Work in the field of hypersonic systems is being carried out in many countries: it is believed that it can revolutionize modern military affairs. The United States will be among the first to own it. What can come of this?
The phrase "hypersonic weapon" raises uncomfortable questions. What is considered as such? Are there hypersonic complexes in our time? And can they be more effective than conventional weapons? In general, even the combat equipment of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine ballistic missiles (SLBMs) can be classified as conditional hypersonic weapons. After the launch, these rockets develop a speed with a Mach number of more than M = 5 still in the atmosphere - the separation of the first stage sometimes occurs at altitudes of 40-50 km (depending on the type of rocket), that is, in the upper stratosphere, at a speed of a couple of km / s, which certainly more than five units of the Mach number. Also, when entering the atmosphere, their warheads fly at a hypersonic speed, which, as is known, is considered to be above M = 5 - warheads develop a speed of M = 15 and above. At the same time, the warhead enters the troposphere, already significantly slowed down, and its hypersonic speed often decreases in the lowest layers to supersonic values.
The structure of what is now accepted to be called hypersonic weapons is different. Such ammunition must be able to develop hypersonic speed and maneuver using aerodynamic forces, maintaining hypersound on the main part of the trajectory, preferably until the target is hit. Although it should be noted that today there is no single, agreed and approved definition of hypersonic weapons as a clearly and strictly delineated class.
Among the problems associated with the development of such weapons is the provision of controlled flight at hypersonic speed, when a plasma forms at the surface of the device, literally enveloping it. In this case, the gas heats up to temperatures of several thousand degrees, which makes guiding the rocket at the target an extremely difficult task: not every structure is able to cope with such loads.
A typical example is the famous American hypersonic experimental rocket Boeing X-51, which has repeatedly encountered setbacks during tests. This, for example, happened in 2011 and 2012. It should also not be ruled out that the Americans hid some of the failed tests, and the problems are even more serious than it might seem.
However, the United States should not be underestimated either. Especially when you consider that, in addition to the experience of developing such weapons, they have the largest military budget in the world: as of 2018, it exceeded $ 640 billion. Or, to put it simply, it was several times more than the same indicator of the PRC, and the Russian military budget - about ten times, if not more.
There is a lot at stake. A country that has received hypersonic weapons at its disposal will be able not only to deliver "gifts" to the enemy in an extremely short period of time, but also make their interception a task almost impossible for many anti-aircraft weapons. Especially when it comes to a massive attack.
Therefore, many consider high-precision non-nuclear weapons as an alternative to the nuclear triad inherited from the Cold War. Indeed, why use destructive warheads when you can paralyze the enemy using a hypersonic scalpel? By the way, Russia would very much like to be a leader in the development of hypersonic weapons, but so far, apparently, it is trying to pass off wishful thinking.Thus, the Kh-47M2 air-launched missile, which is part of the Kinzhal aviation missile system, is capable of developing hypersonic speed, but it is not a fact that it can maintain it throughout its entire trajectory. It does not have a ramjet engine, like the X-51, and in this sense it is not an analogue of the American design, but of the aeroballistic missiles of the Cold War times, such as the decommissioned Soviet X-15.
A more interesting example looks like the Russian "Zircon", intended for the fleet. However, this missile is not yet in service, and so far only a few test launches have been carried out (from the newest frigate "Admiral Gorshkov").
And now let's move on directly to American developments, because they can determine the development of high-precision weapons for many decades to come.
One of the most famous American projects in this field is the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW (the system also received the designation AGM-183A).
This is an extremely interesting and even revolutionary development in many respects. Experts believe that the ARRW is a solid-propellant aeroballistic missile equipped with a detachable hypersonic warhead with a Tactical Boost Glide engine. The hypersonic unit, according to some reports, is capable of speeds over 20 Machs. The warhead can be of several types, including nuclear.
We could see the AGM-183A last summer: then the US Department of Defense showed the June tests with the participation of a mock-up of the complex suspended under the B-52 strategic bomber.
