The development of any type of weapon often takes several iterations. And the more innovative it is weapon, the higher the chance that it will not be immediately implemented, put aside in the “long box” or shown as an example of an unsuccessful concept or project. Examples of creating breakthrough weapons that were ahead of their time, and we have already considered the attitude to them in the material “The Wunderwaffe Chimera Against the Phantom of Rationalism”. Nevertheless, technology is developing, cruise and ballistic missiles, which were useless for Nazi Germany, have become formidable weapons, laser weapons are becoming closer to the battlefield, railguns and other promising types of weapons will be realized without a doubt. And for their creation, a backlog is needed, obtained just during the development of useless "wunderwaffes."
One of the "wunderwaffes" is called the American missile defense program (ABM) "Strategic Defense Initiative" (SDI) Ronald Reagan, which, according to many, was only a way to earn money for the US military-industrial complex and ended in a “zilch,” since, based on the results of its implementation, real weapon systems were not adopted. However, in fact this is far from the case, and those developments that were studied in the framework of the SDI program were partially implemented as part of the creation of the program National Missile Defense (NMD)which is deployed and is currently operational.
Based on the tasks and projects implemented within the framework of the SDI program, and extrapolating the development of equipment and technologies for the coming decades, it is possible to predict the development of the US missile defense for the period 2030-2050.
Economics of missile defense
In order for the missile defense system to be effective, the average cost of hitting a target, including a false one, must be equal to or lower than the cost of the target itself. In this case, one must take into account the financial capabilities of opponents. In other words, if the financial capabilities of the United States allow the withdrawal of 4000 interceptor missiles with a cost of $ 5 million apiece, and the financial capabilities of the Russian Federation allow the creation of 1500 nuclear warheads at $ 2 million per apiece, with the same percentage of costs from the defense budget or the country's budget, The US is winning.
In connection with the foregoing, the main objective of the United States in creating a global strategic missile defense system is to reduce the cost of hitting one warhead. To do this, implement the following:
- reduce the deployment cost of missile defense elements;
- reduce the cost of the missile defense elements themselves;
- increase the effectiveness of individual missile defense elements;
- increase the effectiveness of the interaction of missile defense elements.
Diamond Pebbles and Elon Musk
The main subsystem of the SDI program, which should have been entrusted with the task of intercepting warheads of intercontinental ballistic missiles of the USSR, was supposed to be “diamond pebbles” - a constellation of satellite interceptors placed in orbit around the Earth and intercepting warheads in the middle part of the trajectory. It was planned to put into orbit about four thousand satellite interceptors. Not that it was completely impossible even at that time, but the cost of implementing such a program would be prohibitive even for the United States. And the effectiveness of “diamond pebbles” at that time could be called into question due to the imperfection of computers and sensors of the late XX century. Since then, major changes have taken place.
About the item “reduce the cost of deploying missile defense elements”. To begin with, the United States has already been able to launch cargo into orbit at a price comparable to or even less than that at which Russia can put a payload into orbit. We can say that the USA has never had such a cheap way to launch cargo into orbit. Given the difference in the budget of the United States and Russia, the situation does not look in favor of the Russian Federation.
Of course, it is necessary to thank for this beloved / unloved (underline as necessary) by many Ilona Mask. It was SpaceX’s rockets that were able to reformat the commercial market, which was previously dominated by Roscosmos.
Withdrawing a tonne of cargo on the Falcon Heavy LV is two times cheaper than on the Russian Proton LV and almost three times cheaper than on the Angara-A5 LV - $ 1,4 million compared to $ 2,8 million and 3,9 , XNUMX million dollars respectively. SpaceX's reusable, ultra-heavy BFR rocket and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin New Orgin rocket can deliver even more impressive performance. If Elon Musk succeeds in BFR, then the US armed forces will be able to launch cargoes into space in such quantities and at such a cost that no one has ever had before stories humanity. And the consequences of this are hard to overestimate..
