Aircraft strategic nuclear forces: it seems that we are mistaken in some ways

Today, Russia and the United States are two countries with full-fledged nuclear triads. At the same time, both in the USA and in Russia the most exclusive element of the triad is not submarines with ballistic missiles (there are four countries, India is on the “approach” fifth) and, of course, not ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Many have missiles, some have submarines, but only Russia and the USA have bombers. Pictured Tu-160

The most exclusive element of the nuclear triads of Russia and the United States are bombers - simply because no one else has an intercontinental strike aircraft. These are too large-scale and complex programs, so that small countries or those who do not yet have experience in the construction of such aircraft, could acquire them.

Why are these planes included in the nuclear triad? Why is it impossible to have a nuclear dyad from submarines and ground missiles? The answer to this question is the key to understanding some of the problems that are not obvious to observers in the Russian Aerospace Forces. It is worth answering it and sorting out the role and place of the nuclear deterrence aviation forces (SNF) in protecting the country, both theoretical and real.

Some theory

A ballistic missile hits its target for tens of minutes from the moment of launch and practically cannot be shot down along the way. Airplane is another matter. He goes to the goal for long hours, sometimes tens of hours. He can be shot down many times along the way. Its flight to the target must be provided, for example, by air refueling. And all this in the end for the same thing that the rocket does much cheaper and with a probability greater at times.

At the same time, a heavy intercontinental strike aircraft is tied to airfields, and upscale airfields. Of course, there is experience taking off the Tu-95 from the polar ice floe. But with this method of combat use, it is not possible to provide a high take-off mass, which means that the aircraft will not have enough fuel on board to carry out a combat mission. This is also solvable, but complicates the combat mission to impossibility.

At the outbreak of war, the survival rate of bomber aircraft is zero. If there is a threatened period, then you can manage to disperse it, along with weaponswhich she carries - rockets and bombs.

And again - all for the sake of the fact that the rocket does faster and cheaper, with many times greater chances of success.

Why all this?

Someone may say that bombers without nuclear weapons are extremely useful military equipment. This is true, but this is not about that, but about the fact that they are included in the strategic nuclear forces and taken into account in the relevant agreements, a lot of money is spent on nuclear weapons for them, and all this should be justified.

There is an answer, and it is like that - a bomber differs from a missile as a military weapon in principle.

It can be retargeted in flight.

This is what theoretically we need not just long-range attack aircraft, but aircraft that are part of the strategic nuclear forces, one of the instruments to deter a nuclear war, or to wage it (if the deterrence fails). As a special case, a bomber with a bomb can fly out without target designation and get a combat mission already in flight. No other means of nuclear warfare possesses such qualities.

Aircraft give commanders and politicians the necessary flexibility in making decisions - they allow you to have enough time to respond to changes in the situation. A ballistic missile is like a bullet. It cannot be returned or redirected to another object in flight. A bomber - you can, and if necessary, you can simply recall it.

That is why the aviation component of the strategic nuclear forces is needed.

And here the questions begin.

Our realities

At present, several hundred nuclear weapons are listed in the national nuclear-weapon systems, of which only a part is placed on cruise missiles. The other part is the “good old” free-falling bombs.

Cruise missiles with nuclear warheads are a type of weapon that limits the flexibility of aviation - with it, the nuclear strategic nuclear forces can either deliver the same “unavoidable” strike as a ballistic missile (with all the disadvantages of such a military weapon as a bomber), or, if there is a political need, withdrawn before the launch - the latter matters after the nuclear war has begun.

Moreover, missiles allow in emergency situations to organize combat duty of bombers in the air with multiple refueling, but it must be understood that only stationary targets can keep such aircraft at gunpoint. But one of the fundamental properties of a bomber as a means of waging nuclear war - the ability to retarget at another object after departure - cruise missiles do not provide.

