Russia Building a Nuclear Space Bomber

Russia Is Building a Nuclear Space Bomber, The Daily Beast, DAVID AXE, 14 JULY 16  Kremlin claims about a spacecraft that could fire weapons anywhere on Earth within two hours may have just kick-started a nuclear arms race in space. 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.

That in itself isn’t terribly surprising or even, for the United States, particularly worrisome. Lots of governments and even private companies are working on space planesthat can launch from rockets or runways, boost into orbit for a period of time then return to Earth for quick refurbishment and re-use.

The tech is pretty basic. But alone among space-plane developers, the Kremlin is proposing to arm its space plane. With nukes. That’s not only a gross violation of international law, it represents a fairly profound act of hypocrisy on Russia’s part. It wasn’t long ago that the Russian government accused the United States of weaponizing space by sending aloft the nimble, versatile X-37B, basically a quarter-size, remote-controlled version of the Space Shuttle that could, in theory, carry weapons—but does not.

To be clear, a nuclear-armed space plane would be dangerously destabilizing, as it would totally upset the current, tenuous balance of power between the United States and Russia. The Pentagon could respond to a Russian orbital nuke bomber by quickly deploying a space bomber of its own. In other words, an atomic arms race… in space—a development no one should welcome.

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.

 In operational concept, the space-bomber is somewhat different from the X-37B, which launches into orbit atop a rocket like a satellite does and spends a year or more maneuvering around low orbit, reportedly conducting science experiments.

The Russian craft could be closer to Virgin’s family of reusable space planes—the experimental SpaceShipOne and the larger SpaceShipTwo, which is designed to carry paying tourists to the edge of space……..

In 1967, the United States and Russia and 102 other countries signed the Outer Space Treaty, which bans the explicit militarization of space. “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,” the treaty reads.

Forty-nine years later, the United States, Russia, and China between them operate hundreds of military satellites. A few have inherently aggressive design features, such as the ability to maneuver close to other spacecraft and potentially disable them by way of extendable claw arms.

But none are solely and strictly offensive weapons. And certainly none pack city-destroying nuclear weapons that can rain down just an hour or so after the command is given. Earth’s surface teems with weaponry, but the world has, so far, managed to keep Earth’s orbit pretty much arms-free.

After the U.S. Air Force launched the X-37B—for scientific purposes, officials claimed—for the first time in April 2010, Russian experts accused the Americans of possibly sneaking a weapon into orbit. The X-37B could “strike global blows on surface targets,” warned Konstantin Sivkov from the Academy for Geopolitical Problems.…….

But the Kremlin’s space-bomber would be a weapon—unambiguously so—and would shatter a half-century of mostly-peaceful space exploration, undoubtedly sparking a terrible diplomatic row and potentially driving the United States and Russia closer to open conflict… on Earth’s surface. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/14/russia-is-building-a-nuclear-space-bomber.html

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