MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

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Written by Valentin Vasilescu; Originally appeared on voltairenet.org

According to US intelligence sources, the Russian tests on cruise missiles of nuclear propulsion have failed. However, the US’s ambassador to Nato has suddenly declared that the US would destroy the missiles that Russia constructed in breach of the treaty on intermediate range nuclear weapons.

MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

country that has cruise missiles with nuclear propulsion can put pressure on States that are seeking to invade it. Such a drone can patrol above populated areas of an enemy state for days, without the AA defense of the enemy state seeking to bring it down. There is a rational basis for the enemy’s action: bringing down the drone could lead to only one result: a nuclear catastrophe on its territory.

The Berlin Air Show (the Air Force’s exhibition) took place in April 2018. France and Germany announced that Airbus (the company that builds the Eurofighter that weaponize the German Airforce’s army) and Dassault Aviation (manufacturer of Rafale airplanes which equips the French Air Force’s army) have commenced to conceive a new fifth generation fighter plane. Because of Brexit, the United Kingdom has not been co-opted into the plan. In July 2018, the US company Lockheed Martin has made a F-35 bearing the number 300 carry out a flight. On 2 July 2018, Yuri Borisov, Russia Federation’s Vice Minister of Defence declared that the Russian plane Su-57 was not a priority and that only 12 of them had been ordered by the Russian Army. Consequently, the mass manufacture of this plane has been slowed down. In this context, the question is posed: what equipment is a priority for the Russian Air Force?

At the beginning of 2018, one priority of the Russian army was to modernize 10 supersonic planes with long-range action. So MiG-31 BM, was transformed into MiG-31 BP to launch Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, the anti-ship missiles. This type of missile has a range of 2,000 km, and its mission is to strike airplane carriers and helicopter carriers. However, the US ABM shield in Romania, Poland, South Korea and Alaska are for sure targets for the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile (see the photo below). In 2017, Tarasenko, director of the company MiG, declared to Sputnik that they were planning to replace the MiG-3 with the new 5th generation MiG-41 plane, capable of flying at Mach 4.3.

MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

Why has modernizing a plane that has not been manufactured since 1994 suddenly become a priority? The MiG-31 BM was conceived to intercept the early warning planes (AWACS), armed with R-37 missiles (with a wider range: 384 km). Following this, the plane was adapted to intercept the cruise missiles flying at low altitude. The radar on board the MiG-31 BM contains the topography of the terrain flown over in the memory of the digital card of the microprocessor. This permits comparing and distinguishing the presence of cruise missiles. The MiG-31 is limited, because it is not a multi-role plane, capable of performing air combat moves; it is a plane for two (pilot and operator of arms) capable of patrolling at a high altitude for two hours.

The Mig-31 weighs 46 tonnes on take off, has an internal tank of motor fuel, a capacity of 12.8 t, a maximum speed of Mach 2.83 (3,000 km / h), and is capable of flying at an altitude of 20.6 Km. The plane is coated in alloys containing titanium resistant to kinetic heat generated by the high speed flight. MIG-31 BM has a retractable system of refuelling in flight, in the fuselage. During a drill carried out in the summer of 2016, a MiG-31 BM flew for seven hours, from Krasnoïarsk to Astrakhan, covering a distance of 8,000 km with three refuellings in flight. The Mig-31 BM is the ideal platform to increase the range of the air-ground missiles. This is due to the initial speed and the low density of the air at the altitude at which the launch takes place.

It took everyone by surprise when on 2 October 2018, the US ambassador to NATO, Bailey Hutchison Kay, invited Russia to stop its cruise missile programme on the grounds that it violated the Treaty on Intermediate Range Missiles (INF), failing which the United States and their allies would intervene with the use of force. At the same time that this declaration was made, the Western media published photos of a MiG-31 BM, registered as “81 Blue”, carrying under its fuselage a new type of missile, of which we know nothing (see photo below). The air force has been photographed at the Joukovski airbase and is conceived to test again types of arms, and does not have a system for hanging arms under the wings, as in the configuration of the MiG-31 BP.

MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

With regard to the new missile carried by the MiG-31, even if it is a nuclear missile of intermediate range IRBM (3 000 to 5 500 km), it is outside the reach of the INF treaty. The scope of this treaty is limited to missiles based on the ground. Due to the MIG-31’s elevated initial speed and altitude, a nuclear missile with a field of action comparable to that of an intermediate range missile (8 000 km) must not have a mass greater than 7 – 9 tonnes. By way of comparison, an IRBM launched from the ground, weighs more than 25 tonnes.

There were speculations that the mysterious missile would be a modernized version of Kontakt 79M6, the anti-satellite missile in three stages, that can reach an altitude of 600 km. The missile also has the capabilities to intercept ballistic missile in the cruise phase. From 1987, Kontakt has been tested on two modified MiG-31 D (one of which is registered “072 Blue”). The Kontakt is 7.25 m long, weighs 7 tonnes, and was launched from a height of 15 to 18 km, from a Mig-31 D flying at a speed of 2 120 to 2 230 km / h. But after the collapse of the URSS, the programme was abandoned, and the planes and missiles that formed part of it have joined a museum.

MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

Thus the MiG-31 BM registered “81 Blue” could carry any type of missile including anti satellite missiles.

On 1 March 2018, President Vladamir Putin delivered a speech announcing that Russia had tested the Burevestnik cruise missile 9M729 / 9M730. This cruise missile has nuclear propulsion[1], and as such, is not restricted in either its ability to manoeuvre or its range. This missile has a range that would be at least ten times greater than that of the US Cruise Missile, the Tomohawk. This would allow Russia to by-pass the AA defense zones and to strike any target in the world. The US would be totally defenceless against this type of weapon because at present, the US lacks a counter force and does not have a plan to conceive this type of cruise missile in the near future”

MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

The Burevestnik tests probably took place at the Nenoksa polygon in the region of Arkhangelsk. The 9М730 missile with a motor with solid combustibles, is launched from a ramp. Its motor starts propelling during flight. In theory, the nuclear motor is simple: it does not include any pieces that are moving and does not need massive reserves of fuels. The air penetrates the inlet of the cruise missile, reaches a nuclear reactor and is heated to a temperature of about 1 400 – 1600°C. It is then released through the buzzard and propels the vehicle.

However, the advantages of using this type of missile are downplayed by the risks that they can pose. The two main risks are: the possibility of a fissure occurring in flight and the reactor losing its isolation. As a consequence, during the test flights, the cruise missile was accompanied by two cargo planes (Il-76). These planes were put up by the company Rosatom and converted into laboratories equipped with material to detect radiation, and equipment to find the range of the trajectory of the missile (SKIP) functioning by satellite channels of communication. The plane was Il-976.

MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

Citing anonymous sources from the Pentagon, the TV news channels Fox News and CNBC have declared that US intelligence had followed four Russian tests on cruise missiles with nuclear propulsion, carried out between November 2017 and February 2018. Every test ended up crashing in the Arctic.

There is a disconnect between the declarations made on the television stations by sources of US Intelligence and the order issued in the form of a request that Kay Bailey Hutchinson extended to Russia. It is only if Russia had succeeded in its tests on the Burevestnik missile that the US ambassador to NATO would communicate that the United States will do everything in its power to prevent this programme from developing any further. On the other hand, if the results of the Burevestnik tests had not been positive, what interest does Russia have in adapting it to the MiG-31 BM? For the mysterious rocket carried by the MiG-31 BM does not resemble the Kinzhal; the profile of its nose is not made for flights at hypersonic speed but rather for flights at subsonic speed like all the cruise missiles. At the extreme opposite, we can clearly distinguish the buzzard of a motor with solid combustible used in acceleration, immediately after separation with MiG-31 BM.

MiG-31: the vehicle for the “burevestnik”, the cruise missile of nuclear propulsion?

Translation Anoosha Boralessa

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  • Rob

    If India want to unite Pakistan again and make a strong unbreakable bond between India and Pakistan then for this India will leave Kashmir to Pakistan. This is the chemistry of this world. In India and Pakistan both sides same families are living but the radical Hindoes does not want that they become united.

    • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

      What does that nonsense have to do with missile tests?

    • Sinbad2

      If Donald Duck married Minnie Mouse, would their children have fur, or feathers?