The Russian-language media greeted the American development traditionally cool. “We are talking, apparently, about the creation of an analogue of our“Dagger”based on the X-51 Waverider. The rocket was tested several years ago, and then the developers were faced with the fact that the engine failed too early - probably when the rocket entered the denser layers of the atmosphere. If this problem is not resolved, then the development will not move forward, "- said military observer Mikhail Tymoshenko.
To be fair, domestic experts are cunning. There was no question of any analogue of the "Dagger": perhaps the AGM-183A ballistic missile, which is the carrier of a hypersonic unit, outwardly remotely resembles a Russian product. De facto, "Dagger" and ARRW are fundamentally different systems. Moreover, apparently, neither Russia nor China has a direct analogue of the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon. ARRW is slated to reach initial operational readiness by 2022.
The land component of the future hypersonic "triad" is represented by a complex called the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon, or LRHW (previously they also used the designation Hypersonic Weapons System), about which a lot of interesting data has recently appeared. In February 2020, the US Army showed the appearance of the Transporter Erector Launcher of this hypersonic complex. General information about the LRHW concept appeared earlier, namely, at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium held in August 2019.
As it turned out, we are talking about a universal solid-propellant medium-range ballistic missile ground-based AUR (All-Up-Round), which has a universal controlled maneuverable gliding hypersonic warhead Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB). As the blog of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies bmpd reported at the time, both components are being developed by the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories, with the participation of the Missile Defense Agency.
The complex will be based in two containers, towed by an Oshkosh M983A4 tractor, a large eight-wheeled vehicle. From the outside, it will be similar to existing missile operational-tactical systems, such as the Russian Iskander.
Launcher semi-trailer - modified M870 for Patriot anti-aircraft missile system. For fire control, they want to use the standard American AFATDS version 7.0 control system.It is assumed that the LRHW battery will consist of four dual-container launchers and one fire control vehicle.
According to experts, the speed of the warhead can reach Mach eight or even higher. In any case, these are the characteristics of the experimental Advanced Hypersonic Weapon unit, which was probably based on the Common Hypersonic Glide Body. The declared range of the first is 6800 kilometers.
The United States has been working on hypersonic systems for many years. Back on November 17, 2011, the Americans conducted the first flight test of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon experimental system - a biconical warhead with four aerodynamic surfaces. A year earlier, DARPA and the US Air Force tested an experimental Hypersonic Test Vehicle guided warhead.
As we can see, a number of important issues related to LRHW have yet to be clarified. But one thing is for sure: the US Army is keen to get hold of such a weapon.
On August 29, 2019, Lockheed Martin received a $ 347 million contract from the Pentagon for the development and creation of a prototype LRHW, which, among other things, made the corporation the general contractor in the program. It is worth noting that the C-HGB warhead itself is being created not only in the interests of the Ground Forces, but also for the Air Force and the Navy. And what we get in the end, time will tell.
The Navy plays a fundamentally more important role for America than for Russia or European countries. This is the personification of her power. Let us recall that it is the sea component that is the basis of the American nuclear triad. And with the commissioning of 11 America-class universal amphibious assault ships and ten Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, the United States will de facto receive more than ten modern aircraft carriers capable of carrying fifth-generation stealth fighters F-35C and F-35B.
At various times, the Navy has shown and continues to show interest in innovative weapons like powerful combat lasers and railguns. The hypersonic "trend" has not spared the fleet either.
Not all projects of American hypersonic systems will get a start in life. In February 2020, it became known that the United States curtailed the development of the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) hypersonic air-launched missile. The reason is lack of funds. Earlier it was reported that HCSW want to make a multifunctional combat complex capable of hitting both station and moving targets.
As reported in February 2020 by USNI News, the United States, as part of the Conventional Prompt Strike (can be translated as "Non-Nuclear Rapid Strike"), wants to create a maritime carrier of a hypersonic glider. In total, they plan to spend one billion dollars on work under this program in the 2021 fiscal year.