And this is very important. For example, a ballistic missile delivered a nuclear strike at an air base where some of the enemy's bombers and their nuclear bombs were located. However, reconnaissance means (no matter what) established the enemy’s activity in exporting something from this zone on a large number of trucks. Suppose, at this moment, a plane with a nuclear bomb goes to a nearby secondary target. Since the goal is clearly secondary, it does not make sense to spend ICBMs on it, it is also impossible to leave it as it is, since it is still important. At this point, the bomber can be retargeted, because with a high degree of probability the surviving nuclear bombs are taken out on trucks, otherwise why would they still poking around in the zone of radioactive contamination?

But if the bomber does not fly to the target with a bomb, and fired a cruise missile two hours ago, then there’s nothing to be done - the enemy will take out the bombs and then use them against us.

Of course, in such a situation, a ballistic missile can also be sent to the target, but its value in a nuclear war is too high to hit at such targets, because it will be impossible to get new missiles during the ongoing war.

Thus, the need for bombers as not just combat systems for conducting conventional wars (and even delivering a limited nuclear strike against a non-nuclear country), namely as parts of strategic nuclear forces, cruise missiles, as the only weapon significantly reduces. His, this quality, even in our very high-tech age, provides what were the weapons of strategic aircraft at the time of their appearance - free-falling nuclear bombs.

We have bombs, and the planes we use are technically capable of using them. But are the VKS ready to use bombs in a nuclear war with such an enemy as the United States or China (with any other country it will end in two moves in the best case for the enemy)?

In order to assess the readiness of our aviation for the use of freely falling bombs in a nuclear war, it is useful to look at our opponents - the Americans.

Maximum combat readiness

The United States has always paid great attention to the aviation component of its strategic forces, while maintaining the level of combat readiness of bombers was carried out taking into account the possibility of a sudden Soviet nuclear strike by missile weapons.

In order to keep the bombers as an effective military weapon even in such a “scenario”, the USA resorted to the regular allocation of part of its bombers to combat duty on the ground with already suspended nuclear bombs, with crews in the “on-duty” barracks, which generally corresponded our "readiness number 2." It was assumed that with an alarm received from the US Navy, bombers with bombs would take off urgently from bases, thus escaping from the impact of Soviet nuclear missiles, and only then would receive combat missions in the air.

The fact that both the SPRN, and the U.S. bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles were subordinate to one structure - the Strategic Air Command of the Air Force (SAK) simplified the passage of commands across all command chains and ensured the necessary speed of transfer of orders and instructions.

To do this, the appropriate means of secure radio communication were installed on board the aircraft, and the flight crew studied the geography of the USSR.

In order to guarantee that as many bombers and tankers as possible could get out of the nuclear attack, Americans from the 60's have been practicing the so-called MITO - Minimum Interval Take-offs, or in Russian - “Take-offs at minimum intervals”. The meaning of the action was that the bombers and tankers almost in a column, one after another go to the runway, and then take off at intervals of a few tens of seconds. This is a very dangerous maneuver, because by the time one plane makes a break from the runway, the next one has already gained “decision speed”, and in case of a catastrophe ahead of the take-off, it will not be able to interrupt take-off. Moreover, the next next aircraft in speed will still be able to interrupt take-off, but will not be able to stop at the crash site if it occurred on or over the runway. All this is complicated by zero visibility, in which most cars are forced to take off - the burnout from the exhaust of already taken off bombers is simply impenetrable. However, to the peak of the Cold War, the Americans were able to lift one wing after another with an interval of 15-20 seconds between take-off vehicles.

The emergency rise of bombers and tankers according to the MITO scheme

Other exercises showing exit from the parking lot

Taking into account the fact that until 1992, some of the bombers were always in the air in readiness for an immediate nuclear strike, with bombs on board, guaranteeing that the SAK would have a “flexible” attack tool in any case.

