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The United States is hopelessly behind Russia in hypersonic missile systems

This post was published in Regnum. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The lag of the United States from Russia in the creation of hypersonic missile systems, depending on their type, is from 5 to 8-9 years. In a number of areas in this area, the United States did not even begin the corresponding work. Potentially the first hypersonic weapon, the US Armed Forces will be able to put into service no earlier than the end of 2024 – the beginning of 2025.

Mike White, Deputy Director of the US Department of Defense’s Hypersonic Weapons Program, spoke at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement event on July 23, 2020, dedicated to combating hypersonic weapons.

Mike White noted that the development of the potential of hypersonic weapons is one of the main priorities of the Pentagon and its especially important task, given the latest developments in this area from the closest competitors of the United States – China and Russia. He also said that starting with the budget cycle of 2022 fiscal year (from October 1, 2021), the US Department of Defense plans to start purchasing hypersonic weapons and transferring prototypes to the troops with the aim of an early transition to mass purchases and the deployment of these systems.

In mid-May 2020, US President Donald Trump announced a “super duper missile” that is 17 times faster than any other American missile weapon. On July 16, 2020, an anonymous source from the Pentagon clarified this fact to CNN. It turns out that Trump was referring to the successful tests of a prototype of a hypersonic weapon, in which the product reached a speed of Mach 17, i.e. 17 times the speed of sound.

Now let’s try to figure out what programs in the field of the development of hypersonic weapons actually exist in the United States.

In the public domain, the most complete data on the American hypersonic program can be gleaned from the updated version of the report of the US Congressional Research Service of March 17, 2020 “Hypersonic weapons: basics and problems.” Other sources of information will also be used.

The US Ground Forces are running the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) program. It is a solid-fuel medium-range ballistic missile with a C-HGB hypersonic guided maneuverable warhead. According to the declared characteristics, the warhead speed exceeds Mach 5. A ground-based wheeled launcher houses a transport and launch container for two missiles. The estimated range of destruction of the LRHW will be 2250 kilometers.

In FY2020, $ 404 million was allocated for this program, and $ 801 million is being requested for 2021. Flight tests are scheduled for fiscal 2021-2023, live fires for fiscal 2023, and program completion for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2024.

The United States Navy has a Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program. We are talking about a sea-based hypersonic system for multipurpose nuclear submarines of the Virginia Block V class. It is a two-stage ballistic missile and a warhead in the form of a hypersonic gliding block.

The program is allocated $ 512 million for the 2020 fiscal year, in fiscal 2021 it is planned to request $ 1 billion 8 million and $ 5.3 billion for the next five years of the program. The CPS is expected to reach initial operational readiness in FY2028.

The United States Air Force is developing an AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic air-launched missile. ARRW is a self-propelled aeroballistic rocket. Hypersonic speed is achieved due to the speed of the carrier aircraft and the rocket engine. The estimated speed is up to Mach 20. The missile’s range is about 925 kilometers. According to some sources, ARRW is created primarily in the nuclear version.

In early December 2019, the US Department of Defense officially announced the allocation of Lockheed Martin Corporation for the development of the ARRW hypersonic missile of $ 988.8 million. The start of work on this program dates back to August 2018. The company received $ 480 million before the above tranche. The rocket should be ready for serial production by December 31, 2022.

It is known for sure that the B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber is supposed to be used as the carrier of the ARRW hypersonic missile. Strategic bombers B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit, as well as the promising bomber B-21 Rader can potentially be equipped with it. It is possible that the F-15 fighter can also carry the missile. As for the fifth-generation F-35 fighter, this missile is too heavy for it.

Several programs in the field of hypersonic weapons are conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is working with the US Air Force on the Tactical Boost Glide (TBG), a Mach 7 hypersonic glider. It is designed for an airborne hypersonic system. The option of integrating TBG with the US Navy Vertical Launch System is also being considered.

The DARPA program, called Operational Fires, involves the integration of a TBG hypersonic gliding unit into a ground-based missile system for the United States Army.

DARPA is developing a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile as part of the Hypersonic Airbreathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program jointly with the US Air Force. The Pentagon believes that this missile will be smaller than hypersonic systems with gliding warheads. Accordingly, it will be easier to integrate and be able to run from more platforms.