However, even without BFR and New Glenn launch vehicles, the United States, the available Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are enough to bring huge payloads into orbit at a minimum cost.
At the same time, Russia refused the Proton rocket, the situation with the Angara rocket family is unclear - these missiles are expensive, and it is not a fact that they will become cheaper. The project of the promising Irtysh / Sunkar / Soyuz-5 / Phoenix / Soyuz-7 rocket can drag on for a decade, if at all, with a positive result, and the superheavy Yenisei rocket, contrary to Rogozin’s words, is far from the fact that it will be reusable, and at the cost of removing the payload, will most likely be equivalent to the superheavy and super-expensive American SLS rocket developed by NASA.
Competencies in the field of space technology in Russia are still preserved. For example, on February 7, 2020, 2.1 communications satellites of the British company OneWeb (satellites developed by Airbus) were launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome of the Russian Soyuz-34b launch vehicle with the Frigate booster block. The situation with Roscosmos can be compared with the situation with the Russian Navy. There is technology, there is experience, but at the same time there is complete confusion and reeling regarding the general direction of development, a misunderstanding of the goals and objectives facing the space industry.
Launch of 34 OneWeb Soyuz-2.1b satellites (video + animation)
SpaceX can provide the US military with technology to meet the challenges of “lowering the cost of the missile defense elements themselves.” This assumption is based on the Spacelink network of Starlink communications satellites deployed to provide global access to the Internet. According to various estimates, the Starlink network will include from 4 to 000 satellites with a mass of 12-000 kilograms and an orbit height of 200 to 250 kilometers. At the beginning of 300, 1200 satellites were launched into orbit, and by the end of the year another 2020 launches are planned. If 240 satellites will be displayed each time, then by the end of 23, the Starlink network will have 60 satellites - more than all countries in the world combined.
What is striking here is not so much the ability of a private company to put such payload volumes into orbit as its ability to mass-produce high-tech satellites.
On March 18, 2019, NASA successfully deployed an array of 300 KritSat Sprites nanosatellites in 105 km altitude orbit. Each Sprites satellite costs less than $ 100, weighs 4 grams, and its size is 3,5 x 3,5 centimeters, that is, in fact, it is a printed circuit board equipped with a short-range telemetry transmitter and several sensors. Despite the seemingly “toy” of these satellites, they are extremely interesting for the reason that this miniature unprotected platform successfully operates in space.
KickSat Sprites Satellite Deployment Animation
What does this have to do with missile defense? The experience gained by companies such as SpaceX or OneWeb (Airbus) in creating a huge number of high-tech satellites in the shortest possible time at the lowest price can be applied to the construction of a new generation of missile defense satellites. Why at the lowest price? Firstly, because these are commercial projects, and they must be competitive. Secondly, because low-orbit satellites in low orbit will gradually leave it and burn out in the atmosphere, respectively, they will need to be replaced. And given the number of satellites in Starlink and OneWeb, this will be a considerable amount.
As we have already said earlier, as part of the NMD, the United States is developing MKV interceptors that will be deployed in clusters and designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with multiple warheads. At the same time, it is supposed to significantly reduce their mass, almost to 15 kilograms per interceptor. It should be understood that MKV interceptors are developed by “traditional” representatives of the US “old school” defense industry, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company and Raytheon Company, whose products are traditionally not cheap. However, the market forces American companies to flexibly adapt and, if necessary, cooperate to carry out joint projects. SpaceX's invasion of the military launch market has already forced the "old guard", accustomed to huge government orders during the Cold War, to optimize their operations. It is quite possible that, for example, SpaceX joins the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company or Raytheon Company in the development and production of promising interceptor systems for missile defense.
MKV Cluster Interceptor
What does this mean in practice? Yes, the task of putting into orbit a group of 4000 or more missile defense interceptors, announced back in SOI program, in the next decade may become a reality. Considering that the private company SpaceX plans to launch 4000-12000 communications satellites into orbit, the US budget will allow launching a comparable number of interceptors into orbit, with a cost of, for example, about $ 1-5 million per unit.