Thus, part of the US strike aircraft would be guaranteed to be taken out even from under the Soviet nuclear missile strike. Currently, the Strategic Air Command maintains this level of combat readiness of bombers. True, for decades without a real adversary and a real threat, the Americans are somewhat “softened” and now the intervals between take-off bombers can reach 30 seconds.

The second important aspect of the readiness of bombers to use bombs was the ability to overcome air defense.

I must say that the main aircraft SAK, B-52, had and, apparently, has either one of the most powerful electronic warfare systems in the world, or the most powerful. In 1972, the US Air Force and Navy carried out Operation Linebreaker-2, a series of massive bombing raids in densely populated areas of North Vietnam. The main blow in this operation was delivered by B-52 bombers, and being loaded with ordinary bombs “to the eyeballs”, they were forced to use them from high altitude, from horizontal flight, that is, from the most vulnerable regime for ground air defense.

The loss of aircraft in this operation was great. But behind them was the fact that for every downed plane there were dozens of Vietnam air defense anti-aircraft missiles that "went into hindrance." The missiles of the C-75 complexes basically simply could not hit the aircraft covered by interference. In the event of a nuclear war, all this would be seriously aggravated.

The growth of the USSR’s air defense capabilities at a certain moment led to the fact that its overcoming in the regime of a high-altitude breakthrough in the USA was considered impossible for any speed. That is why, in the end, the United States moved away from supersonic impact machines. Aircraft such as the B-58 “Hustler” serial bomber with its “two sounds” or the experienced “three-swing” Valkyrie show that the Americans could easily set up supersonic attack aircraft in any quantity, if that made sense. In the light of the capabilities of the USSR air defense, this did not make sense, the speed did not give any "bonuses" to survival, but it cost money.

Gave another.

Since the eighties, the crew of the B-52 began to practice air defense breakthroughs at low altitudes. This caused an increased risk of aircraft destruction in flight, since its glider is not designed for such loads. There was even the fact of the destruction of the vertical plumage in such a flight. But thanks to the restrictions on the minimum height of approximately 500 meters, the automatic 1195 ESR stability improvement system that blocks the aircraft from entering dangerous modes for its mechanical strength, and the crews' high skills, the problem was reduced in severity, reducing it to accelerated glider wear, which is solved by timely repair.

The avionics avionics of the aircraft does not provide flight in the mode of enveloping the terrain (and this is impossible for such a machine, it simply collapses in the air), but can warn of an obstruction right at the heading. Optoelectronic surveillance systems allow the crew to navigate in flight at night and in conditions of bright flashes from nuclear explosions, in addition, pilots have the opportunity to use individual night-vision devices, and the illumination and indication of instruments and screens in the cockpit allow you to see their readings in the night vision device.

The small mass of several nuclear bombs, compared to dozens of non-nuclear ones, made it possible for the aircraft to perform maneuvers dangerous in another situation.

The combination of the possibility of a long-term approach to the enemy’s air defense coverage area at low altitudes, the ability to make such a breakthrough at altitudes of 500 meters (and by decision of the commander and if the terrain and weather conditions allow it, then less), a powerful electronic warfare complex, and the fact that the attack was carried out against a country that already had a massive nuclear missile strike, with all the ensuing consequences, would give the bomber good chances to break through to the target with bombs.

Aircraft strategic nuclear forces: it seems that we are mistaken in some ways

Outfit of the B-52 pilot for a nuclear strike mission. We have never distinguished ourselves with such attention to “trifles” and always paid dearly for this. Pay attention to the cabin instruments (and this plane is much older than any Tu-95)

And this is Tu-95MS, today

His opponent would have to fight under conditions where part of the airbases was covered by nuclear strikes, communications were paralyzed and broken, important staffs and their command posts in the command system were destroyed, and effects from the electromagnetic pulses of exploding nuclear warheads of American missiles and bombs continued to appear in places in the atmosphere. In this case, the number of attacking bombers would in any case be counted by dozens of vehicles, and if the US aviation was successfully withdrawn from the first strike (or when it was dispersed during the threatened period), then by hundreds.