Thus, an analysis of American programs in the field of creating hypersonic weapons allows us to conclude that the most advanced project is the project to create an AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic air-launched missile. ARRW should be ready to go into series production by December 31, 2022, i.e. two and a half years from now.

This missile is similar in type to the Russian Kh-47M2 missile of the Kinzhal air-launched missile system. In Russia, these missile systems have been on experimental combat duty since December 2017. Thus, for this type of hypersonic systems, the United States lags behind our country by at least 5 years.

The carrier of the Kh-47M2 missile is the MiG-31K interceptor fighter. The range of the Kh-47M2 rocket is 2 thousand kilometers, and the speed is up to Mach 10. The warhead of the missile can be both nuclear and conventional.

Soon, the Russian Aerospace Forces should receive a modification of the Tu-22M3 long-range bomber – Tu-22M3M. The return of the air refueling bar to this aircraft will actually bring it closer in performance to a strategic missile carrier-bomber. The Tu-22M3M will be able to lift four hypersonic missiles of the Kh-47M2 Dagger complex into the air, and not one, like the MiG-31K.

In the segment of intercontinental hypersonic systems, the US expects first results only in 2028 fiscal year. We are talking about the deployment of ballistic missiles with hypersonic gliding units on multipurpose nuclear submarines of the Virginia Block V class – the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program. At the same time, open sources report on the warhead only in conventional equipment.

And Russia already in December 2019 put on alert two silo-based intercontinental strategic missile systems with the Avangard hypersonic gliding warhead, accelerating to a speed of Mach 20. The carrier of the warhead is the UR-100N UTTH ICBM. Each missile has one nuclear warhead.

By 2027, two regiments with Avangard complexes should be deployed, six launchers each. Total – twelve missiles. Thus, in intercontinental hypersonic systems, the US lags behind Russia at least 8-9 years.

On medium-range hypersonic weapons, the United States expects a practical result in mid-2024, that is, in 4 years. We are talking about a land-based Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system, a ballistic missile with a hypersonic guided maneuverable warhead C-HGB. Estimated characteristics: warhead speed – more than Mach 5, range – about 2250 kilometers.

Russia does not have a hypersonic system of this type. But the trials of the 3M22 Zircon hypersonic cruise missile are coming to an end. It has a range of more than 1000 kilometers and a flight speed of more than Mach 9. In addition, the rocket maneuvers during flight. The tremendous speed and maneuvering in flight make it impossible to intercept the existing and future missile defense and air defense systems.

At the first stage, we are talking about a sea-launched missile. By the way, test launches from the surface platform – the frigate “Admiral Gorshkov” – confirmed all its characteristics. Next, the Zircon rocket will be launched from the Project 885 Ash multipurpose nuclear submarine Severodvinsk: first from the surface, and then from the underwater one. A hit by even one Zircon hypersonic missile can disable any large surface ship.

The Russian Defense Ministry also announced that the ground-based Zircon cruise missile would also be deployed. Putting into service the naval version of the rocket was scheduled for 2022. According to recent reports, this will happen earlier.

It should be noted that there are no analogues of the Russian Zircon cruise missile in the US hypersonic program. There is only a project to create an airborne hypersonic cruise missile Hypersonic Airbreathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) – a joint development of DARPA and the US Air Force. However, the timing of this concept is unknown.

If we go back to intercontinental range hypersonic weapons, then there are two options for equipping the promising Russian intercontinental ballistic missile RS-28 “Sarmat”. The first option is up to ten warheads. The second option – three hypersonic gliding warheads “Avangard”. The flight range of the Sarmat ICBM reaches 18 thousand kilometers. The start of serial production is scheduled for 2021.

We also do not observe a similar American development of hypersonic intercontinental-range weapons.

Thus, we can conclude that the lag of the United States from Russia in the creation of hypersonic missile systems, depending on their type, is from 5 to 8-9 years. In a number of areas in this area, the United States did not even begin the corresponding work.

Potentially the first hypersonic weapon, the US Armed Forces will be able to put into service no earlier than the end of 2024 – the beginning of 2025. We are talking about the AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic air-launched missile – the American counterpart of the Russian air-launched Kinzhal missile system.

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