The high altitude and speed of flight were considered one of the main advantages of aircraft of the Second World War.
A new milestone in increasing the altitude and speed of combat aircraft was the emergence of jet engines. For some time it seemed that aviation had only one way - to fly faster and higher. This was confirmed by air battles during the Korean War, in which the Soviet MiG-15 fighters and the American F-80, F-84 and F-86 Saber clashed.
MiG-15 and F-86 Saber
Everything has changed with the advent and development of a new class weapons - anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM).
Age of SAM
The first air defense systems were created in the USSR, Great Britain, the USA and fascist Germany during World War II. The greatest success was achieved by German developers who were able to bring the Reintochter, Hs-117 Schmetterling and Wasserfall air defense systems to the pilot production stage.
German air defense systems “Reintochter” (above), Hs-117 “Schmetterling” (below) and “Wasserfall” (right)
But only the 50s of the 20th century became widespread with the advent of the Soviet S-25 / C-75 air defense systems, the American MIM-3 Nike Ajax and the British Bristol Bloodhound.
SAM S-25, MIM-3 Nike Ajax, Bristol Bloodhound
The capabilities of the air defense systems were clearly demonstrated on 1 on May 1960, when at an altitude of the order of 20 kilometers the U-2 American high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft was shot down, which had previously conducted reconnaissance flights over the territory of the USSR many times, while remaining unattainable for fighter aircraft.
S-75 SAM and U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft shot down by it
However, the first large-scale use of air defense systems was carried out during the Vietnam War. S-75 airborne systems transferred by the Soviet side forced US aircraft to fly to low altitudes. This, in turn, substituted aviation under the fire of anti-aircraft artillery, which accounted for about 60% of downed American planes and helicopters.
An increase in speed gave some delay in aviation - an example is the American strategic supersonic reconnaissance Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which, due to its high speed above 3 M and flight altitude of up to 25 000 meters, was never shot down by an air defense system, including Vietnam war time. Nevertheless, the SR-71 did not fly over the territory of the USSR, only occasionally capturing a small section of Soviet airspace near the border.
Strategic Supersonic Scout Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
Subsequently, the departure of aviation to small and ultra-low altitudes became predetermined. Improvement of air defense systems made flying combat aircraft at high altitudes almost impossible. Perhaps this largely influenced the rejection of projects of such high-speed high-speed bombers, such as the Soviet T-4 (product 100) Sukhoi Design Bureau or the American North American XB-70 Valkyrie. The main tactic of military aviation was flying at low altitudes in the mode of enveloping the terrain and striking using the “dead zones” of the radar and the limitations of the characteristics of anti-aircraft guided missiles (SAM).
Supersonic missile bombers - Soviet T-4 Sukhoi Design Bureau and American North American XB-70 Valkyrie
The response was the appearance on the arsenal of the Air Defense Forces (Air Defense) of small-radius air defense systems of the C-125 type, capable of hitting high-speed low-flying targets. In the future, the number of types of air defense systems capable of combating low-flying targets steadily increased - the Strela-2M air defense system, the Tunguska anti-aircraft missile and gun system (MANPADS), and portable anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS). Nevertheless, there was nowhere to go from low altitudes. At medium and high altitudes, the defeat of SAM missiles was almost inevitable, and the use of low altitudes and terrain, a sufficiently high speed and dark time of the day, gave the planes a chance to successfully attack the target.
The quintessence of the development of air defense systems was the latest Soviet and then Russian complexes of the C-300 / C-400 family, capable of hitting air targets at a distance of up to 400 km. The promising S-500 air defense system, which should be put into service in the coming years, should possess even more outstanding characteristics.
"Invisible Aircraft" and EW
The response of aircraft manufacturers was the widespread adoption of technologies to reduce the radar and thermal visibility of combat aircraft. Despite the fact that the theoretical prerequisites for the development of stealth aircraft were created by the Soviet theoretical physicist and teacher in the field of electromagnetic wave diffraction Pyotr Yakovlevich Ufimtsev, they did not receive recognition at home, but they were carefully studied “overseas”, as a result of which, in the situation the strictest secrecy, the first aircraft were created, the main distinguishing feature of which was the maximum use of visibility reduction technologies - the F-117 tactical bomber and strategic B-2 bomber.
F-117 tactical bomber and B-2 strategic bomber
It must be understood that technologies for reducing visibility do not make the aircraft “invisible”, as one might think because of the philistine expression “invisible aircraft”, but they significantly reduce the detection range and the range of homing of the aircraft by homing heads. Nevertheless, the improvement of the radar of modern air defense systems also forces stealth planes to “cling” to the ground. Also, stealth aircraft can easily be detected visually in the daytime, which became apparent after the destruction of the latest F-117 by the ancient S-125 air defense system during the war in Yugoslavia.
In the first "invisible aircraft", flight technical characteristics (LTH) and the operational reliability of aircraft were sacrificed to stealth technologies. In fifth-generation aircraft, the F-22 and F-35 stealth technologies combine with fairly high performance characteristics. Over time, stealth technologies began to spread not only to manned aircraft, but also to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise missiles (CR) and other means of air attack (IOS).