The US Navy intends to receive a two-stage launch vehicle capable of acting as a carrier of the C-HGB hypersonic glider - the same one we wrote about above in the context of the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon system for the US Ground Forces. According to the concept, the rocket will lift the glider and accelerate it to hypersonic speed. After that, the warhead will undock from the carrier and head towards the target. “The Naval CPS program aims to create a rocket consisting of a hypersonic glider (C-HGB) and a 34.5-inch two-stage launch vehicle. It is planned by fiscal 2028 that the missile will be deployed on a Virginia-class submarine with a VPM (Virginia Payload Module) payload module,”the defense budget says.
An important clarification should be made here. The Virginia module is a segment that will be added to the hull of the submarine of the same name, starting with the Block V series. It contains 28 additional rocket tubes, which will increase the total number of missiles on board the boat to 40 units. The concept itself is designed to neutralize the negative effect of the decommissioning of old Ohio-class submarines, which were previously converted from ballistic missile carriers to cruise missile carriers.
Undoubtedly, hypersonic weapons will further expand the capabilities of the Virginia-class submarines, which are already impressive. Recall that this submarine belongs to the fourth (that is, the last for today) generation of nuclear submarines, which is distinguished by an extremely low noise level, which complicates the detection of a submarine, wherever it is. However, the number of such submarines is even more important: the United States has already commissioned 17 such submarines, and their total number should reach 66. For comparison, Russia is armed with only one multipurpose submarine of the fourth generation - the Project 885 K-560 Severodvinsk.
In 2013, it became known about the development in the United States of the Lockheed SR-72 hypersonic aircraft - a reconnaissance and potential strike complex. Despite huge media interest and a hint of kinship with the legendary SR-71 Blackbird, there has been almost no new data on the device in recent years.
In other words, the United States wants to get an "ultimate" weapon: a hidden carrier plus a hypersonic warhead. “For the Navy, we are developing a launch vehicle that will launch a hypersonic glider, and we are doing it in such a way that an underwater launch will be the main option,” US Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe said earlier. “The bottom line is that we will start with the most stringent requirements, build a rocket and a glider in order to comprehensively assess their capabilities, so that later it would not be necessary to redesign weapons many times.”
We add that hypersonic weapons do not have to be tied to one type of submarine. Obviously, over time, many US Navy ships will carry such systems.
Works are in progress
Obviously, Washington is acting by trial and error: some of the previously started programs have been reborn, having received a start in life, while others have given almost nothing in practical terms (except, of course, experience). The United States is approaching the solution of the problem in an integrated manner, studying in detail each of the aspects of hypersonic weapons. At the same time, the assessment of such complexes is complicated by a number of factors, including:
- High degree of secrecy. As a consequence, the lack of detailed characteristics;
- A high degree of technical risks and the resulting great chances of curtailing certain programs;
- Targeted misinformation cannot be ruled out.
Let's dwell on the last point. It would be rash to call American hypersonic weapons a bluff, but that, too, cannot be dismissed. At one time, the United States was actively working on the ambitious (even by the standards of the Cold War) program "Strategic Defense Initiative", or simply "Star Wars". Then the task was to create a scientific and technical groundwork for the development of a large-scale missile defense system with space-based elements. President Ronald Reagan announced its launch on March 23, 1983. Much later, experts will come to the conclusion that it was practically impossible to implement the program in the form in which it was conceived, and most importantly, it was inappropriate. Subsequently, it was radically revised.
There is a point of view that "Star Wars" was a bluff of the US leadership, designed to scare the USSR and force it to get involved in a new round of the suicidal (in terms of economics) arms race.
On the other hand, it is better to refrain from value judgments. We only note that since the United States decided to speed up the development of a new hypersonic weapon and wants to get it already in 2020, it will most likely soon be possible to tell something more specific about it.