The X-47B drones fit very well into the concept of a global strike. Reuters Photos
A few hours before President Barack Obama called for a further reduction of nuclear weapons in Berlin, President Vladimir Putin delivered a “preemptive” counter-argument to 19 on June 2013. He stated: “We see that non-nuclear systems of high-precision weapons. In terms of their impact capabilities, they are approaching strategic nuclear weapons. States possessing such systems seriously increase their offensive potential. ”
There is no doubt that Putin primarily meant the United States. The Russian strategic community has repeatedly expressed concern that American high-precision conventional weapons may pose a danger to the country's nuclear forces. The question of "strategic non-nuclear weapons", apparently, will be one of the main themes in future arms control negotiations. Moreover, if a crisis arises in relations between the US and Russia that is serious enough to consider the possibility of using nuclear weapons, the fear of non-nuclear counter-force weapons could trigger a first nuclear strike.
In this regard, Russian officials and experts pay special attention to one American program in the field of developing conventional weapons, called “Non-nuclear rapid global strike” (NBGU), an initiative to develop long-range non-nuclear weapons capable of hitting targets at a short time.
In particular, in 2007, Anatoly Antonov, then director of the security and disarmament department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, noted that the concept of a quick global strike (as the NBGU program was called at that time) "becomes a tool for acquiring political and strategic domination in the world. "
In turn, the Obama administration states that the NBGU "will not adversely affect the stability of our relations with Russia and China in the nuclear sphere." Indeed, although both the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration talked about the possibility of using the weapons created within the NBGU against the enemy’s nuclear forces, the only potential targets mentioned in this regard are North Korea and Iran if it becomes a nuclear power, or when such a specification was inappropriate - “destructive states” or “regional opponents” (in the jargon of the US military, Russia is called differently “almost equal competitor”). Moreover, the idea of replacing a significant number of nuclear weapons with conventional ones, which never had much support in the US government, has now completely lost its popularity. To avoid ambiguities, I note: the United States has a long-term interest in creating conventional weapons for use in cases where even limited nuclear strikes are impossible, but large-scale replacement of nuclear weapons with non-nuclear weapons is a completely different matter.
Nevertheless, it is obvious: Moscow is not convinced that the NBGU will not undermine its nuclear deterrent. This raises questions: can the NBGU technically pose a threat to Russian nuclear forces, and how politically can Russia and the United States establish cooperation to strengthen mutual security?
WHAT IS IT NON-NUCLEAR FAST GLOBAL IMPACT?
The goal of the NBGU program is often the creation of high-precision conventional long-range weapons capable of hitting a target anywhere in the world within an hour. However, today the focus of the program has shifted towards the development of systems that do not have global coverage. At the moment, almost all funding is allocated for the creation of a "new generation" hypersonic weapon - a planning combat unit designed for flying in the upper atmosphere and accelerated by a launch vehicle to a hypersonic speed (at least five times higher than the speed of sound). In case of adopting a new generation hypersonic weapon system, it will be based on land and sea and have a range of 8 thousands of kilometers. In the last United States military budget, funding for the development of a more well-known global action system — a rocket-planning vehicle called Hypersonic 2 — after two failed flight tests, reduced to almost zero, and the project’s status has been reduced to “technology risk mitigation program” .
Currently, the NBGU program is at the R & D stage. Decisions on the adoption of this system into service yet. However, the Obama administration makes it clear that it intends to decide on its acquisition in the next few years.
When (and if) the process of making such a decision begins, the new generation hypersonic weapon will most likely not be the only system under consideration. By some indications, the Obama administration is exploring the creation of a new sea-based intermediate-range ballistic missile that could be equipped with a guided, maneuvering, but not planning warhead. Perhaps, the adoption of hypersonic cruise missiles developed under a separate program administratively unrelated to NBGU will be considered. Finally, since the Obama administration is committed to the principle of competition in defense procurement, the military industry may offer other ideas.
In addition, given the austerity measures currently being implemented in the United States, there is a possibility that the program will be closed either by the administration or by Congress. Although the Congress as a whole supports the concept of the NBGU, it has a very negative attitude towards a number of specific projects in this field (including the re-equipment of the Trident-D5 ballistic missiles for non-nuclear warheads). There are no guarantees that lawmakers authorize allocations for the purchase of such weapons. And even if the system is put into service, its deployment is likely to begin no earlier than the middle of the 2020-s.
DOES THE NBGU WEAPON ARE THREATEN TO A THREAT FOR MINES OF THE RUSSIAN RVSN?
The ongoing US debate about the use of NBGU facilities against fortified or deep-seated targets invariably raises concerns in Russia regarding the survival of its mine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Penetrating warheads on the means of NBGU will have one serious advantage and one serious drawback compared to air bombs, for example, GBU-57, better known as “High-Power Penetrating Ammunition”. This bomb is said to be capable of penetrating up to 20 meters of concrete and is the most effective non-nuclear concrete weapons in the US arsenal. The advantage of warheads delivered to the target by means of NBGU is much greater speed. According to my calculations, they will be able to break through from 30 to 40 meters of concrete. The disadvantage is associated with a relatively small amount of non-nuclear explosives that they can carry (probably 10 times smaller than that of GBU-57), because of which their destructive effect will be much weaker.
