CNN journalists have described satellite photos that – they explain – show that Russia may be preparing another test of its Buriewiestnik nuclear cruise missile, known as Skyfall – a weapon designed to fight US defense systems. Preparations are to take place on the shores of the White Sea.
US officials realize that Russia may be preparing another cruise missile test as part of an advanced weapon systems program they call Buriewiestnik (“storm bringer”), writes CNN, citing sources familiar with the case.
Photos dated August 16, taken by the US space company Capella Space, give CNN “strong indications that Russia was preparing to test the SSC-X-9 Skyfall nuclear cruise missile at a point near the Arctic Circle.” The photos were analyzed by experts from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
“The use of a nuclear reactor would in principle give a cruise missile unlimited flight range around US radars and interceptors,” explained researcher Jeffrey Lewis, an arms expert at the Middlebury Institute, quoted by CNN. He added, however, that there are “significant question marks as to whether the system can function effectively, not to mention the threat that testing this system may pose to the environment and human health.”
Lewis told US journalists that this risk prompted some experts to call the weapon “Chernobyl flying.” He recalled at this point that attempts to recover a missile that crashed in the White Sea in August 2019 led to an explosion in which five Russian employees of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov were killed. He pointed out that satellite images from that time suggested that the incident could be related to the expansion of a nuclear-powered cruise missile.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declined to comment on the case. Neither the Pentagon nor the Russian defense ministry responded to questions from CNN until the text was published.
All eyes on Pankowo
CNN recalled that Russia conducted at least one test flight of the cruise missile from the same location near the Arctic Circle in November 2017. “Moscow reportedly conducted many other tests in the following months, but none were considered successful,” it added.
The CNN text explained that in March 2018 the Russian government released a recording of a nuclear-powered cruise missile test that allowed researchers, including analysts at the Middlebury Institute, to identify the location where the tests were conducted.
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Lewis described that scientists had been monitoring the area in recent months, and satellite images taken during the summer by the commercial satellite imaging company Planet showed, among other things, cargo ships with supplies visiting the site. CNN also said that Russia recently issued a “notice to seafarers” about dangerous operations to be carried out between August 15 and 20 near the Buriewiestnik test site in Pankowo, Novaya Zemlya.
According to Middlebury Institute researchers, the image taken on August 16 showed that “Russian personnel had erected a large bunker to shield the missile and crew members from inclement weather.”
Then, as Lewis said, the bunker was dismantled, “exposing a large object on the launch pad, possibly the SSC-X-9 Skyfall launcher.” He added that “in the vicinity of the launcher, you can also see a significant number of objects that are likely vehicles and shipping containers.” “None of these objects were present in the last site image in June,” he said.
The Capella Space observations from August 16 were shown on his Twitter profile by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute.
Main photo source: Ministry of Defense of Russia