At the same time, the appearance of such a LV as BFR will allow not only cheaply launching interceptor satellites, but also ensuring their removal from orbit and return to service, modernization or disposal.
Why place interceptors in space? Why can not they be launched from terrestrial carriers, as is now done as part of the GBI program?
Firstly, because the advance deployment of interceptors by commercial carriers will be much cheaper. The cost of launching a comparable number of interceptors with military missiles will always be greater than the missiles of private SpaceX or Blue Origin companies. However, a certain number of interceptors will be placed on land and underwater carriers, to provide the possibility of operational replenishment / amplification of the satellite constellation and to solve the problems that we will consider below.
For operational replenishment / strengthening of the satellite constellation of missile defense, interceptors can be placed on missiles in mines and on nuclear submarines
Secondly, the response time of the satellite constellation is significantly higher than the land or sea components of the missile defense system. It can be assumed that in some cases, interceptor satellites will be able to attack the launching ICBM even before it carries out the breeding of warheads and false targets.
Thirdly, it is extremely difficult to destroy a huge group of orbital interceptors. Especially when in orbit, in addition to interceptor satellites, several thousand, or even tens of thousands, of commercial satellites will be placed. And yes, a bucket of nuts will not help destroy orbiting satellite constellations, just like foil or silver do not protect against laser weapons.
In the near future, something like this may look like an orbit near our planet
All this suggests that in the future the space echelon of the US missile defense system will be dominant.
But do Russia and China have interceptor satellites? And here the economic factor will already be decisive: who can cheaper to launch cheaper and more effective weapons into orbit, including taking into account the difference in the budgets of opponents, has an advantage. "God is always on the side of large battalions."
In terms of timeline, US Missile Defense Agency specialists want to minimize the time required to move from existing ground interceptors to next-generation weapons. Some observers believe that it will be ten years before the first next-generation interceptor is delivered, but others suggest that deliveries could begin around 2026.
From time to time, information appears on the Internet, including from the lips of American politicians, that it is planned to deploy orbital platforms with combat lasers designed to destroy ballistic missiles at the initial stage of flight, as part of a promising missile defense system. At the moment, the US industry is quite capable of creating laser weapons with a capacity of about 300 kW, in 10-15 years this figure can reach 1 MW. The problem is that in space it is extremely difficult to provide heat removal from the laser. For a 1MW laser, even with an efficiency of 50% that is achievable at the current level of technology development, it will be necessary to remove 1 MW of heat. In this case, it will be necessary to ensure heat removal from the energy source for the laser, the efficiency of which will also obviously not be 100%.
Russia may have an advantage in this regard, since effective heat removal systems are being developed as part of the creation of a space tug with a nuclear power plant, while the US competencies in this direction are unknown.
What can be the tasks of orbital platforms with laser weapons, and what threat can they pose?
The defeat by laser of already divided warheads can be virtually eliminated, since they are equipped with powerful thermal protection that ensures their survival with a decrease in the atmosphere. Another thing is the defeat of ICBMs in the accelerating section, when the rocket is only gaining speed: a relatively thin body is vulnerable to thermal effects, and the engine torch unmasks the missile as much as possible, allowing laser weapons and interceptors to be aimed at it.
Laser weapons orbital platforms can hit ICBMs in the booster area
An orbital laser weapon poses an even greater threat to the “bus” - a system for breeding warheads, since the influence of the atmosphere is already ruled out at an altitude of 100-200 kilometers, and exposure to a high-power laser beam can disrupt the operation of sensors, orientation systems or engines of a breeding stage, which will lead to a deviation warheads from the target, and possibly to their destruction.
