A bombshell CNBC report says that Russia is seeking to recover an advanced nuclear-powered missile that was “lost at sea” after a failed flight test which occurred in late 2017. 

Unnamed US officials made the astounding claim while citing a classified intelligence report detailing the Russian operation

CNBC explains based on its intelligence sources

Crews will attempt to recover a missile that was test launched in November and landed in the Barents Sea, which is located north of Norway and Russia. The operation will include three vessels, one of which is equipped to handle radioactive material from the weapon’s nuclear core. There is no timeline for the mission, according to the people with knowledge of the report.

The U.S. intelligence report did not mention any potential health or environmental risks posed by possible damage to the missile’s nuclear reactor.

Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile launch, via RU-RTR Russian Television/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously boasted of the missile’s capabilities, claiming during a March 2018 speech“The low-flying, stealth cruise missile with a nuclear warhead with a practically unlimited range, unpredictable flight path and the ability to bypass interception lines is invulnerable to all existing and future missile defense and air defense systems.” He added that, “No one in the world has anything like it.”

However US officials say the missile has thus far been a failure after multiple tests, which Putin was apparently fully aware of when he boasted of the weapon’s capabilities in March. CNBC previously cited unnamed anonymous sources privy to the intelligence that said the missile’s nuclear-powered system which would allow for unheard of flight range while carrying a nuclear warhead had failed to initiate

In four tests between November 2017 and February 2018, the intercontinental ballistic missile crashed, according to US sources, which further said the longest test flight lasted just over two minutes at a mere 22 miles in range before it crashed

Putin’s March speech was the first time Russia officially recognized the nuclear-powered cruise missile program, which garnered global media attention as Putin bragged the system had “unlimited range”. 

* * *

Recent Russian-produced video featuring brief test footage spliced with imagined computer generated sequence of the missile’s projected capabilities…

Official Russian footage of the nuclear cruise missile’s assembly location released through Russia’s Defense Ministry last month:

One nuclear weapons systems engineer, Hans Kristensen, who serves as director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told CNBC  there remains the potential for unknown levels of nuclear radiation pollution: “It goes without saying that if you fire a missile with a nuclear engine or energy source, that nuclear material will end up wherever that missile ends up,” he said.

“If this missile was lost at sea and recovered in full, then you might hypothetically be able to do it without pollution, I would have my doubts about that because it’s a very forceful impact when the missile crashes. I would suspect you would have leaks from it,” Kristensen added.

The weapon has reportedly been under development by Russia since the early 2000s and is thought to initiate take-off through a conventionally fueled engine, after which it is designed to switch to nuclear-power for “unlimited” range.

The missile was one of six ‘hypersonic weapons’ which Russia first announced last March, and released military video profiles of in mid-July, touting their capabilities.

CNBC notes further of the recovery efforts, which have an undisclosed timeline:

If the Russians are able to regain possession of the missile, U.S. intelligence analysts expect Moscow will use the procedure as a blueprint for future recovery operations. It is unclear whether the other missiles are missing at sea, too.

Previously, the online military magazine Defense Blog noted of the system that “Russia’s next-generation nuclear-powered cruise missiles are capable of hitting targets throughout the United States” and cited Russia’s Defense Ministry as boasting that the missiles have “unlimited range and unlimited ability to maneuver”.

Defense Blog said of the high range for the developing missile system, which is purported to have nuclear warhead delivery capability:

The main purpose of the new cruise missiles is the suppression of the operational bases of the probable enemy and the destruction of interceptor-based missile defenсe systems or group of ships with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defenсe System.

The missile has an intercontinental range in excess of 10,000+ kilometers (probably close to 20,000 kilometers) and may be equipped with a nuclear warhead.

After the new Russian weapons were first made public, the commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), Gen. Lori Robinson, expressed growing “concern” before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Russia has prioritized the development of advanced cruise missiles capable of holding targets within North America at risk from distances not previously seen. These systems present an increasing threat to North America due to their long range, low radar cross section, and the limited indications and warnings likely to be seen prior to a combat launch,” Gen. Robinson said.

The general stated further while arguing for more investment in advanced sensors and missile defense systems to protect the US mainland: “I have confidence in the layered approach provided by US overlapping air defense systems. However, I am concerned about the potential for those advanced cruise missiles, which can be launched from bombers or submarines at much greater ranges than the previous systems“. 

However, if current reports of the advanced nuclear-powered Russian missile being “lost at sea” are true, it appears that United States military planners have much less to worry about than what they previously thought. 

At the very least, the US may now have much more time to erect similarly advanced systems to defend against Russian hypersonic weapons. 

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