All this made bomber aviation a strategic weapon, and not a bad and slow “ICBM substitute” with the “option” of canceling an attack, like any cruise missile carrier aircraft, namely a flexible means of warfare that can be retargeted, recalled and sent to a new one the target right in the course of an ongoing offensive operation, in the presence of a sufficient number of air tankers - repeatedly.

The B-1 Lanser and B-2 Spirit bombers, which later appeared on the arsenal, inherited this “ideology” of combat use, but their ability to break through the low-altitude air defense and the secrecy of passage through it cannot be compared with the B-52. In 1992, during the easing of tension between the US and Russia, the commander of the Russian Air Force, General Peter Deinekin, while on a visit to the United States, tested a B-1Б bomber in flight. The flight data of the aircraft and its ease of control allowed General Deinekin to easily bring the “Lancer” to supersonic flight at an altitude of 50 (fifty!) Meters above the ground. American pilots were surprised to say that "our generals do not fly like that." It must be understood that at such an altitude, an air defense system can detect and hit a target only when it is in close proximity to it and on a flat area, that is, in ideal, polygon conditions.

Upon returning to Russia, General Deinekin himself had to admit that our combat pilots also do not fly as Americans do - the latter pilot their heavy vehicles much bolder than we do, and the maneuvers that they have in the combat and flight training program , we often simply banned by governing documents.

As for the B-2, its “separation” in combat effectiveness from the predecessor of the B-1 is even stronger than that of the B-1 from the B-52. In the case of the B-2, the “supersonic” that is not particularly needed in such a mode (which also “catches up” additional EPR due to the concentration of moisture from the air in the front of the jump behind the aircraft) is removed, but it significantly adds, at times, a shorter detection range for such an aircraft Radar of any type, except long-wave, which is unsuitable for guiding missiles.

For all this, the United States does not deny the importance of missile weapons. Both the Americans and we have always tried to equip the bombers with a "long arm" - missiles that enable them to strike, acting from outside the enemy’s air defense zone. Moreover, modern-day cruise missiles, that is, small-sized, inconspicuous, subsonic, with a folding wing and low-altitude flight, with an economical turbojet engine, were invented by the Americans.

But, unlike us, for them this weapon has always been only one option for certain conditions. It is invaluable for a limited-scale war, including a limited nuclear war. But as an element of strategic nuclear forces, it cannot be the main or only weapon of the nuclear forces. Relying on cruise missiles, as the only type of weapon for the nuclear strategic nuclear forces, deprives the "nuclear" bombers of meaning - in the event of a nuclear war they become just a "substitute for ICBMs", with the additional opportunity to withdraw them from the attack if their missiles are not already launched. In a conventional war, their value is undeniable, but in a nuclear war, the potential of aviation as a weapon of war alone cannot be revealed by missiles.

For Americans, guided missiles have always been a means of “hacking anti-aircraft defense” along the way to the bomb target. Deliver nuclear missiles from afar and from a safe distance, against previously known anti-aircraft defense facilities, air bases, long-range radars that survived an ICBM strike, then break through devastated zones to the main targets in the depths of the enemy’s territory. That is why they almost never with the advent of new missiles did not re-equip all aircraft under them. For local wars, this does not make sense, they do not need a lot of missile carriers, in nuclear planes they are needed mainly as a “flexible” re-targeted tool, which means that they should mainly carry bombs, and “rocketization” costs a lot of money ... why spend it then?

At the same time, cruise missiles could well be used as an instrument of self-strike against a stationary target - if the situation required it.

