The media so often speak of Russia as a leader in the development of hypersonic weapons that few people doubt this fact. Here and “Zircon” and “Dagger” and “Vanguard”. And the constantly mentioned plans to equip them (not counting the Vanguard) with them practically everything that can fly or walk the seas (an exaggeration, of course, but many ships and submarines of the Russian Navy can really arm many ships and submarines with Zircon).
Meanwhile, a closer look reveals not only the advantages, but also the disadvantages of the complexes. The Dagger and Avangard are largely based on old Soviet developments, such as the Iskander complex, the MiG-31 interceptor and the UR-100N UTTH ballistic missile, which is the carrier of the Avangard combat unit. In turn, the potential of “Zircon”, which is a sea-based complex, directly depends on the state of the ships of the Russian Navy and the presence / absence of their full-fledged air cover.
There is one aspect that unites these (of course, extremely interesting) developments. All of them are very large and expensive complexes by default. Obviously, a real breakthrough can only be expected with the advent of relatively inexpensive hypersonic aircraft ASPs.
The use of an air platform as a carrier makes it possible to deliver the “cargo” to a given point as quickly as possible, inflicting the maximum possible damage on the enemy. It will be better if the air platform turns out to be inconspicuous, or even better – a full-fledged stealth, like modern fifth-generation fighters.
Thus, the developers of hypersonic weapons face several challenges:
– Reducing the mass and dimensions of the complexes (the mass of the missile complex “Dagger”, according to rumors, is about 4 tons);
– Integration of hypersonic systems into the armament of not only specialized vehicles, but also multifunctional fighters (if such a technical capability, of course, is available).
Not by the West alone
Usually, airborne hypersonic weapons are associated with US developments: we are not talking about the aeroballistic Dagger now, for a number of reasons this is a separate topic. Among them, for example, a promising rocket with a guided warhead AGM-183A ARRW (I must say, also a fairly large complex) and a more compact Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept or HAWC, which can be carried by the F-35. A missile with a similar name – the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) – was recently abandoned by the United States.
How can Russia answer? Back in December 2018, a source in the aircraft industry told TASS that the Su-57 would be armed with a new hypersonic missile. The interlocutor of the department noted:
“In accordance with the current GPV (State Armament Program, – Ed.) For 2018-2027, Su-57 fighters will be armed with hypersonic missiles. The aircraft will receive a missile with characteristics similar to the Dagger missiles, but it will be internally placed and smaller. “
It is noteworthy that earlier in the media there were rumors about the possible equipping of the Su-57 fighter with the “Dagger”, but they quickly died down. The reason is generally clear. For the internal compartments of the fighter, the rocket is too large, and with a hypothetical suspension on the external holder, the main advantage of the Su-57 in the face of stealth is leveled. The more likely development of events was previously announced by Western analysts. According to him, the new weapon for the Su-57 may be a variation of the BrahMos-II hypersonic missile, created as part of the joint Russian-Indian program. According to data from open sources, it can develop a speed of M = 8.
Noteworthy in this respect is the statement of a source in the military-industrial complex, made in December last year. According to him, the first (in fact, the second, since the very first serial Su-57 crashed in 2019), the serial machine is used for tests of a certain hypersonic system. According to the interlocutor of TASS:
“The first serial Su-57 entered GLITs at the end of November. It will be used to test the latest aviation hypersonic weapons. “
The complex is being developed by specialists from the Tactical Missile Armament Corporation.
Finally, the most important news about hypersonic weapons for the Su-57 appeared in February this year: however, it did not concern a production vehicle, but one of the previously built prototypes. In short, the Su-57 has already begun testing a new hypersonic weapon. A source in the OPK told RIA Novosti the following:
“As part of the tests, the experienced Su-57 fighter performed several flights with functional mass and size mock-ups of a new Russian intra-fuselage hypersonic missile. Prior to that, the mock-ups of the new product were tested in the inner compartment of the fighter on the ground. “
According to him, the demonstrators at this stage are deprived of engines, fuel and warheads, but at the same time they are identical to real ammunition in terms of size and weight. In addition, for more detailed testing, they were equipped with homing heads. If everything goes the way the Russian developers want, then soon the Su-57 will perform the first drop tests of the new missiles.
As before, the characteristics of the weapon have not yet been disclosed (it is noteworthy that the characteristics of the Su-57 itself do not yet know for sure, they are tentative). However, the source still named the main details of the concept. This is an air-to-surface missile that
“Provides maneuverable flight at hypersonic speed for a long time.”
Small ammunition. Judging from the statement, it is more designed to engage stationary targets, such as missile launchers, rather than moving tanks or infantry fighting vehicles. In general, this is logical: for the latter, a more economical solution can be found: for example, the mysterious “Product 305”, which they want to equip the Russian Mi-28NM and Ka-52M attack helicopters with. And which, according to rumors, will have a range of 100 kilometers, which is more than enough to solve the lion’s share of tasks.
If we talk specifically about hypersonic weapons, then the following option seems to be the most logical here: Russia can create several complexes. One of them (the one mentioned above) will be able to carry the Su-57 and other fighter-bombers. In addition, a larger missile may appear – a conditional analogue of the American AGM-183A – which will be carried by strategic bombers PAK DA and Tu-160M (possibly Tu-95MSM and long-range Tu-22M3M). These are incomparably more lifting machines, which, moreover, have a significantly larger combat radius, which in total will allow solving strategic tasks at a new level.
How it will be in reality – time will tell. One thing is for sure: the new air-to-surface missile will greatly expand the capabilities of the Su-57, allowing it to gain a foothold in the status of a multipurpose vehicle.