Hypersonic Race: Super Missiles from the Three Leading Powers

DARPA Artistic HTV-2

On May 15, US President Donald Trump made an interesting statement about advanced weapons. He said that the United States has a “super-duper-missile” that flies 17 times faster than currently in service. He also recalled Chinese and Russian weapons, the speed of which is only 5-6 times higher. Has the US really been able to outrun its competitors in the hypersonic race? Consider the modern and promising developments of three countries – industry leaders.

Super missiles and hyperspeed

According to known data, the USA and the USSR / Russia began studying hypersonic aerodynamic flight several decades ago. At the same time, the first experiments began using experimental aircraft, incl. with an eye to practical use. China joined such works later, only in the 2000s. However, this did not prevent him from quickly closing the gap and entering a narrow circle of world leaders.

By now, the three countries have completed basic research and development work and have moved to the stage of developing full-fledged weapons suitable for use by the troops. In the coming years, full-scale deployment of hypersonic systems of various classes is expected in all branches of the armed forces.

New missiles and warheads will enter service with the ground forces, strategic missile forces, as well as the air and naval forces. However, the specific plans of the countries for development and deployment are noticeably different, everyone is betting on different directions.

American speed

Current US projects generally date back to the early 2000s and DARPA’s FALCON program. Its main result was the experimental hypersonic gliding warheads HTV-2, which made two test flights. The launches took place in 2010 and 2011 and ended with mixed results. Both prototypes reached the required speed, but could not complete the entire planned route.

Infographics on the American project LRHW. Photo Bmpd.livejournal.com

According to the test plan, HTV-2 had to overcome a trajectory of approx. 7700 km with a maximum speed of 20M. Such tasks were only partially completed – both vehicles developed the required speed and remained on the trajectory for several minutes. However, long before the end point of the route, the first self-destructed, and the second fell into the ocean. However, in this case, too, the HTV-2 set a speed record among the experimental developments in the United States.

Further work was carried out on the AHW project. Prototypes of this type developed a speed of up to 8M. An LRHW inter-service missile system with a C-HGB planning warhead is currently being created. Two test launches have already been carried out with a speed over 5M (more precise values ​​are not reported). The complex is positioned as a medium-range system, which may indicate the possibility of launching at a distance of up to 5500 km. In the near future, the LRHW will enter service with the ground forces, as well as the surface and submarine forces of the Navy.

Of great interest is the project of the AGM-183A ARRW air-launched missile, which is being prepared for flight tests. The performance characteristics of this product have not yet been announced, which contributes to the emergence of the most daring versions. Some estimates reach a maximum speed of 20M – but it is not yet clear how much they correspond to reality.

Thus, the United States has the technology to create hypersonic systems with speeds up to 20M and a range of approx. 7-8 thousand km, although not all such possibilities have been confirmed by practice. The tests of products with lower performance are being successfully carried out, which are also sufficient for solving combat missions.

Russian developments

Consideration of the Russian hypersonic program should begin with a complex that has passed all the tests and is put on alert. In December 2019, the Strategic Missile Forces began operating the Avangard product, which was the result of many years of research and testing. According to known data, the complex includes the UR-100N UTTH missile and a special warhead equipped with the Avangard block.

Presumably, the warhead of the Avangard complex. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

According to officials, the speed of the “Avangard” on the trajectory exceeds 20M. The flight range is intercontinental. There is the ability to maneuver in speed and course. An effective control system is provided that provides quick preparation for the start and a successful solution to the task.

The Dagger complex with an air-launched ballistic missile has been brought to the stage of experimental military operation. With the help of a MiG-31K or Tu-22M3 carrier aircraft, it is delivered to the launch line, after which it flies along a ballistic trajectory with a height of at least 20-22 km. The maximum speed is more than 10M, the range without taking into account the parameters of the carrier is 2000 km.

An anti-ship missile system “Zircon” with a 3M22 missile is being created for the Navy. By now, it has begun testing on offshore platforms, and is expected to be put into service in the near future. During test launches, Zircon reached a speed of 8M. The range, according to various sources, reaches 400-800 km. The missile with the container is placed in the cell of the 3S14 universal launcher used on many ships. It ensures reliable defeat of large surface ships.

In the past, in our country, several large development projects were carried out, the results of which are now being applied in real projects. There are technologies that make it possible to accelerate equipment to speeds of the order of 20M and send it to an intercontinental range. More importantly, all these developments have been brought, at least, to testing.

Chinese secrets

China is in no hurry to reveal its secrets in the field of promising technologies, but others are doing it for it. Thanks to foreign intelligence and the media, it became known about the existence of a project with the symbol WU-14 or DF-ZF, providing for the construction of a missile system with a hypersonic warhead.

Hypersonic Race: Super Missiles from the Three Leading Powers

MiG-31 with a Dagger missile. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

Flight tests of the WU-14 began in 2014. To date, up to 10 launches have been carried out with varying results. The Ministry of Defense of the PRC confirmed the information about the first launches, but claimed that they were purely scientific in nature. According to foreign estimates, the DF-ZF block on the trajectory develops a speed of no more than 10M. Earlier it was argued that ballistic missiles DF-21 or DF-31, capable of providing a maximum range of up to 3 or up to 12 thousand km, can be used as a carrier. Last year, the DF-17 rocket was shown for the first time, with the help of which a range of up to 2500 km is provided.

According to known data, the DF-ZF unit and the DF-17 missile entered service with the Strategic Missile Forces of China and are now on duty. It is possible that other models of hypersonic weapons are being developed, but there is still no information about them.

Hypersonic race

Technologies for the creation of hypersonic aircraft, incl. warheads of missile systems are available from the three leading powers, and they continue to develop this direction. At the same time, there is a clear leader, followed by other countries. By the totality of the technical characteristics and the successes achieved, they should recognize Russia.

It was our country that not only created and tested, but was the first to put on duty several models of promising weapons at once. Even US officials admit that they are lagging behind Russia. In second place can be put the PRC, whose army has so far received only one hypersonic complex. However, if you take into account the dates of adoption, China is the first.

The parade line of the Chinese complexes DF-17. Photo Nevskii-bastion.ru

The Russian hypersonic program has already provided three types of weapons for solving various tasks, from operational-tactical to strategic. In addition, large ranges of speeds and flight ranges are covered, which is ensured by a more complete use of available technologies. China cannot yet boast of such successes, although its new projects can be expected in the near future.

To the displeasure of D. Trump, the United States is still in the position of catching up. They have several promising models, but none of them has yet reached combat duty. In terms of speeds and ranges, the situation is no better. Samples, intended for adoption, have not yet bypassed competitors. As for “super-super-missiles 17 times faster than others”, it is expected in arsenals only by the middle of the decade, at best.

However, the American president can be encouraged. The hypersonic race of the leading powers is not over. It seems that it is only approaching its most active phase. Thus, competing countries have the opportunity to continue working, get the desired results and set new records, ensuring strategic national security. And at the same time get a reason for pride in their science and technology.

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