      • John Whitehot

        wtf.

      • FlorianGeyer

        Pubic hair covering all their bodies I think Sinbad :)

      • PZIVJ

        Excellent question Sinbad.
        Now you got Rob thinking.

  • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

    “Every test ended up crashing in the Arctic.”

    “Crashed?” Or hit their targets?

    • John Whitehot

      “”Crashed?” Or hit their targets?”

      the answer is that they don’t know at all, nor they care to know, for everytime they open their mouths it’s to produce bullshit – that’s the only thing they know for sure.

    • FlorianGeyer

      I was thinking the same and th debris is now thousands of feet under water rather than being spread out on land.

      • John Whitehot

        you can be sure that they recovered the “debris”, if there was any on first instance.

  • John Whitehot

    “The US would be totally defenceless against this type of weapon because at present, the US lacks a counter force and does not have a plan to conceive this type of cruise missile in the near future”

    that’s because the US is decades back when it comes to airborne nuclear propulsion.

    If there was a honest, non-politicized general and technical press, the achievement of the Burevestnik propulsion system would be adequately described as the next breakthrough in aviation in general after the invention of jet engines.

    But of course no-one will tell a word and run the risk of seeing zionist investments in their businesses cut.

    One could surely argue that the system is covered in secret due to the military nature of it, nonetheless, if and when the technology reaches the Russian civil aerospace industry, they will have to say something about it, or either be buried among the greatest clowns in history along with their jewish money.

    • as

      Instantaneous and safe deactivation of nuclear reactors still the main problem. And cleaning up it’s contamination.
      The US probably have already have the decontamination technology as I’ve read scientific publication of radioactive material eating bacteria. None of them has seen advancement ever since.
      Probably why it’s eager to make nuclear first strike against China and Russia despite radioactive from obliterating both of them still kills off life on earth even without both firing retaliation strike.

      • John Whitehot

        “Probably why it’s eager to make nuclear first strike against China and Russia”

        It’s something which is not only stupid, but twice, or thrice stupid – of course with these people one must take nothing for granted.

        “as I’ve read scientific publication of radioactive material eating bacteria. ”

        And I suppose you believed it.

        anyway, how does this relate to the nuclear powered missile? it almost sounds like a deflection attempt.

        • as

          No i mean the nuclear reactors would never be safe enough without those three things. Deactivation, stabilizer, and it’s radioactive cleaning up for civilian commercial use and as such would never be truly aviation breakthrough. The US probably has the technology to do the clean up but they rather make them into tool of wars.

      • Sinbad2

        We are talking about war, we know the US uses depleted Uranium, chemical and biological weapons, a bit of radioactive waste pails into insignificance compared to what else will be going on.

        • as

          Nah we’re talking about aviation revolution that could’ve been perfected had the US don’t intends to use completely humanity helpful technology that can prompted many breakthroughs into tools of war.

      • ruca

        While the self righteous live many km under ground. I agree.

    • Sinbad2

      It’s not just nuclear propulsion where the US is backward.
      In the US bankers are gods, and rocket scientists get paid like street sweepers.
      When the US made the decision to move out of manufacturing, and into financial services, as a way of generating income, they sealed their fate.

      • John Whitehot

        “and rocket scientists get paid like street sweepers.”

        it doesn’t matter how much you pay a rocket scientist, it’s not gonna make him any better at rocket science, or a better person in general anyway.

  • putinbeater

    it is a plane for two (pilot and operator of arms) capable of patrolling at a high altitude for two hours.

    nuclear engine and can fly for ever :))

    btw., nuclear propulsion is BS. already the old fashion commies dreamed about it. but for securuty reason never developed. each crash, each mistake causes contamination of land with radioactive materials. this fact was too hard also for commies. i doubt, that just now is acceptable.

    • John Whitehot

      “nuclear propulsion is BS. ”

      you are bs.

      keylogging scum.

      • putinbeater

        hahaha :)))

        you are believer. you believ i weapon, whoch nobody saw :DDD

  • wwinsti

    ….And the recent craze among the rich for New Zealand real estate went up in a puff of radioactive smoke.

    • FlorianGeyer

      Lol.