Fifth Generation F-22 and F-35 Fighters
Another solution was the active use of electronic warfare (EW), the use of which significantly affected the range of detection and destruction of SAM targets. EW funds can be placed both on the carrier itself, and on specialized aircraft electronic warfare or false targets like mald.
False Target MALD
All of the above together markedly complicated the life of air defense due to significantly reduced time to detect and attack targets. The developers of the air defense system were required new solutions to change the situation in their favor.
AFAR and SAM with ARLGSN
And such solutions have been found. First of all, the ability to detect SAM targets was enhanced by the introduction of a radar with an active phased array antenna (AFAR). Radars with AFAR have significantly greater capabilities compared with other types of radars in detecting targets, distinguishing them against the background of interference, and the ability to interfere with the radar itself.
Secondly, there were SAMs with an active radar antenna array, which can be used as an AFAR. The use of SAM with ARLGSN allows you to attack targets with almost the entire ammunition of missiles without taking into account the number of target channels for highlighting the target of the radar of the air defense system.
The latest Russian S-350 Vityaz air defense system, the ammunition of which includes a medium-range missile with a medium-range missile system and a large number of small-sized short-range missiles
But much more important is the possibility of issuing target designation of SAM with AFAR from external sources, for example, early warning aircraft (AWACS), airships and balloons or UAVs. This allows you to compare the detection range of low-flying targets with the detection range of high-altitude, leveling the advantages of flying at low altitude.
E-2D Aircraft Naval Aircraft Navigation Aircraft Aircraft capable of delivering target designation to Standard Standard SAM missiles
American Balloon DRLO project JLENS and UAV DRLO JY-300 Chinese company CETC
In addition to SAM with ARLGSN, capable of being guided by external target designation, new solutions appear that can significantly complicate the actions of aviation at low altitudes.
New threats at low altitudes
Grids with gas-dynamic / steam-jet control, including transversely arranged micromotors, are catching on. This allows missiles to implement overloads of the order of 60 G to destroy high-speed maneuvering targets.
Highly maneuverable M-SHORAD "Future Interceptor" missiles and LandCeptor CAMM missiles
Got development guided missiles and shells with remote trajectory detonation for automatic gunsthat can effectively hit high-speed low-flying targets. Anti-aircraft artillery equipment high speed guidance drives will provide them with a minimum reaction time to suddenly appearing targets.
The Derivation-Air Defense complex will be able to hit air targets at ranges up to 6 km and at altitudes up to 4,5 km with projectiles with remote detonation along the trajectory, and with long-range guided projectiles of 57 mm caliber
A serious threat over time will be those with an instant reaction, laser defense air defense systemsthat will complement traditional anti-aircraft guided missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. First of all, their target will be guided and uncontrolled aviation ammunition, but carriers can also be attacked by them if they find themselves in the affected area.
One of the projects closest to adoption is the Rheinmetall laser complex with a power of 100 kW. The complex complies with the European set of standards EN DIN 61508 and can be integrated with the MANTIS air defense system, which is in service with the Bundeswehr
It is impossible to exclude the possibility of the appearance of other air defense systems - small-sized automated air defense systems operating on the principle of original "minefields" for low-flying aviation, "air" air defense systems based on UAVs with a long flight duration or on the basis of airships / balloons, small-sized UAVs-kamikazes, or other looking so far exotic.
Based on the foregoing, we can conclude that flying at low altitude can become much more dangerous than it was even during the Second World War or the Vietnam War.
Increasing the likelihood of aircraft damage at low altitude can force them to return to high altitudes. How real and effective is this, and what technical solutions can contribute to this?
The first advantage of aircraft with a high altitude is gravity - the higher the aircraft, the larger and more expensive the missile system must be for its destruction (to ensure the necessary energy for the rocket), the air defense system of the missile system, which includes only long-range missiles, will always be much smaller than the average and short range. The claimed range for the air defense system is not guaranteed at all permissible heights - in fact, the affected area of the air defense system is a dome, and the higher the height, the smaller the affected area.
Conditional firing range of air defense systems depending on height
The second advantage is the density of the atmosphere - the higher the altitude, the lower the air density, which allows the aircraft to move at speeds unacceptable when flying at low altitudes. And the higher the speed, the faster the aircraft can overcome the affected area of the air defense system, which is already reduced due to the high altitude.
Of course, one cannot count on altitude and speed only, because if that were enough, the projects of the T-4 high-speed bombers of the Sukhoi Design Bureau and the XB-70 Valkyrie would have long been implemented, in one form or another, and the SR- reconnaissance aircraft 71 Blackbird would be worthy of development, but this has not yet happened.
The situation could be fundamentally changed by the appearance of new types of engines - detonation or hypersonic ramjet engines.