The top is camouflage to mask against the background of the earth, the bottom is white, anti-nuclear to reduce the heating of the aircraft from a nuclear bomb, under the wings of an aeroballistic missile with a nuclear warhead to crack the surviving Soviet air defense, and in the bomb bay, nuclear bombs. So the B-52 looked like many years in a row

The United States is currently actively improving its nuclear attack facilities, including high-precision SLBMs in its first strike arsenal, carefully studying how automated retaliatory strike systems (“Perimeters”) work, and widening the effectiveness gap in the battle of their submarines with torpedoes and our own submarines. with ballistic missiles, and the crews of the inconspicuous B-2 bombers are actively preparing for the independent search and destruction by bombs of the surviving Russian or Chinese PGRK, who evaded the defeat first merikanskim nuclear missile attack, but had not managed to get the order to start due to the destruction of communications centers and command posts.

The role of nuclear bombs, therefore, remains even in the case of the first missile counterforce nuclear strike from the United States.

Moreover, the fact that B-52 and B-1 are removed from the list of nuclear bomb carriers should not deceive anyone - B-2 is still focused on precisely these tasks, and the number of targets that they will need to hit is not so great today , like before. B-52 remains the carrier of cruise missiles, including those with a nuclear warhead.

B-2 during refueling over the Atlantic, 2014 year. With nuclear bombs they will go to important targets in the depths of the Russian Federation or China

Recently, the US has been modernizing its free-falling nuclear bombs, equipping them with guidance and control systems similar to JDAM, which will increase their accuracy. In this case, the explosion power of the warhead is reduced.

The US nuclear arsenal from a deterrent is rapidly turning into a means of attack, and it is precisely with the deterrence potential that the Americans have sacrificed - they have already sacrificed, in order to improve their capabilities for a surprise nuclear attack.

The role of bombs and their carriers in US military plans continues to be very important.

The risk of an offensive nuclear war from the United States is constantly growing.

Some emotional statements by V.V. Putin’s theme “we’ll go to heaven, and you’ll just die” is due precisely to the understanding of the secretive preparation of the United States for an offensive nuclear war, the fact of which does not depend on who occupies the White House.

In such circumstances, we need not only to improve the mechanisms of nuclear deterrence, but also prepare for its failure - taking into account the fact that the United States significantly reduces the power of its nuclear weapons (for example, SLBM warheads from 100 to 5 kilotons) and the fact that their first the strike will be directed at our military facilities, and not at the cities, to conduct a nuclear war, and after the first strike will be to whom and for what.

This means that it is necessary to be ready to fully realize the potential of all the instruments for waging such a war, the main of which, after spending most of the missiles in a retaliatory or retaliatory strike, will be bombers.

Formulate the problem

The problem is the following - although Russia possesses technically full-fledged strategic aviation and nuclear stockpiles for it, it’s not ready to conduct a nuclear war, doctrinally, and because of the existing level of training, long-range aviation formations.

This in itself could be acceptable if they were not considered at all as an instrument as such, and if their combat use as a strategic force were not planned at all. Then it would be possible to simply decide: “our planes are not for this” and use them in the future as well as in Syria, and lead the planning of a nuclear war taking into account the fact that bombers will not be used in it. This approach has a right to exist.

But if you are guided by common sense, it becomes clear - it is much better to bring the training of aviation units to the level that will make it possible to use it precisely as a strategic one and precisely during the ongoing nuclear war. Because the use of aircraft by the same methods that the United States does, it will make it possible to have a flexible war instrument that can be retargeted, withdrawn, redirected to another target, used to strike with additional reconnaissance at a target whose coordinates are not exactly known, in some cases To use planes repeatedly is not so unrealistic given the damage caused by missile strikes and how they will affect the enemy’s air defense, their communications, fuel delivery to airfields, etc.

What do you need?

It is necessary to give strategic aviation the ability to receive a combat mission in flight. In relation to an aircraft that is a “clean” missile carrier, this means the possibility of entering a flight mission into a missile directly in flight. Moreover, taking into account what will be the interruptions in communications after the start of the exchange of nuclear strikes, this should be able to fulfill the crew of the aircraft. I would like to be able to retarget in flight and a missile, but this can give rise to a serious vulnerability of the missile to cyber attacks and this improvement should be treated with caution.

