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.”
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.
If you want to watch him talk about this missile system, you can jump to about 1:28:50 here:
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.