Scheme of a combined power plant with a turbojet engine and scramjet
The next factor in the survival of high-altitude aircraft, however, as well as low-altitude, will be the widespread use of technologies to reduce visibility and the use of advanced electronic warfare systems. High-speed high-altitude aircraft will require the development of coatings that can withstand high-temperature heating. In addition, the hull shape of high-speed aircraft can be more focused on solving aerodynamic problems than stealth tasks. In combination, this can lead to the fact that the visibility of high-altitude high-speed aircraft can be higher than that of aircraft designed for low-altitude flights at subsonic speed.
The capabilities of low visibility aids and electronic warfare systems can significantly reduce, if not “reset," the appearance of radio-phased phased antenna arrays (ROFAR). However, while there is no reliable information on the possibilities and timing of the implementation of this technology.
It is assumed that the ROFAR technology will make it possible to obtain a detailed image of the aircraft and other targets with a quality close to photographic, up to obtaining an image of the contents under the skin, which will completely depreciate the capabilities of low-visibility technologies
However, the main factor that increases the survival of high-altitude aircraft will be the use of advanced defensive systems. Promising defensive systems of combat aircraft, providing for the detection and destruction of missiles ground-to-air (Z-B) and air-to-air (B-B), are expected to include:
- optoelectronic multispectral systems for detecting Z-V and B-V missiles, such as the EOTS systems used on the F-35 fighter, most likely integrated with conformal AFARs spaced across the hull;
- missiles similar to those developed in the USA by CUDA;
— laser defensive weapons, which is considered as a promising defense tool for military and transport aircraft of the US Air Force.
Multispectral electron-optical detection system EOTS, CUDA anti-missile and laser weapons of promising combat aircraft
The proposed tactics for the use of promising combat aircraft will include movement at high altitude, of the order of 15-20 thousand meters, and at a speed of the order of 2-2,5 M (2400-3000 km / h), in non-forced mode engines. At the entrance to the affected area and the detection of an SAM attack, the aircraft increases speed, depending on the achievements in engine building, these may be numbers of the order of 3,5-5 M (4200-6000 km / h), in order to leave the SAM zone as quickly as possible.
The detection zone and the lesion zone of aircraft are minimized by the active use of electronic warfare equipment, it is possible that in this way some of the attacking missiles can also be eliminated.
The defeat of the target at high altitude and flight speed makes the work of Z-V and V-V missiles, which require significant energy, extremely difficult. When shooting at maximum range, missiles often move by inertia, which significantly limits their maneuverability and, therefore, makes them an easy target for anti-missile and laser weapons.
Based on the foregoing, we can conclude that the tactics for the use of combat aircraft at high altitudes and speeds are most consistent with the previously proposed 2050 Combat Aircraft Concept of the Year.
With high probability, the basis for the survival of promising combat aircraft will be active defensive systems that can withstand the weapons of the enemy. Conditionally, if earlier it was possible to talk about the confrontation of the sword and the shield, then in the future it can be interpreted as the confrontation of the sword and the sword, when the defensive systems will actively counteract the enemy’s weapons by defeating ammunition, and can also be used as offensive weapons.
If there are active defensive systems, then why not stay at low altitudes? At low altitudes, the number of air defense systems operating by plane will be an order of magnitude greater. SAMs themselves are smaller, more maneuverable, with energy not expended to climb 15-20 km, plus anti-aircraft artillery with guided projectiles and air defense systems based on laser weapons will be added to them. Lack of reserve in height will not allow defensive systems time to respond, hitting small-sized high-speed ammunition will be much more difficult.
Will any aircraft remain at low altitudes? Yes - UAV, UAV and UAV again. Mostly small, because the larger the dimensions, the easier it is to detect and destroy them. To work on a remote battlefield, they will most likely be delivered by the carrier, as we discussed in the article Combat "Gremlins" US Air Force: the revival of the concept of aircraft carrier aircraft, but the carriers themselves will most likely move at high altitude.
According to the Gremlins program of the American defense agency DARPA, UAVs can serve as transport aircraft, as well as bombers and tactical aircraft
Consequences of the departure of military aircraft to great heights
To a certain extent, it will be a one-goal game. As mentioned earlier, gravity will always be on the side of aviation; accordingly, massive, large-sized and expensive missiles will be required to destroy high-altitude targets. In turn, the missile defense, which will be necessary to destroy such missiles, will have significantly smaller dimensions and cost.
If the return of combat aircraft to high altitudes takes place, then we can expect the appearance of multi-stage missiles, it is possible that with a multiple warhead containing several homing warheads with individual guidance. In part, such solutions have already been implemented, for example, in the British Starstreak man-portable air defense system (MANPADS), where the missile carries three small-sized warheads individually guided in the laser beam.
SAM; Starstreak MANPADS
On the other hand, the smaller dimensions of the warheads will not allow them to place an effective ARLGSN in them, which will simplify the task of EW tools to combat such warheads. Also, smaller dimensions will complicate installation on warheads laser protection, which in turn will simplify their defeat onboard defensive laser weapons.
Thus, we can conclude that the transition of military aircraft from flying in the mode of enveloping the terrain to flying at high altitudes and speeds may well be justified and will cause a new stage of confrontation, now not a “sword and shield”, but rather, “a sword and of the sword. "