Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull, addressing reporters in the 5-Eyes intelligence hub based at RAF Wyton, Cambs for the first time, voiced deep concern at Russia‘s relentless quest to develop a raft of deadly new weapons with which to threaten the rest of the world. He explained: “Moscow is testing a sub-sonic nuclear-powered cruise missile system which has global reach and would allow attack from unexpected directions.”
Given it was a nuclear-powered projectile, the weapon would have a “near-indefinite loiter time”, Lt Gen Hockenhull said.
He cited it as evidence that Russia was “pushing the boundaries of science, and international treaties”.
Lt Gen Hockenhull is widely understood to have been referring to the 9M730 Burevestnik missile, which NATO has codenamed SSC-X-9 Skyfall, and which has been dubbed a “doomsday” weapon.
It is thought to be responsible for an accident at a test centre in the north-west of Russia last year in which at least five people died and several others were injured.
Residents of the nearby village of Nyonoska evacuated after measurements indicated levels of radiation in the city of Severodvinsk, 30 miles away, were 16 times higher than normal.
Speaking last year, Dr Mark Galeotti, from the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) offere a grim analysis.
Jon Hawkes, associate director of land warfare at Jane’s IHS Markit, said Skyfall system could work in one of two ways.
It could be an “air-breathing engine employing a small nuclear reactor core to heat incoming air that is expelled to generate thrust”.
Alternatively it was a “nuclear thermal rocket engine, where the nuclear core is used to heat a liquid fuel such as hydrogen before expelling it through a nozzle to produce thrust”, he said.
He added: “Given the Russians are claiming unlimited range, then one would assume it has to be along the lines of the first option, as the hydrogen fuel device would have a limit to its range.”
The Burevestnik is one of six deadly weapons unveiled by Mr Putin on March 1, 2019.
Others include the Avongard hypersonic glide vehicle.
After the accident, in August, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia.
“We have similar, though more advanced, technology.
“The Russian “Skyfall” explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good.”