Russia looks set to resume Nuclear-Powered Burevestnik Cruise Missile testing

Following reports that Russia is preparing facilities to resume testing the Burevestnik nuclear cruise missile, Anthony Endresen, Aerospace and Defense Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view:

“Russia’s preparations to resume testing the Burevestnik missile, NATO codename SKYFALL, come as the US seeks to renegotiate the New START treaty with Russia, which this capability circumnavigates, as well as looming US elections.

“With the Zircon Hypersonic missile having undergone successful tests a fortnight ago, Russia’s domestic position is a key factor in the timing of this process. As the successful testing of strategic weapons such as Zircon and SKYFALL play to the strengths of Putin’s government, the administration is seen as successfully strengthening Russia and rehabilitating the armed forces in particularly volatile times. Proceeding with these tests is intended to demonstrate Russia’s preparedness to face future defences with advanced technologies, while drawing attention away from the country’s current COVID-19 problems.

“From a military standpoint, this missile represents a means for Russia to overcome future missile defenses in order to maintain a credible deterrent, in addition to allowing the Russian armed forces to target US carrier groups at range. The use of nuclear propulsion in the weapon is strategic as it means that Russia is perceived to be lowering the threshold for going nuclear in conflict, given it is inherently a nuclear weapon regardless of warhead. The Russian counterargument to that point would be that targeting a carrier group would receive a nuclear response, whatever weapons are used in the strike.

“According to GlobalData, the strategic land-attack missile defense market will have a compound annual growth (CAGR) of 4.72% from 2020–2030, growing from $3,560.1m to $5,647.4m.

“The SKYFALL is explicitly intended to counter future defense systems, much like Zircon for non-nuclear use, and the Poseidon (NATO name Kanyon) for nuclear Naval use. The nuclear propulsion aspect of the weapon is key to performance, in addition to demonstrating Russian advances in propulsion and advanced technologies. Russia’s 2020 expenditure of $11,425m on missiles and missile defense procurement point to it being a vital area of the defense establishment, with expected 2030 expenditures of $13,304m showing this trend to continue. Given that these are procurement figures and do not include research or development costs, such as those for this weapon, it is evident Russia is very heavily invested in advancing its missile technology and fielding advanced systems.”

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