  • TiredOfBsToo

    “According to US intelligence sources..”

    Spoiler alert…. b*ll sh*t follows.

  • Jesus

    The INF guidelines were complicated by US deploying MK 41 launchers for their antiballistic missile systems in Roumania and Poland, launchers that can fire Tomahawks as well.

    Russia’s response was to “upgrade” the Iskander system using a ground launched cruise missile very similar to Kh101 with a range of 5000 kms.
    Russia also shelved R26 Rubez, a mobile ICBM with a range of 5500 kms ( most likely a Yars missile with less fuel.
    The nuclear powered cruise missile is another weapon that challenges INF, after all INF was signed to protect European part of NATO from conventional and nuclear attacks from Russia. It favored sea based cruise missiles while prohibiting similar land based cruise missiles, since US and NATO at that time had the sea launched Tomahawk advantage.

    Times have changed, Russian weapon technological development rendered INF obsolete, coupled with American intransigence to negotiate a new agreement is causing Russia to run away with the development of new weapons while US is treading water and mouthing empty threats.

    • Iskander has range 500 km , at least officially.

      • Jesus

        The ballistic missile has a range ofm500kms, the cruise missile version can be similar to KH101.

  • paul ( original )

    I don’t know a great deal about nuclear power used for propulsion . I
    will make a few guesses . Others please feel free to correct me. I
    would imagine that the nuclear component would be very small,
    consisting of a very highly enriched source. I am not certain that
    even a critical mass would be needed. Nuclear material can get very
    hot infinitesimally close to criticality. But in any case we would be
    dealing with a small amount of material that would only operate for
    may be a few hours. So the accumulated radioactive waste would not be
    that huge. Small say compared with what is in a nuclear powered
    submarine. So the contamination would not be all that large. Clearly
    you would not want this contamination but in time of war when these
    thing would be used I think it would be a side issue. Anyone with
    real knowledge like to explain?

    • putinbeater

      you are right. this radioactive waste was the reason, why stopped also ruskies in the last century the experiments with this rocket.

    • Garga

      You guessed it right. To generate heat, there’s no need for critical mass. Radioactive matter gets very hot if properly insulated.

      The principal seems to be similar to the RTGs, where a very small amount of radioactive material (pellets) is used. The first RTG powered sat launched by the US used about 96 grams of Plutonium which could power the sat for more than a century. The radioactive material generates heat by decay and actually glows because of heat. This tech is fairly safe as they even used a kind of Pu RTG in heart pacemakers (They could last several lifetimes but had to be extracted after death if the body was to be cremated to avoid contamination because of microscopic amount of Pu). RTGs are used as a power source for spacecrafts and even in the USSR, they powered a lot of remote light houses using them.

      In case of aircraft (or missile) propulsion, you’re right. The size of radioactive matter is not important as it’s very small compared to the system needed to transfer the heat to the air at great speed and volume (The older versions used liquid metals like molten Sodium or water as medium for heat transfer) The US did try to build something feasible but the project never left the experimental phase.
      If the US is now worried about the contamination of these types of engines, yet again they are being hypocrites. They tried to make their own version but failed.

      I don’t think it’s possible to build something that powers the engine just for a few hours because the half-life of radioactive materials used in such systems (half-life for isotopes of Plutonium ~88 years, Strontium ~30 years even Polonium ~140 days) is very long. But we are talking about the Russian physicists, so nothing seems to be impossible!

      I think in war time when a nuclear-powered missile carrying a nuclear warhead is coming for someone, the tiny amount of Pu that powers it’s engine is the least of their worries.

      • paul ( original )

        Yes you know lots more about this than I do. What was in the back of my mind is something called I think ‘the multiplication effect’. My memory might be failing on the terminology. The idea is similar to criticality but when the material is brought together it is just sub-critical. So it can not explode ( it could not anyway) but produces heat. I don’t know how much heat, but may be this could be fine turned.
        I think and hope you are right about Russian scientists. This is something that is also at the back of my mind. My theory is that the social trajectory here in the West is such that it will over time make technological progress nearly impossible. To explain more, this is because the fetish and obsession creating a ‘diverse’ workforce will result in a workforce that can do shit. I am certain this will happen to a degree. My only fear is that Russia may try to follow a similar trajectory.

