Hypersonic weapons of the United States and Russia – before and now

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PANAGYURISHTE, (BM) – Hypersonic aircraft are aircraft capable of flying in the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of Mach 5 [the speed of sound[ and higher. Now hypersonic aircraft have begun to move from the category of theoretical and experimental developments to the practical plane. Russia was the first to adopt them, which makes us a leader in hypersound. But our competitors from the USA are trying to keep up too. Currently, it is being discussed that promising sixth generation fighters, for example, tested in the United States under the Next Generation Air Dominance [NGAD] program, will be able to develop hypersonic speed, like a similar project in the Russian Federation.

In theory, it is possible to create civilian hypersonic aircraft. Hypersonic missiles and hypersonic combat modules have already become a reality in the Russian army. The history of the development of devices with such a flight speed dates back to the post-war period. After 1945, the Allies learned about the work of the Austrian engineer Eugen Senger on the creation of the Silberfogel space bomber. It was not feasible in those years, but gave an understanding that in theory it is possible to create hypersonic aircraft.

In the 60s of the XX century, their development began in the USA and the USSR. In the USA it was the North American X-15, in the USSR since 1964, within the framework of the Spiral project, a hypersonic booster aircraft was developed to put the orbital part of the Spiral complex into orbit. A passenger version of the accelerator aircraft was also envisaged. In the end, its creation was abandoned due to the complexity of its manufacture at the then level of technology development, thinking in the end to use a special version of the T-4 supersonic bomber as it. The American X-15 became the only really flying hypersonic vehicle in the world for 40 years. In those years in the USSR, hypersonic aircraft were also designed at the design bureaus of Myasishchev and Tupolev.

At that time, there were several technical nuances that hindered the successful implementation of such projects. It was required to create heat-resistant materials for flight at speeds of 5 speeds of sound and higher, as well as materials that ensure the operation of engines for such devices. This speed causes the creation of a plasma cloud, which interferes with the passage of radio waves of on-board equipment from communication to radar. This problem and now remains quite difficult to solve. For flight, a hypersonic ramjet engine [scramjet engine] is usually used in such cases. But it is not very effective until the aircraft reaches a speed of 5 and above the speed of sound.

Therefore, before turning it on, it was required to first accelerate the hypersonic aircraft to the required speed with a different type of engine or with the help of a special accelerator – an aircraft or a rocket. With the development of the required technologies in the 80s of the XX century, the development of such devices became more active all over the world, in the USA they began to design the X-30 spaceplane.

In response, the USSR led the development of the Tu-2000 hypersonic combat aircraft and developed hypersonic weapons systems, which were brought to implementation already in our years. The collapse of the USSR and the Internal Affairs Directorate, with the subsequent reduction in defense spending in both Russia and the United States, the reorientation of their armed forces to local conflicts, canceled or slowed down many hypersonic projects in both countries. In the early 2000s.

The United States launched active work to create a strategic missile defense system, which threatened the balance of power between Russia and the United States. In response, we began a revival of work on hypersound, with an emphasis on creating effective means of delivering strategic nuclear weapons in the face of the need to break through missile defense and anti-ship weapons. Following this, such developments intensified in other countries, including the United States itself.

The current state of hypersonic developments in the USA and the Russian Federation

The developments of the Russian Federation and the USA attract the most attention in the world. Russia has already adopted Dagger air-to-surface missiles for the MIG-31K strike aircraft [based on the MIG-31BM interceptor], the Avangard combat module for the Sarmat and UR-100N UTTH silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles , anti-ship missile “Zircon” land and sea-based. All of them are offensive hypersonic weapons.

The Dagger is an aeroballistic missile, which means that a high flight speed is used to maintain a trajectory, rather than wings or a ballistic trajectory. It develops a speed of Mach 10 [12 240 km / h] and has a range of 2000 km. Uses three types of guidance head – radar with correction or optical with correction for hitting ground targets and with an active seeker for hitting naval targets of classes from a frigate to nuclear aircraft carriers. Its solid-propellant rocket engine has the ability to develop speeds up to Mach 24 in the future. The missile was given low radar signature and the ability to maneuver at the final stage of the trajectory.