A penetrating ammunition can destroy a silo-based missile by breaking through the mine cover and exploding in its barrel. The protective covers of the mines of the Russian PC-20 (SS-18) missiles are reported to be 1-meter thick and consist mainly of reinforced concrete. Thus, it is very unlikely that this cover could provide protection against penetrating ammunition (whether it be an aerial bomb or a NBGU combat unit). As a result, it can be assumed that a direct hit in the launch shaft will lead to the destruction of the rocket.
It is more difficult to answer another question: if there is no direct hit, at what distance should the penetrating ammunition from the mine explode to destroy its contents? In the end, the mine is a small target, and it is difficult to hit it precisely (for example, the radius of the PC-20 shaft, according to the available data, is just the 2,95 meter).
Even without hitting the shaft, the penetrating ammunition can cause serious damage to it by breaking into the surrounding concrete or rock, where its non-nuclear charge will explode. When detonation at the optimal depth, a rather large funnel is formed. Experiments have shown that an explosion in the GBU-57 rock forms a crater with a radius of up to 8 meters, whereas the funnel when detonating penetrating ammunition delivered by means of NBGU is less than two times less. This difference suggests that, with equal accuracy, GBU-57 is likely to be a more effective means of defeating mines than the NBGU weapons (the graph shows the probability of hitting the target, depending on the accuracy of the hit for both systems).
In terms of the exact level of threat that the NBGU weapon will pose to the mines, these approximate calculations suggest that for destruction with a probability of 90% ICBM of a mine-based base, accuracy is required in the area of 3 meters. This accuracy can be achieved in ideal hover conditions using the global positioning system (GPS). However, in a crisis or during a war, Russia is likely to try to drown out the GPS signals with interference. In this case, much will depend on the effectiveness of US measures to counteract interference and on the possibility of equipping the NBGU weapon with additional guidance systems - both of which represent a complex technical challenge.
Another problem with the use of weapons NBGU against missile mines will be overcoming air defense and missile defense. Enhance the combat survivability of weapons NBGU will be based on its high speed. But if the speed of the penetrating ammunition when entering the target is too high (more than 1000 meters per second), when in contact with the ground it can undergo a significant deformation and even collapse, which will significantly reduce its combat effectiveness. For this reason, NBGU systems equipped with penetrating warheads will have to slow down significantly when approaching the target compared to cruising speed, which will increase their vulnerability and the possibility of their interception.
Thus, there is good reason to doubt that the weapons of the NBGU will pose a serious threat to Russian rocket mines. Of course, even in this case, such a threat may come from other types of conventional weapons. As Russian analyst Evgeny Myasnikov notes, theoretically, various types of non-nuclear warheads can be used against mines, including cumulative warheads on cruise missiles, and the effectiveness of each system should be analyzed separately. However, given the political importance of the NBGU program, the conclusion that the armaments created within its framework will not be guaranteed to endanger rocket mines are not without importance.
DOES THE NBGU WEAPON ARE THREATEN TO RUSSIAN ICBM?
Hypersonic missiles X-51 under the wing of the B-52 are already being tested at the Edwards Air Force Base near Washington.
Of the approximately 1050 land-based strategic nuclear warheads that Russia possesses, about 20% are deployed on mobile launchers. Difficulties associated with the task of defeating mobile missile systems were most evident during the "big hunt for the Scuds during the 1991 war against Iraq. Then aviation The United States failed to achieve a single confirmed target hit when striking targets associated with such missiles, despite 1460 sorties carried out directly to defeat them. Since then, the effectiveness of US forces and means to combat mobile goals has improved significantly. However, there is still good reason to doubt that American intelligence and surveillance systems capable of operating from outside the theater of operations can detect and track moving missile systems with sufficient reliability to ensure their effective destruction (although, of course, due to the high secrecy of these systems, any discussion of their capabilities is necessarily very approximate).
The most promising means of tracking mobile missiles over long distances are satellite radars. Although the United States currently does not have a sufficient number of such satellites, their required number is not so large that these systems cannot be deployed. Over the past 15 years, a number of plans have been developed in the United States to create a group of satellite radars that can monitor most of the planet’s territory almost continuously. In a very significant report on the NBGU, prepared in 2008 on behalf of Congress, the National Science Council of the National Academies of the United States noted that the last of these programs, “Space Radar”, should increase the US’s ability to identify mobile targets from “episodic” to “relatively reliable. " However, in the same year, 2008, the program was closed: obviously, this happened between the end of the work on the report and its publication. To all appearances, no other replacement program appeared to her, and, given the current financial realities, it is unlikely to appear.
