The U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) could, in theory, carry up to six nuclear warheads, Sputnik News reported Yan Novikov of the Russian defense tech firm Almaz-Antey said.
Speaking at the New Knowledge educational event on Saturday, May 22, Novikov stated that "The official story is that these platforms were developed for scientific purposes and, well, surveillance. But we understand that having these capacities and possibilities, the smaller spacecraft can carry up to three nuclear warheads, the large one up to six."
A total of eight X-37B aircraft will have been deployed by the U.S. by 2025, said Novikov, who also explained that the entire project would prove challenging.
What is the Boeing X-37B?
Designed to operate in low-orbit Earth, between 150 to 500 miles (241 - 804 km) above our planet, Boeing's X-37B OTV is the U.S.'s latest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that's designed to return experiments carried out in space.
The unmanned, small spacecraft (with a height of 9.6 feet (2.9 m), length of 29.3 feet (8.9 m), and weighing a total of 11,000 pounds (4,990 kg) is operated by the U.S. Air Force. Its top objectives are to test reusable spacecraft technologies, as well as to carry out experiments in space and return them to Earth for further analysis.
In fact, it's the first vehicle since NASA's Shuttle Orbiter that's able to return experiments to Earth for further examination, explains the Air Force. On top of that, it can spend a longer amount of time in orbit, approximately 270 days or more.
So far, the technologies that have been tested throughout the program, which kick-started in 1999 by NASA, include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, advanced propulsion systems, reentry and landing, and more.
So far, five completed missions have taken place, with the X-37B spending a total of 2,856 days in orbit. Its sixth, and current mission launched in May 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Given the X-37B's focus on surveillance and testing, there's not been much mention of carrying warheads or other such tech. The U.S. Air Force has remained very hush-hush about the topic, and it comes as some surprise that Novikov should mention the spacecraft's warhead-carrying capabilities.