Recently, the theme of "superweapon" has repeatedly slipped in the speeches of US President Donald Trump. It is difficult to say what this is connected with: economic problems and the possibility of impeachment of the US president himself or with the real appearance of breakthrough weapons. Let's try to figure out what's what.
It is necessary to immediately make a reservation: the author does not have access to secret intelligence information, therefore, it will not work to talk about the "black" programs of the US Department of Defense, all assumptions are based on open sources.
“We are creating submarines that no one could even imagine”,
- said the American leader, expressing the hope that the United States will never have to use them.
What can be talked about in this statement by Donald trump? In the United States, a new SSBN (nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine) of the Columbia type is being developed. However, the commissioning of the lead boat of the Columbia type is planned only in 2031.
Images promising American SSBN type "Columbia"
Much closer to the commissioning of multipurpose nuclear submarines (nuclear submarines) type "Virginia" "block V". It would seem that the Virginia nuclear submarine is difficult to attribute to a “superweapon” - this is a common, albeit very advanced multi-purpose nuclear submarine, but there is one caveat.
Starting with the “Block V” modification, an additional 21-meter-long VPM (Virginia Payload Module) armament compartment will be installed on the Virginia submarine, including four vertical shafts that can accommodate 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles or other weapons and special equipment, which fits into the dimensions of the compartments.
Image of the Virginia Submarine V Block and VPM Bay
Armaments that can be deployed on the Virginia V-block nuclear submarine include advanced missiles created under the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, equipped with the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) guided planning hypersonic warhead Sandia National Laboratories, US Department of Energy, with the participation of the United States Agency for Missile Defense.
Image of the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) Managed Planning Hypersonic Warhead
On C-HGB trials, a speed of 8 Mach was reached. According to various estimates, the range of the C-HGB can be about 3000-6000 kilometers. The VPM bay will receive at least nine Virginia Block V submarines. Located in the ocean, in strategically important regions, Virginia-type V-block submarines equipped with CPS missiles with C-HGB guided planning hypersonic warheads can become an important element of the Prompt Global Strike system, which implies the ability of the armed forces US within an hour to strike a non-nuclear weapons on the target anywhere in the world. It is likely that by “inconceivable submarine” the US president was referring to the Virginia submarine “block V” with CPS hypersonic weapons.
The appearance of the Virginia-class V-bay subunit “block V” is to some extent a step towards the unification of multipurpose submarines and SSBNs with intercontinental ballistic missiles, which we discussed in the article “The evolution of the nuclear triad: prospects for the development of the marine component of the strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation”. The unification of multipurpose nuclear submarines and SSBNs can significantly increase the survivability of the underwater component of the nuclear triad, which is especially important for Russian strategic nuclear forces (SNF).
The Russian response to the Virginia nuclear submarine “block V” with hypersonic weapons is multipurpose nuclear submarines of Project 885 (M) Severodvinsk with hypersonic missiles of the Zircon complex. Compared to the US project, the Severodvinsk + Zircon link will have a shorter range — approximately 500-1000 kilometers, compared to the estimated 3000-6000 for the Virginia submarine “block V” + CPS at comparable speed. Presumably, the Zircon missile can surpass the CPS project due to the presence of a ramjet engine on the Zircon, the use of which will give the missile great energy and the ability to actively maneuver along the trajectory. However, because of the secrecy surrounding the project, it is impossible to completely exclude the version that the Zircon is also a solid fuel rocket equipped with a controllable planning hypersonic unit.
“I call it super-super-racket. And I heard that it is seventeen times faster than those that are now, if we take for comparison the fastest missile that is now available. "
(US President Donald Trump.)
As for the “super-super-launch”, the expert opinion is almost unambiguous: this is an air-launched hypersonic missile AGM-183A of the ARRW project (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon). The estimated speed of the AGM-183A should be about 17-20 Mach, flight range - about 800-1000 kilometers.
The airborne hypersonic missile AGM-183A is a cross between the Russian Dagger and Avangard complexes - a guided planning hypersonic unit is installed on a rocket with a solid propellant jet engine. The launch mass of the rocket is about 3-3,5 tons. Thus, the dimensions and mass of the AGM-183A are significantly smaller than that of the CPS-launched missile, respectively, and the guided planning hypersonic unit and the AGM-183A missiles are significantly smaller than the C-HGB.
Image of an airborne hypersonic missile AGM-183A
As the carrier of the AGM-183A, the B-1B supersonic bomber, on which 31 AGM-183A missiles can be placed, is primarily considered. The B-1B bomber complex + AGM-183A missile will pose a serious threat to any enemy.
Supersonic bomber B-1B
A direct and symmetrical Russian response to the B-1B bomber complex + AGM-183A missile can become equipping the strategic bomber of the Tu-160M missile carrier with a hypersonic missile of the Dagger complex, and in the future, a hypersonic rocket of the Zircon complex.
In the future, it is planned to place the AGM-183A missile on other carriers: tactical aircraft aviation F-15E / EX Strike Eagle, B-52H bomber, and of course on the latest strategic bomber B-21 Raider, which is planned to be adopted by 2025-2030.
Image of bomber B-21 Raider
Blow from space
“Soon we will land on Mars, and we will have the greatest weapons in stories. I have already seen the development, even I can’t believe it. "
“You cannot be number one on Earth if you are number two in space.”
“You cannot be number one on Earth if you are number two in space.”
(From a speech by US President Donald Trump on May 30, 2020, made after the launch of the Crew Dragon manned spacecraft.)