It is possible to create its overland version. In addition to the MiG-31K, in the future it will be installed on the modified SU-34 and Tu-160M2. It will also be equipped with a Tu-22M3 after the aircraft has been modified, and possibly a missile. An analogue of the “Dagger”, but smaller, will receive the Su-57 for placement in the internal bomb compartments. Its adoption was in 2017.

Planning winged module “Avangard” development, begun in Soviet times. Its meaning is that instead of traditional warheads, a planning hypersonic cruise module is placed on a strategic ballistic missile. If traditional warheads enter the atmosphere along a ballistic trajectory, then the Avangard flies in the atmosphere, while maneuvering, and it can attack the United States from the south, where the Pentagon traditionally has weak missile defense and air defense. At the same time, the interception of such a hypersonic gliding module itself is difficult in comparison with a ballistic missile or warheads flying along a ballistic trajectory.

For the time for the detection and reaction of air defense / missile defense remains less. Here you can draw an analogy with the breakthrough of air defense by combat aircraft at low altitudes. But unlike traditional aircraft, Avangard develops a speed of Mach 27 and at the same time has the ability to maneuver along a flight path of several thousand kilometers, which compares favorably with warheads flying along a ballistic path. It is equipped with nuclear warheads ranging from 800 kilotons to 2 megatons. At present, Avangard is using the UR-100N UTTKh intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as its carrier; in the future, they will be equipped with promising Sarmat ICBMs. Both ICBMs are heavy silo-based complexes. “Avangard” entered service in 2018.

The Zircon anti-ship cruise missile develops a speed of Mach 9 and has a range of over 1000 km. Although it is referred to as anti-ship, it also has a modification to engage targets on land. In the anti-ship version, it is designed to defeat warships of classes from a frigate to a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. It will be carried by warships: frigates of project 22350, nuclear submarines of projects 885, 885M, 949AM, promising ships of the ocean zone of project 23560 “Leader”, modernized nuclear cruisers of project 11442M “Orlan” and nuclear submarines of project 949AM. On the basis of “Zircon” it is possible to create a land-based hypersonic cruise missile. Adoption of the Zircon missile system is planned for late 2021 or early 2022.

To protect against similar enemy systems, we can use the S-500 “Prometheus” air defense system, and, after modifications, the S-400 complexes, BUK, the “Peresvet” laser combat complex. In the S-500, the ability to intercept hypersonic targets was laid down at the stage of development work. The S-500 became the first such air defense missile system in the world. The possibility of creating hypersonic combat and civil aircraft in Russia is being discussed. The S-500 are going to be put into service in the near future.

Development in the United States is proceeding in a slightly different way than in the Russian Federation. If we are currently focusing on the creation of hypersonic carriers of nuclear weapons and means of destruction of large warships, then the United States creates hypersonic weapons primarily for use in conventional [non-nuclear] wars. This is not due to the special peacefulness of the United States, but due to their active involvement in local wars around the world. At the same time, comparatively little attention is paid to the creation of anti-ship hypersonic weapons with non-nuclear warheads.

This is due to the lack of at least one enemy equal in strength in the American Navy. As a result, the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike [CPS], which is being created by the US Navy, is launched from missiles deployed on submarines and has a conventional warhead to destroy ground and underground targets. It will be carried by the Virginia-class multipurpose nuclear submarines.

It is planned to enter service in 2028. The Ground Forces are developing a Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon. It will have a range of 2,253 km and will be equipped with a combat gliding module similar to the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike. Only its carrier will differ.

The United States Air Force is developing the AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon. This cruise missile should reach speeds of up to Mach 20 and have a range of 925 km. The carriers will be strategic bombers B-1B, B-52H and multirole F-15EX fighters.

In addition, the DARPA agency is developing a number of its own projects in cooperation with the US military. Including the Hypersonic Strike Weapon Air-breathing [HSW-ab], a hypersonic combat aircraft launched from the B-52H.

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