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US faces challenges in developing new weapons against Russia

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.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – In the United States, aggressive plans are voiced to switch to new types of weapons, including hypersonic ones. Some statements on this topic sound like empty projecting, which is impossible even for America to implement: neither technically nor financially. Why, even in this form, do American projects pose a direct threat to Russia?

Curious news continues to come from the United States about the future of its naval forces. This time, Trump’s national security aide Robert O’Brien became the news provider.

Literally, O’Brien stated the following: “The Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike program involves the use of hypersonic missiles that will be aimed at targets from a greater distance. First, our new Virginia-class submarines and the new Zumwalt-class destroyers will have these capabilities. And over time, all three “flights” [three different serial modifications, replacing each other in construction – approx. LOOK] of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers will get the same capabilities.”

This is a strange statement, and not entirely clear even to the Americans. It is obvious that weapons created under the Conventional Prompt Strike program will not fit into any destroyer. But O’Brien used the word capability, which could mean that the Burkes and Zumwalts would be capable of a hypersonic strike from a long distance, possibly with another missile. Nevertheless, even in this case, the same questions arise to the American “Wishlist” as to the recently announced plans to increase the composition of the Navy to more than 500 ships. The situation is similar with hypersonic missiles – their placement on already built ships runs into a number of very difficult problems.

Launch cell problem

The main launcher for any type of missile in the US Navy is the Mk.41 Vertical Launch Unit [VLR]. In the “cells” of these installations, the Americans install any available missiles – anti-aircraft Standard SM-2,3 and 6, shock Tomahawks, anti-submarine VL-ASROC. Now a variant of the long-range anti-ship missile LRASM is being created, which will also be launched from the cell [so far only the aviation version is in service]. Such a scheme makes the ship versatile – for air defense missions it can be almost completely loaded with anti-aircraft missiles, and can carry dozens of cruise missiles to strike on the coast. When in the early 2000s the Americans were working on a future hypersonic missile for striking the coast, it too had to be launched from these cells.

Everything would be just wonderful with these cells, if not for one caveat – the Americans did not guess with their size. Just a little bit, and in the “pre-hypersonic era” it didn’t matter, the available size was enough. And now it has stopped.

Can the United States create a hypersonic shore-based missile that fits into the Mk.41 and reaches the desired speed? They can, but it will have a small warhead and not long enough range. Incomparably fewer than future hypersonic missiles for submarines or the US Army. O’Brien said nothing on this subject, but the National Defense Act 2020 requires the Navy to study whether it is possible to place hypersonic missiles of the Conventional Prompt Strike program on surface ships. The Navy has promised to study and respond in the future. Is it real?

Only if you replace the launchers on American ships. Considering what O’Brien said about the “three flights” – all of them. And this is where the Americans have intractable problems.

Firstly, by the time the US Navy’s hypersonic weapons enter service, the first series of Berks will be very old. There will be no sense in investing in these ships. This alone devalues ​​O’Brien’s claim.

Second, trying to put a new cell on a ship requires extensive rework. The new PU should be higher, the center of gravity of the ship with them is slightly, but it will grow, how this will affect stability is an open question.

Thirdly, the question arises of reducing the ammunition load. Standard cells lack 30 centimeters in diameter, which means that a launcher will have to be placed in the “glass” for the Mk.41, which will have thicker missiles, but there will be fewer of them. There are also questions about the launch loads when the rocket leaves the launcher – they cannot grow indefinitely, and it is not a fact that the Arleigh Burke design is designed for this.

Fourth, there is the question of money. Launchers cost money, and developing them cost money, and rebuilding ships would cost money. At the same time, the US Navy already has ship commanders who have never been on combat duty on their ships, there are already submarine commanders who have never gone to sea since taking office. This is not to say that the US Navy is falling apart, it is not, but there are many problems, and many of them already require investments to solve them.

And this is if you do not take into account O’Brien’s words that hypersonic missiles should also appear on Zumwalts – there are no Mk.41s on these ships at all, and in order to supply offensive rocket weapons there, you will have to work abundantly with gas cutting.

In general, it all looks like a project. The United States is more likely to be unable to do what O’Brien said than it can. This is too large a task and too expensive. This is indirectly confirmed by the very slow pace that the Americans previously showed when updating the combat information and control systems [CIUS] on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which were necessary to re-equip these ships with modern SM-6 anti-aircraft missiles. Even the vital modernization was slow and sad. And there the volume during it was incomparable with the replacement of launchers.

But perhaps the United States will do something.

Possible variant

The fact is that the transition to a new cell for the US Navy is really overdue, and regardless of whether the Navy will have a hypersonic missile to strike on the coast on surface ships or not. The Americans have a good reason to start working on new enlarged launch cells right now, and the name for that reason is the Russian 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missile.

Even if we assume that Russia will have such a missile only on ships and submarines, then obviously something similar will sooner or later appear in China and appear on airplanes. And then the United States in an extremely acute form will face the issue of air defense against hypersonic missiles. The United States can create an interceptor missile that would shoot down a hypersonic target and fit into a standard cell. But to create a missile, which in the same size could intercept a missile going to another ship – no. And this makes it impossible for the collective defense of the ship group at sea, or requires the ships to gather in a “heap” – to huddle together a couple of kilometers from the force. Which, in turn, makes the defeat of the US Navy not the most difficult task. At least solvable.

There is only one answer – to change only part of the settings on some of the ships, and to make only new ones completely for the new size. For example, all destroyers over 20 years old will automatically be left out of brackets, start replacing several installations with new ships – and move from new to old, cutting off everything that turns 20 during the program. Or maybe 15, they know better. This is what the United States would have mastered, even if not in the fastest time.

Russia needs to closely monitor what is happening in the US Navy. If the Americans really start developing new launchers, then countermeasures will need to be taken in advance. At least in terms of building up a missile salvo of the Navy. But the fact that there will not be large cells on every American ship built to date is for sure.

It would be much worse for Russia if the United States made a hypersonic missile for striking the coast under a standard cell, even if it has a short range. This will bring the American threat to our country to a new level. But even if this happens, it will not be soon, there is time for countermeasures.

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