Russia's Unmanned Strategic Nuclear Bomber Is a Really Terrible Idea

Top aerospace and defense company Tupolev is developing a new stealth plane that will replace Russia's mighty but aging nuclear strategic bomber fleet. Called the PAK-DA bomber, it will enter service in the mid-2020s, just in time to face the USAF's new stealth strategic nuclear bombers. But that's inoffensive compared to what's coming next.

The PAK-DA would be a standard nuclear bomber, with a on-board human crew controlling it. The next step, however, opens a potentially lethal and morally questionable Pandora's Box. Lt General Anatoly Zhikharev—the commander for that branch of the Russian Air Force—says that they are thinking about a sixth generation to enter service "around 2040-2050": unmanned long-range nuclear strategic bombers.

Somehow, the idea of having those birds in the sky makes me extremely nervous. You know, long range planes capable of flying for hours with a few nuclear bombs in their belly, with their wireless communication links ready to be intercepted and deciphered by hackers. Sure, the latter would be hard, but when it comes to computer security, there's nothing impossible.

But regardless of potential accidents or security issues, I just can't see the point of these or any other strategic bombers right now. Just like Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was saying before being slapped by Putin, "these aircraft will not get anywhere. Not ours, not theirs [the Americans]. With modern air defense systems, these targets will be destroyed on the way."

He's right. While a country like Iran can't defend itself against stealth bombers, you can be sure that both the Russians and the Americans would be able to intercept any air attack. Which is precisely why the USAF is trying to develop hyper-sonic scramjets that could be silently launched as an alternative to easily-detectable Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles launches.

And if none of the two superpowers—well, there's China there, quickly ramping up but still behind US and Russian military technology—are going to attack each other, what's the point of keeping up with this stupid soft armament race, anyway? [RIA Novosti via DEW Line]