For a time, it seemed Russia was steaming toward fielding real fifth-generation stealth fighters, a development with serious security implications, based on the nation’s aggressive posture toward NATO and America’s reliance on air power in its style of warfare. As time wore on, however, cracks in Russia’s advanced fighter program began to show, culminating in India backing out of its agreement with the Kremlin for reasons that have been kept private (but were rumored to be based on the platform’s lack of actual stealth capabilities).
Today, the Su-57, Russia’s long-touted fifth-generation fighter, looks as though it will likely exist only as a token fleet, with a dozen or so of the serialized jets on order in the coming years and only one complete platform equipped with the engine intended for the fighter. The Su-57, like so many other Russian defense initiatives, may have brought a great deal of press coverage, but ultimately afforded the nation little-to-no strategic capabilities whatsoever.
Now, another high-profile Russian weapons program, once touted by Vladimir Putin as the future of Russia’s military capabilities, appears doomed to the same fate. The nuclear-powered cruise missile, the Burevestnik, now appears to be too expensive to ever field in serious numbers, and that’s assuming Russia ever manages to make it work.
Putin first brought the Burevestnik to the world’s attention in a public address delivered last March, in which the Russian president discussed a number of ongoing “advanced” weapon systems programs. The cruise missile itself relies on a nuclear propulsion system instead of the traditional solid or liquid fuel stores, theoretically allowing it to achieve supersonic speeds and stay airborne essentially forever. According to Putin, this incredible range would allow the weapon to more easily circumvent missile defenses on the way to its target.