An orbital laser weapon can also perform an equally important task after breeding warheads and releasing false targets. False targets, as you know, are divided into heavy and light. The number of heavy targets is limited by the load of ICBMs, but light targets can be much larger. If for every real warhead there will be 1-2 heavy false targets and 10-20 easy false targets, then even with the current level of restrictions, to destroy 1500 warheads with a “retinue” of false targets, more than 100 interceptor satellites will be required (if you accept the probability of interception by one satellite is about 000%). Withdrawing 50 or more interceptor satellites is most likely unrealistic even for the United States.
And here, an orbital laser weapon can play an important role. Even short-term exposure to powerful laser radiation on inflatable false warheads will lead to a change in their radar, thermal and optical signatures, and possibly to a change in the flight path and / or complete destruction.
Thus, the main task of an orbital laser weapon is not primarily to directly solve missile defense problems, but to contribute to the solution of this problem by other subsystems, primarily by grouping satellite interceptors, ensuring the identification and / or destruction of false targets , as well as ensuring a decrease in the number of real targets, due to the defeat of part of the launching ICBMs and systems for breeding warheads in the initial phase of the flight.
Missile defense ground segment
The question arises: will the ground segment remain in the prospective US missile defense and why is it needed? Of course, yes. For several reasons.
Firstly, because the ground segment is the most developed and already deployed. Creating an orbital constellation of thousands of interceptor satellites is a complex and high-risk task. Secondly, the ground-based missile defense segment can defeat low-flying targets, for example, planning hypersonic warheads that are invulnerable to the space segment.
Now the main striking force of the ground level echelon of the US missile defense is GBI missiles in underground mines. After the dimensions of interceptors are reduced and the standard anti-aircraft ballistic missile system (SAM) “Standard” is capable of intercepting ICBMs, one can expect both an increase in the number of deployed anti-ballistic missiles on ships of the United States Navy and the ground launchers of these anti-ballistic missiles in the United States and their allies.
It can be assumed that for the period until 2030 the ground echelon will be the main one in the US missile defense system. At this point, the total number of interceptors on missiles of various types can be about 1000 units.
After 2030, the deployment of the orbital constellation will begin, which will last about five years, as a result of which 4000-5000 interceptor satellites will appear in orbit. If the system is recognized to be operational, efficient and economically adequate, then its deployment will continue to 10000 or more interceptor satellites.
The appearance of an orbital laser weapon capable of solving missile defense problems can be expected no earlier than 2040, since it is not just a satellite interceptor weighing 15-150 kilograms, but a full-fledged orbital platform with sophisticated equipment, which could take several decades to develop.
Thus, in the period until 2030, one can expect the US missile defense to intercept about 300 warheads and false targets, by 2040 this figure can grow by an order of magnitude - up to 3000-4000 warheads and false targets, and after the appearance of orbital laser weapons, capable of "filtering out" light false targets, the US missile defense will presumably be able to intercept about 3000-4000 warheads and heavy false targets and about one hundred thousand light false targets.
How much these forecasts will become reality depends largely on the political course of the current and future US leadership. As we understood from recent statements by US President Donald trump, USA “Will not limit themselves to developing missile defense against countries that do not recognize international standards”. For China, the missile defense created will be redundant by 2035–2040. Only Russia remains.
There are no fundamental technical barriers to the creation of the above elements of the ABM system. Technically, the most difficult is the creation of an orbital laser weapon, but taking into account the current state of work in the USA on laser weapons, by 2040 the tasks set could well be solved. As for the deployment of thousands of interceptor satellites, indirectly the possibility of realizing this segment of missile defense can be judged by how the plans of commercial companies to create the latest reusable missiles and deploy global satellite networks will be realized.
At the beginning of the SDI program, Richard Deloyer, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said that in the face of an unlimited increase in Soviet nuclear warheads, any missile defense system would be inoperative. The problem is that now our nuclear triad is pretty much “squeezed” by the START-3 strategic nuclear arms limitation treaty, which is due to end on February 5, 2021. What agreement will replace him, and whether it will come at all, is still unknown.