In addition, it is necessary to resume training on the use of free-falling bombs. This must be done if only because these bombs exist. Losses always take place in a war and there is no guarantee that cruise missiles will not be lost on the first strike of the enemy. So, we need a willingness to act with bombs too.

Most likely, our Tu-95 will not be able to act like the American B-52. The smaller fuselage in the cross section, the lower weight of the aircraft, and the greater wing load compared to the B-52 indicate that the Tupolevs will not be able to skip the air defense coverage area at low altitude, apparently they will not have enough structural strength for this. But firstly, the capabilities of this aircraft to use bombs in difficult conditions must be investigated, finding those limits that cannot be crossed when performing maneuvers and flights.

However, there is unconfirmed information that in the 60's low-altitude attacks on the Tu-95 were worked out, but these were other modifications, not the “MS”, so everything will have to be checked for a new one.

Tu-95MS - the main aircraft of strategic aviation in Russia. They will have to fight

Secondly, there are other options. The same Americans planned to use not only bombs, but also SRAM short-range aeroballistic missiles. The latter had to “crack” the air defense of the area by destroying air bases and stationary air defense facilities, as well as give a “flare” in the atmosphere, which would prevent the air defense system from working. And only then, under the cover of the interference of its electronic warfare system, the bomber had to break through to the target.

Technically, Russia can do the same - we had X-15 missiles with which such things were quite possible, we have X-31P supersonic anti-radar missiles, there is an X-35 missile modified for striking at ground targets, on the basis of which you can also create option to destroy the enemy radar, and in two versions at once - in the nuclear and non-nuclear. In addition, when flying over an absolutely flat surface, for example above water, even the Tu-95 is able to fly for a while at a relatively low altitude for it. Given that all ZGRLS will be destroyed by cruise missiles, the chances of the Tu-95 attacking from the sea to reach the line of launch of a large number of its small missiles for “breaking” the enemy’s air defense can hardly be considered small. I would like not to complicate the life of the “oldies” of the Tu-95, but this is our main aircraft, alas, and have to fight with what we have.

Naturally, some tactical schemes can be worked out only after a deep theoretical study. Perhaps it is worth returning the Tu-22М3 to the "strategists" and assigning the "bomb" tasks mainly to them.

As for the Tu-160, the production of which is kind of planned to be resumed (about the fact that it will be resumed, say, when the first plane takes off, created without the remaining “old backlog”), its combat potential is simply endless, the glider of this aircraft allows more than people managing it can, and with it the question arises only in adequate modernization precisely for such tasks. For example, it is worth exploring measures to reduce the radar visibility of this machine, which is very large. The Americans on the B-1B managed to reduce the EPR many times, compared with the B-1A. There is no reason to believe that with the Tu-160 we can not do the same.

Tu-160 is far from ideal, but has a chance to become one. If someone does this

Much more important is the reduced complexity of inter-flight maintenance. Hundreds of man-hours are required to prepare one Tu-160 sortie. This must be fought, weapons cannot and should not be so "gentle." And to reduce this figure is quite realistic, although it will take a lot of time and money.

But all this concerns sorties. But the exercises on the emergency dispersal of aviation, weapons and airfield equipment can be started right now. In any case, it will take years to show a level of combat readiness comparable to the enemy, and it’s better not to delay.

The situation in the world is heating up. The formal approach, when we believe that the presence of bombs and aircraft gives us combat aircraft, has completely exhausted itself. Just as having a piano at home does not make a person a pianist, the presence of bombers, missiles and bombs does not mean that the air force has strategic aviation in the full sense of the term. You must also be able to apply it properly.

In order for us to really have it, the strike potential of the aviation component of the strategic nuclear forces must be brought to the maximum possible. And preferably in the shortest possible time.
Alexander Timokhin
Photos used:
flickr user Laith Jobran, Rostec Group of Companies,, USAF
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