  • Tudor Miron

    Extremely low quality article. Translation (from Romanian?) is poor but what is more important, author simply distorts the facts – starting with claiming that Borisov is a “Vice Minister of Defence” and so on. I would describe this article as sort of “mental dearea”. I know that SF can do better than this – posting articles for the sake of posting.

  • Hisham Saber

    They all crashed into a specific area of the artic after successful flight. I mean the Russians clearly want them back. Ther’re not going to just let them continue on and fall into enemy hands. These are very tightly controlled tests.

  • zman

    Kay Bailey Hutchinson…did Trump dig up every POS scum from Texas that he could find? First Rick Goodhair, moron extraordinaire…now this cheap imitation of Nikki Hayley.

    • Tommy Jensen

      She is amodern American woman, thats what counts.

  • Nuclear propulsion missiles are quite old technology and it was sucesfully tested in 1960 in USA for space missions.
    The problem of this concept is, that anything in the vicinity of the missile became radioactive as outgoing gas is not shielded from reactor and goes directly into atmosphere. USA abandoned this concept because this appeared to be very dangerous.

    And by the way, it is really not so easy to “just suck air on front and heat it an use it for propulsion on back end”. You have to compress the air by some kind of hydropump and somehow cool the nozzle and be able very quickly adjust power output of the reactor to maintain operational temperature.
    This is much bigger chalenge then original US concept from 1950, which used liquid hydrogen as a propulsion medium.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI8-vKq_6gA

    • Sinbad2

      “Nuclear propulsion missiles are quite old technology and it was sucesfully tested in 1960 in USA for space missions.”

      How can you heat air in space, where there is no air?

      • John Whitehot

        he doesn’t care, he brought up the subject of space vehicles propulsion to say that 1-it’s old technology and the us already has it, and 2- the us is the good guy while russia is the evil one because they don’t care about contamination – when we are actually speaking about missiles that would be used after or contemporarily to hundreds of nuclear warheads going off around the world.

      • Lol stupid, in space they use hydrogen, it is described in video very clearly (aka for idiots).

        • Sinbad2

          So it’s nothing like the Russian system, you are comparing apples to oranges. In space much more efficient propulsion systems are being developed. Your great American system was abandoned decades ago, ion engines are now the hot technology.

          You are a total idiot if you don’t understand the difference between an atmospheric rocket engine and an in space propulsion system.

    • Ilya Grushevskiy

      How radioactive though, say compared to depleted uranium shells that the US loves to sprinkle over most places it squats.

  • R PLobo

    This is an updated version of the nuclear ramjet developed but abandoned by the US in the early 1960’s – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto

  • Tommy Jensen

    Whatever. So Russia has a lot of stuff, S-400. Kinzhal, Hypersonics, Armata, Tsar bomb, they never use. The only missile we have seen making a difference is Kalibr.

    But Syria is still occupied 50%, Iraq is still in a 25 year war, Afghanistan is still occupied producing Nato heroine, US still have 1000 bases around and own MSM and SWIFT.

    What good does it make then when you cant use it against your enemy´s superior soft power?……..LOL.

    • paul ( original )

      I think in a sense you are making a very good point. I would not
      criticize Russia. But I can see that in the interplay of forces it is
      the USA which has the psychological dominance. I only make this point
      because I think in so many human interactions it is those who
      psychologically dominant who prevail. Instead of the words
      psychologically dominant you can substitute the words ‘the biggest
      bully’. In most situations, particularly in politics, it is ludicrous
      to say that the best people or ideas win out. No it is the most
      ruthless and dominant who win out.

      In terms of Russia America interactions, I don’t necessarily see this
      situation being permanent. But may be like you I only really see it
      changing if Russia ( or somebody else) gives the USA an absolute,
      merciless beating

  • paul ( original )

    Again not claiming any expert knowledge on this topic. However, it does
    appear to me from the things I have read that the problems
    associated with this system are just the usual engineering problems
    associated with nuclear power. That is cooling, containment and
    stability. If this system uses in part the idea of a reactor then it
    needs to be remembered that this would only operate may be for a
    few hours, so it would not produce all that much nuclear waste .