Americans are preparing to shoot down Russian hypersonic missiles

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


MOSCOW, (BM) – The United States has acknowledged the urgent need to combat Russia’s new military capabilities. We are talking about space instruments for detecting launches of hypersonic missiles – special satellites and detection systems. What will the Americans do on this score and how are things going with similar systems in service with the Russian army?

So far, hypersonic missiles exist only in Russia, although other countries, primarily the United States, are actively involved in their development and testing. And if there is a new weapon, it must also be countered. Until now, there are big problems with this.

And now, in Washington, Deputy Space Command Chief James Dickinson has announced that the United States “absolutely needs space-based systems for early detection of hypersonic weapons launches.” How realistic is it in general to detect hypersonic missiles with existing and future warning systems of a nuclear missile attack?

The proverb “Forewarned is forearmed” has mostly purely military significance and is used by all types of intelligence, the purpose of which is to recognize the enemy’s plans and the beginning of some aggressive actions. At first, the approach of the enemy hordes had to be seen banally, preferably at a great distance, and warned of the approach. This is how a telescope and binoculars appeared. Then, to recognize the “clatter of hooves” they began to use “listeners”.

By the way, in besieged Leningrad, there were several hundred people of this rare military (!) Profession, most of them blind – with heightened hearing. With the help of a sound-detecting installation, they identified German aircraft several tens of kilometers away. The advent of radars made it possible to “see” hundreds of kilometers away. And, as it turned out, the best view is from space.

It is difficult to say who was the first to realize the advantage of tracking ballistic missile launches from space – the United States or the USSR, because work on the creation of warning systems was carried out in two countries almost simultaneously. Nevertheless, the current US National Missile Defense (NMD) is an integrated system for detecting, tracking and intercepting ballistic missiles of various classes, including using satellites to track missile launches.

As a space component, it was planned to widely use the SBIRS early detection system (registration of launches in 40-50 seconds), work on the creation of which began in the mid-1990s. However, instead of the 24 planned STSS satellites under this program, not all were launched into low-earth orbit.

The US Department of Defense has opted for the accelerated development of the latest generation of warning systems. Back in 2019, funds were provided for the development and deployment in space of a new satellite constellation for early warning of a missile attack.

And even then, the Pentagon became concerned about the “threat of hypersonic and cruise missiles”, keeping in mind, among other things, the potential of the Russian nuclear missile “Petrel”, and along with the “Sarmatov” with “Avangards” and “Tsirkons”. So now General Dickinson is somewhat late in voicing hypersound threats and the need to counter it from space.

Moreover, back in June of this year, the US military department published a “Defense Strategy in Space”, including the NGOPIR program for detecting hypersonic missile launches – it is planned to be completed by the end of 2022.

“By itself, the hypersonic speed, which the Americans are now trying to resist, is only a means of delivering a warhead to a target with the complexity of interception,” military expert Alexander Gorkov, chairman of the Almaz-Antey military-technical commission, told VZGLYAD newspaper. “Of greater importance is the fact whether it is possible to detect a hypersonic missile at a long distance and determine at what speed it is capable of maneuvering at the final stage of flight. And, say, back in 2018, in China, where the Russian S-400 Triumph air defense systems were tested, our 48N6E missile launched by this system hit a ballistic target flying at a speed of 10,800 kilometers per hour, and this is already hypersound. The X-47M2 hypersonic missile of the Kinzhal aviation complex develops a speed of 12,250 km / h, the speed of the Avangard complexes is even higher, but this does not mean that they cannot be shot down. Here it is important to have information about the place of launch and the trajectory of the missile in order to be able to “catch” it on the route, most likely at the finish line. And with this, presumably, there are the main difficulties.”

Actually, it is not so difficult to detect from space the very place of launch of practically any missile, especially a ballistic one. The main basing sites are known, this applies primarily to mine missiles, but mobile ground ICBMs are also visible at a glance, although they are less vulnerable due to their maneuverability. It is more difficult to launch missiles from surface ships and submarine missile carriers, but they can also be detected theoretically. The main challenge is determining the next route and time to respond. And here it is hypersound that has a special meaning – it practically leaves no time for reflection.

For example, the promising Russian hypersonic anti-ship missile 3M22 “Zircon” has a range of 400 to 600 kilometers, while flying at a speed of Mach 4-6 (accelerated to 8 M during tests) along an unpredictable trajectory.

The promising 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered intercontinental cruise missile has a global range, and although it is believed to be subsonic, it will have the ability to maneuver when approaching a target. The Russian Avangard hypersonic missile system, equipped with a guided warhead, is designed to penetrate missile defenses.

It is clear that it is difficult for the United States to live with such “happiness” close by, so new Russian developments in the field of weapons, including hypersonic missiles, have become a headache for the Pentagon. And they intend to deal with this problem, including from space – to monitor and control.

“The United States needs sensors in space to strengthen our ability to track hypersonic missiles amid Russia’s success in developing such missiles. We need to see these kinds of threats as quickly as possible,” General Dickinson says, reiterating that the Pentagon intends to accelerate its program to establish a missile warning satellite constellation. This is such a part of the American anti-hypersonic weapon.

Russia, which has become a world leader in promising development of hypersonic weapons, and implying that such a thing may soon appear in other countries (USA, China), is already developing means of dealing with it. President Vladimir Putin also spoke about this last month, who noted: “I think we can pleasantly surprise our partners with the fact that when they have these weapons, we are more likely to have a means of fighting these weapons.”

It is clear that the details of which satellites the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation plans to place in orbit has not been disclosed, but it can be assumed that we are talking about the creation of a powerful space intelligence network. It is likely that it will also use the Aquarelle multi-position satellite reconnaissance system equipped with the Hrazdan satellites, which is already being deployed to the orbital constellation.

It can be assumed that the existing satellite system “Oko” and “Oko-1” (presumably 35 spacecraft) will also be modernized, which makes it possible to detect the launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. A unified space detection and combat control system (EKS), which, in addition to launching ICBMs, SLBMs, operational-tactical and even tactical missiles, is capable of calculating the trajectory to the affected area, as well as performing the function of targeting them.

It is possible that the head of the country also had in mind the tremendous possibilities of using the new anti-missile system A-235 “Nudol”, which covered a distance of 3,500 kilometers in 17 minutes during tests and hit the target.

In general, the anti-hypersonic “umbrella” that the US military is planning to hang in space exists in Russia to one degree or another – and it is planned for even greater expansion.


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