruise missile: taking off from near Moscow, then flying south from the Atlantic Ocean, bypassing South America, Avoiding one anti-missile fortress after another, and finally “hit” Hawaii in the United States, it can be said that it broke the principle of “the closest straight line between two points” widely followed in the traditional firepower projection model, and attacked the target in a detour not far away. In the past, although ballistic missiles hit high and far, their direction was clear. However, even if conventional cruise missiles, bombers, etc. have certain detour capabilities, their range is limited after all, and the threatened party still basically has a direction to follow in terms of defense and detection. . The nuclear-powered missile is like a “perpetual motion machine”. It can wander in the sky for a long time after being launched. It may land on the enemy’s head in the next second or a few days later. Like a very patient poisonous snake hidden in the darkness, it will An unexpected time and place suddenly appeared and dealt a fatal blow.
At a sensitive moment when the Ukraine crisis is highly anxious, Russia announced the news of its successful test launch of nuclear-powered cruise missiles in a high-profile manner, aiming to demonstrate the maturity of its research and development of such weapons, enhance psychological deterrence against the United States and the entire Western world, and increase its bargaining chips. If such a weapon does come out, it will have a transformative impact on future war situations, especially air defense and anti-missile technology, and render many current anti-missile weapons and tactics ineffective.
On October 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the successful test-firing of the “Haiyan” nuclear-powered strategic cruise missile, signaling a new era in warfare. This revolutionary weapon boasts an intercontinental range, making it capable of striking targets anywhere in the world. Its ability to evade traditional air defense systems further enhances its threat potential.
The Haiyan’s nuclear propulsion system grants it virtually unlimited range, allowing it to loiter in the skies for extended periods before striking its target. This capability significantly complicates defense strategies, as it becomes nearly impossible to predict the missile’s trajectory and intercept it.
The Haiyan’s development has been closely watched by the global defense community, with experts debating its potential impact on warfare. Some argue that it could render current anti-missile systems obsolete, while others believe that its high cost and potential environmental risks will limit its widespread adoption.
Russia’s decision to pursue nuclear-powered cruise missiles is likely driven by a desire to maintain a technological edge over its adversaries, particularly the United States. The Haiyan’s capabilities could potentially alter the balance of power and deter potential aggression.
However, the development of nuclear-powered cruise missiles also raises concerns about nuclear proliferation and potential environmental hazards. Accidents involving such missiles could lead to widespread radioactive contamination, posing a significant risk to human health and the environment.
The Haiyan’s test-firing represents a significant milestone in military technology, with far-reaching implications for future warfare. While its potential benefits cannot be ignored, the associated risks and challenges should not be overlooked. As the technology continues to evolve, the global community must carefully consider the implications of nuclear-powered cruise missiles and establish safeguards to mitigate their potential dangers.