Putin claimed a new nuclear-powered missile had unlimited range — but it flew only 22 miles in its most successful test yet

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged that a new nuclear-powered missile had unlimited range, but it has yet to perform a successful test, according to sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report on the weapons program.
  • The cruise missile was tested four times between November 2017 and February 2018, each resulting in a crash.
  • The U.S. assessed that the longest test flight lasted just more than two minutes, with the missile flying 22 miles before losing control and crashing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged earlier this year that his country had a new nuclear-powered missile with unlimited range — but it has yet to perform a successful test over multiple attempts, according to sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report on the weapons program.

The cruise missile was tested four times between November and February, each resulting in a crash, according to sources who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. assessed that the longest test flight lasted just more than two minutes, with the missile flying 22 miles before losing control and crashing. The shortest test lasted four seconds and flew for five miles.

One report, according to the sources, did not mention health or environmental risks posed by damages to the missile's nuclear reactor.

The weapon, which has been in development since the early 2000s, is believed to use a gasoline-powered engine for takeoff before switching to a nuclear-powered one for flight, sources explained to CNBC.

The tests apparently showed that the nuclear-powered heart of the cruise missile failed to initiate and, therefore, the weapon was unable to achieve the indefinite flight Putin had boasted about.

Sources said that the tests were ordered by senior Kremlin officials despite objections from the program's engineers, who voiced concerns that the system was still in its infancy.

During a state of the nation address in March, Putin claimed the cruise missile was capable of delivering a warhead to any point in the world while evading missile defense systems. In the same two-hour speech, Putin touted an arsenal of new hypersonic weapons which he called "invincible."

A week ago, CNBC learned the hypersonic glide vehicle, a weapon the U.S. currently is unable to defend against, will be ready for war by 2020.

The sources, who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity, said Russia successfully tested the weapon, which could carry a nuclear warhead, twice in 2016. The third known test of the device was carried out in October 2017 and resulted in a failure when the platform crashed seconds before striking its target.

The Russians are expected to conduct a fourth test sometime this summer.