One cannot disagree with this phrase. If there is no global catastrophe, world nuclear war or other crisis of comparable magnitude, then in the 1st century, humanity will significantly increase its presence in space. The cornerstone of this process could be SpaceX's super-heavy reusable BFR launch vehicle (LV). And if Ilon Mask’s plans to reduce the cost of putting goods into orbit by 2 orders of magnitude come true, this will revolutionize space exploration, and saturation of outer space with shock systems for various purposes will be inevitable.
However, it is far from a fact that the American president had in mind any weapon based on the BFR LV (although this cannot be completely ruled out either), since at the moment there is no 100% certainty that the BFR project will be implemented: in case of serious technical difficulties, Musk can abandon the BFR and continue to slowly improve its Falcon family “workhorse”, including the Falcon Heavy version, as well as the Dragon spaceship in the cargo and manned versions.
It cannot be ruled out that the possibility of putting payload into orbit at a reduced cost offered by SpaceX has already spurred the US military to accelerate the development of space-to-space and space-to-surface weapons. SpaceX representatives have repeatedly stated their willingness to participate in US space defense programs.
“SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynn Shotwell during the annual press conference of the US Air Force announced that the company is ready to participate in the deployment of weapons in space to protect the United States.”
Do not forget about the American unmanned spacecraft Boeing X-37, the conclusion of which into orbit is possible (and was carried out) including with the help of the SpaceX Falcon launch vehicle. The United States has two Boeing X-37B spaceships made for the US Air Force. A distinctive feature of the Boeing X-37B is the ability to long-term autonomous stay in orbit - at the moment, the maximum flight duration of the Boeing X-37B is 780 days.
Boeing X-37 (B)
Another important feature of the Boeing X-37B is the ability to maneuver and vigorously change its orbit in the altitude range of 200-750 kilometers. The airtight cargo compartment of the Boeing X-37B measuring 2,1 x 1,2 meters can accommodate 900 kilograms of payload.
Large-scale projections of the Boeing X-37B
Can I place strike weapons on the Boeing X-37B? The dimensions of the cargo compartment of the Boeing X-37B fully allow the placement of a guided planning hypersonic warhead C-HGB. The mass of C-HGB should be somewhere around a ton. Even less should be the mass of the planned planning hypersonic warhead AGM-183A - about 500 kilograms, taking into account the fact that the entire AGM-183A missile should weigh about 3-3,5 tons.
Full-size mock-up of the promising American universal hypersonic maneuverable combat unit Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB)
Thus, theoretically, the Boeing X-37B could well carry one controllable planning hypersonic warhead and strike it from the lowest point of its trajectory from a height of about 200 kilometers. Undoubtedly, the controllable planning hypersonic warhead should be modified by the compartment for preliminary orientation in space and the vault from orbit, but it will obviously be easier than from scratch to build orbital strike platforms of the "Wands of God" type.
Improvements to the guided planning hypersonic warhead may require larger cargo volumes than the X-37B can provide, but in this case, Boeing may return to the project of the increased X-37C space plan, the dimensions of which should be 165-180% of the X-37B. The launch into orbit of the X-37C may well be carried out by the Falcon Heavy.
Launch of the Falcon Heavy
Given that most elements of the Falcon 9 + X-37B or Falcon Heavy + X-37C ligament are reusable, this method of placing space-to-surface weapons can be economically the least expensive up to the appearance of a BFR.
The spacecraft X-37B / C can carry out continuous duty in orbit for two years, followed by return for maintenance of the carrier itself and its payload. In addition, the ability of the X-37B / C to maneuver and change its orbit can help it evade anti-satellite weapons launched from the surface.
Do you need weapons of the space-to-surface class? After all, a quick global strike could well be delivered using intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in non-nuclear equipment or guided planning hypersonic warheads launched from multipurpose nuclear submarines, strategic bombers or ground platforms.
It is necessary and extremely important. Space weapons are just beginning their journey. In terms of development, they are like the first TanksWright brothers plane or the first reactive "ugly ducklings". And the one who will dominate in the field of space weapons will dominate the surface of the planet. To win a large-scale conflict without gaining superiority or at least the ability to ensure parity in space will be impossible - only limited irregular conflicts.
In relation to the current situation, the placement of guided planning hypersonic warheads on a maneuverable orbital carrier will allow delivering sudden, difficult to predict attacks. Contrary to popular belief, no country in the world has continuous round-the-clock monitoring of outer space around the planet.
Orbital strike platforms can be the first strike weapon to hit targets of special importance.. The delivery of hypersonic weapons by aviation requires a lot of time, the launch of a ballistic missile with a guided planning hypersonic warhead is likely to be seen from orbit by missile attack satellites, the group of which includes four “Tundra” satellites, which seem to have already been deployed by the Russian armed forces.
Moreover, it is far from a fact that, even knowing the location of the space carrier in orbit, it will be possible to notice the discharge of a controlled planning hypersonic warhead made using low visibility technologies. In outer space, the camouflage shell can be optimized to minimize the effective dispersion surface without taking aerodynamic requirements into account, and after entering the dense atmosphere, the camouflage shell will burn, exposing a heat shield that is optimized from the point of view of aerodynamics.
As already mentioned at the beginning of the article, without access to classified data of the US armed forces, it is possible to make assumptions on the topic of what the US president meant “the greatest weapons in history” with a high proportion of assumptions. However, we recall the phrase of Donald trump: "I have already seen the development, even I can not believe it." Perhaps the wait for the appearance of the American "superweapon" is not long.