Is Russia developing a hypersonic space bomber?

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Russia has developed a next-generation stealth bomber that can attack from space.

Pavel Golovkin/AP/File
Russian Air Force's IL-78 air-to-air refueling tanker (r.) demonstrates in-flight refueling of a Tu-160 strategic bomber over Pushkin Square in Moscow, Russia, in May 2014.

Step aside, B-2 Bomber. The Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy is developing a new space stealth bomber that could launch by 2020, Lt. Col. Aleksei Solodovnikov told RIA Novosti, a major Russian news outlet, on Wednesday.

The plane is designed to bomb from orbit and be able to reach any target within two hours – if it exists at all. The Russian Defense Ministry flatly refuted reports of the plans on Thursday.

Yes, Russia has “continuously” developed new, advanced engines for space exploration, a ministry representative said, according to TASS Russian News Agency. "However, the creation of some ‘space bombers’ in the Serpukhov branch of the Academy of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces is out of the question."

The ministry representative added that "such design and development work is ... not within the competence of the Russian Defense Ministry’s educational establishments.”

The official said the media had “obviously misinterpreted” the personal theoretical insights of a military academy teacher. 

The images released to the media are early conceptual renderings, according to Extreme Tech. Images show a plane that uses two different engines and two fuel tanks – one for kerosene-based jet fuel for the earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere, and the other for oxygen and methane for outer space.

Why exit the Earth’s atmosphere? According to Extreme Tech, that will place the plane outside of the range of interceptor aircraft.

Although the government has denied his claims, Mr. Solodovnikov told RIA Novosti the academy is "cooperating with Russia’s Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute on the design of an airframe and the aircraft’s characteristics."

A space-based stealth bomber represents a step beyond the US Air Force’s B-21 stealth bomber, which is still in development, according to Extreme Tech. The Air Force revealed conceptual drawings of the Long Range Strike-Bomber earlier this year. A main feature of the aircraft will be its stealth.

Earlier this week, Russia’s Academician V. P. Makeyev State Rocket Center announced plans to develop Sarmat, a new heavy ballistic missile, the center’s head said, according to Russian newspaper, Izvestia.

Russian military expert Alexander Perendzhiyev was quoted by Russian news website riafan.ru as saying Russia’s new ballistic missile is designed to pierce through the US missile defense shield.

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