Russian claims of advanced weaponry are often exaggerated, wild, and not believable. Here are examples of ten technologies that never developed.
Plasma Stealth Shield
When the U.S. developed the first stealth aircraft, the Russians found themselves far behind. They lacked the supercomputers needed to calculate the complex designs required to minimize radar reflections. As an alternative, in 1999 the Keldysh Scientific Research Center unveiled a bolt-on stealth shield–a generator which would reduce the radar signature of any aircraft hundredfold by cloaking it in radar-absorbing plasma.
Prototypes were demonstrated on an Su-27 Flanker (pictured), but researchers later admitted that the plasma was dispersed faster than it could be formed at high speed, and the technology has since dropped out of sight.
In 1996, Moscow News reported a secretgeophysical weapon program capable of causing earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. These stories excite conspiracy theorists who want to see Putin’s hand behind every natural disaster, but the reality is less exciting.
Russian researchers have shown that that injecting electricity into the Earth’s crust can affect the frequency of seismic activity, but so can many other things like wastewater disposal and fracking. One problem is that even the Russians do not yet know how to control the effect. Another is that it is not a long-range approach. It would require moving heavy equipment to the target area, which might be more than a little conspicuous.
Elipton Atomic Pistol
A mass of rumor and speculation swirled around the Russian nuclear program, including miniature nukes and the almost-magical, and probably mythical, material known as Red Mercury.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an extremist nationalist politician, a long-time Putin ally claimed in 1994 that he had supplied amysterious Russian weapon called an Elipton or “atomic pistol” to Serb forces during the conflict in former Yugoslavia. A small version was supposed to have killed 12 Bosnian soldiers in one test.
“The world has no idea of the real power of this weapon,” Zhirinovsky’s deputy told a Belgrade press conference. Zhirinovsky is still around and making vague threats, but the Elipton has not been heard of since 1994.
Race-Based Genetic Weapons
In 1997, William Cohen, then the U.S. Secretary of Defense, indicated that the Russians were working on genetic weapons, specially engineered bacteria and viruses that harmed people from certain ethnic groups only. There was also a supposed Israeli program to make Arab-specific biological weapons, and the South Africa apartheid regime’s “Project Coast,” which included weapons that would only target non-whites.
However, the Israel story turned out to be a hoax based on a science fiction story, and Project Coast never produced an ethnic weapon. Researchers now know that race is a complex issue which cannot be reduced to simple genetics, and there islittle chance of a weapon which can target one group without affecting others. If the Russians really are working on this, they are wasting their time.
Khibiny Electronic Bomb
Russian media reported that in 2014 a Russian Su-24 Fencer jet flew over the USS Donald Cook and disrupted the ship’s electricity supply with an advanced electronic weapon called Khibiny, shutting down all its defensive systems including the Aegis anti-aircraft/anti-missile shield.
“Top officers were so upset that some of them resigned their commissions and left the Navy, feeling they could not even defend their own ships and crews anymore against such ultra high-tech weapons,” according to Sputnik News.
The U.S. Navy’s account of the incidentwas rather different, noting that after two Su-24s repeatedly buzzed the ship, “The event ended without incident after approximately 90 minutes… The Donald Cook is more than capable of defending itself.”
While America surged ahead with plans for anti-missile lasers in the 1980s, Cold War analysts warned that the Soviets were secretly developing a different type of death ray. This was a particle-beam weapon, one which fired a stream of high-energy particles which could take out satellites and ballistic missiles. In 1977 Aviation Week warned that a Soviet particle beam weapon could be deployed by 1980 – “a crippling technological surprise,” while the CIA reported that Russia “may have the edge over the U.S.”
However, it turned out that much of the research at Semipalatinsk, identified as the center for particle beams, was actually for nuclear-powered rockets. Particle beam weapons remain confined to science fiction.
The Zombie Gun
In 2012 lurid headlines warned that Putin was developing a “zombie gun” which could take over people’s minds and turn them into mindless slaves. This was based on Putin mentioning the possibility of future ‘psychotronic’ weapons, an area which Russian scientists have been researching for decades without much visible progress.
As usual, the claims far outstrip the rather modest results, and current techniques likeTranscranial Magnetic Stimulation fall well short of mind control. Vladimir Binhi, a physicist at the General Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a leading pyschotronics researcher, has noted that the overall results are “disappointing” so far with no prospect of a workable weapon anytime soon.
S-100 Super Bomber
The S-100, SU-100, or T-4 was a high altitude Mach 3 bomber which would be too fast and too high to intercept, similar in concept to the U.S. XB-70 Valkyrie. The extreme temperatures at high speed meant the airframe was made largely of titanium. It had an articulated nose like Concorde for landing, with a periscope to provide visibility when the nose was in the “up” position.
Several prototypes were built, one of which carried out test flights, but the project was scrapped in 1974 when it became obvious that it was far too ambitious and work shifted to the more conventional TU-22M.
In April 1993, the front page of Russian newspaper Izvestia contained details of a proposed technology swap. In exchange for information about the U.S. Star Wars, Russia would share details of a plasma missile defense system. This used intersecting beams of microwaves to ionize the upper atmosphere and produce a ball of plasma or plasmoid. These plasmoids would be generated in the path of an incoming ballistic missile which would be broken up or diverted by extreme turbulence.
While it is possible to create plasmoids in this way–the giant HAARP facility (pictured) is able to create an “artificial aurora” with radio waves–there is no indication they could actually stop missiles even if they could somehow be positioned quickly and accurately enough. The technology exchange did not go through, and the defensive plasma projectors have never materialized.
Perhaps the biggest threat of all came from a whole new area of physics: the science of torsion fields and scalar weapons, supposedly derived from the work of eccentric genius Nikola Tesla.
The aim was to develop weapons which could shoot down ballistic missiles and blast entire populations. In 1987 the Soviets started military research into Torsion fields, supposedly energy fields with electrical and gravitational effects, of which Western physicists were wholly ignorant.
A review by the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1991 concluded that torsion fields were a scam to get money from the state—a highly successful scam which had netted researchers (who still insist their work was legit) some $500m. Claims abound, but no scalar weapon has ever emerged.