Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 4, 2019.
Mikhail Klimentyev | Kremlin via Reuters
VIENNA – Despite a lot of successful tests, Russia's nuclear-powered missile with so-called unlimited reach will be ready for war in the next six years, a slightly faster timeline than previously reported, according to a US intelligence assessment.
The unveiling of the new, more ambitious missile timeline comes even though the Kremlin has not yet secured a successful test over several attempts, according to sources with knowledge of an American intelligence report.
It also comes on the heels of a mysterious explosion off Russia's northern coast that killed five scientists and caused fears Moscow had tested the current missile, called Burevestnik. An American intelligence evaluation found that the explosion on August 8 occurred during a recovery mission to rescue a lost Burevestnik from the seabed.
In March last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed several hypersonic weapons as well as Burevestnik. Putin said it was nuclear-powered and had unlimited reach.
Burevestnik, also known as Skyfall, has been tested once earlier this year and previously the weapon was tested four times between November 201
The United States determined that the longest test flight lasted for more than two minutes, with the missile flying 22 miles before losing control and crashing. The shortest test lasted for four seconds and flew for five miles. The tests apparently showed that the nuclear-powered heart of the cruise missile failed to initiate and therefore the weapon could not achieve the indefinite flight Putin bragged about.
Putin had argued that the "invincible" weapon had a proven ability. However, in March, CNBC reported that the Kremlin will only produce a few of these weapons because the program has not yet successfully conducted a test and is too expensive to develop.
However, despite all setbacks, Putin is determined to invest in weapons of this size, according to national security experts.
"Russia is engaged in a huge investment in new systems like this to defeat the US missile defense. We are stumbling across an arms race," Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.
"Trump's personal friendship with Putin is no substitute for the treaties that limited nuclear power. What the two leaders say is that the US and Russian military spend billions on new nuclear weapons aimed at each other," Lewis told CNBC.
Joshua Pollack, a nuclear proliferation expert and editor of the Nonproliferation Review, called Putin's strategy "overdose" and said it usually takes a long time to develop "exotic new technology", such as this missile system.
"Almost everything he showed up was designed to overcome or circumvent American missile defense in one way or another. Their current generation of ICBMs can do the job without difficulty," Pollack said. "But maybe he envisions the next generation of defensive technology and trying to stay ahead of it. "