In the foreseeable future, the only real means of detecting and tracking mobile missiles will remain airborne: manned and unmanned aerial vehicles. However, against Russia, a huge state with a highly developed air defense system, such an approach is unlikely to be effective (especially after plans to replace aging E-8 aircraft with a single JSTARS radar monitoring, targeting and fire control system) were recently laid down. In short, if the US does not develop a reliable system for detecting and tracking mobile targets, the NBGU armament — or any other high-precision weapon systems — is unlikely to pose a serious threat to Russian mobile nuclear forces after their dispersal.
POSSIBLE OPTIONS FOR ACTION
Despite all these technical arguments, the views of American and Russian strategic planners on the degree of threat that NBGU and other high-precision conventional weapons represent to Russia's nuclear forces differ significantly. In part, this is almost certainly due to the difference in the initial assumptions of each of the parties. The Russian side is obviously worried about the possibility of a sudden non-nuclear strike in peacetime, when GPS interference is not turned on, the air defense system is not on high alert, and mobile missiles are not dispersed. American experts, if they even think about the preparation of such a strike, on the contrary, should proceed from the assumption that the Russian Armed Forces will be on high alert. Practical measures are needed to create confidence on the Russian side that the NBGU system will not pose a threat to its nuclear forces.
Ultimately, the most effective way for Moscow to ensure the survival of its nuclear forces in the context of improving conventional armaments in the United States is to act on the principle of "help yourself." In particular, the analysis carried out above suggests that dispersed mobile ICBMs are more likely to survive than mine-based missiles. Moreover, if any system of conventional weapons can create a serious danger for missile mines, the problem will only worsen when equipping mine-based missiles with multiply charged warheads. For this reason, the Russian side should consider whether it is in its true interests to develop a new, heavy mine-based ICBM with a split head, or it is better to continue investing in new mobile complexes. In addition, Russia could consider the issue of transferring some small part of its mobile ICBMs to the regime of constant increased combat readiness, even in peacetime.
It is also possible to implement a number of joint measures in order to increase confidence that the deployment of the NBGU American system will not adversely affect the survival of Russian nuclear forces. One of the most effective means of building confidence would be to include all the weapons of NBGU in the standings under the new Russian-American arms control treaty. However, since the existing disagreements on the missile defense system are still not resolved, the likelihood of concluding such an agreement is small, which means that at least in the near future this way of solving the NBGU problem will not be possible.
Fortunately, there are other options for possible cooperation. The top priority is to establish a dialogue between Washington and Moscow on the NBGU. Since the program has not yet left the R & D stage, there is also political ground for Russia to explain to the United States the reasons for its concern and for the United States to develop this program in such a way that it represents a lesser threat to Russia. This does not mean that the United States should give Russia the right to veto the issue of adopting NBGU systems. The point is that the Obama administration can be flexible about how this program will be implemented.
Within the framework of this dialogue, individual confidence-building measures could also be developed, for example, data exchange, declarations and joint research. Other steps, such as launch notifications and inspections, could eliminate other potential risks associated with NBGU, including the possibility that Russia would mistakenly accept NBGU as a complex equipped with nuclear weapons.
Confidence-building measures could be legally or politically binding, and they can be reconciled in a relatively short time. Another advantage of this approach is that some of these measures are suitable for spreading to other non-nuclear forces and means, in particular, to long-range cruise missiles. The United States, of course, will not agree to establish binding limits on these weapons, however, given the work being done in Russia in this area, they are interested in increasing transparency in this area. As a result, a number of confidence-building measures, for example, data exchange, restrictions on basing, notifications of movements of relevant weapons could be mutual, and therefore, and undoubtedly mutually beneficial.
The exchange of data on high-precision weapons, including cruise missiles and NBGU systems, could cover information about their acquisition and deployment. On the first question, the parties can agree on the exchange of information regarding plans for the procurement of agreed types of high-precision conventional weapons, for example, for the next five years. It would be possible to agree on a preliminary, for example, a year, notification of changes in such plans. At the same time, three Russian analysts: Alexei Arbatov, Vladimir Dvorkin, Sergey Oznobishchev - proposed to exchange data on the practice of deploying high-precision weapons on ships, submarines and airplanes. This can be achieved, for example, by exchanging data on a number of types of high-precision conventional weapons deployed in certain theaters.
Collaboration measures would help resolve any technical disagreements between Russia and the United States on the threat to launching mines from high-precision conventional weapons, for example, cruise missiles or NBGU systems. In particular, in order to try to address concerns on this issue, the US Academy of Sciences and Russia could conduct a joint study. If it does not resolve the differences, joint experiments may become the next step, for example, a real explosion of such an ammunition next to a mock-up simulating a mine cover.
Confidence-building measures are useful, regardless of whether the United States and Russia succeed in concluding a new arms control treaty. Moreover, by launching a cooperation mechanism and proceeding to the settlement of controversial issues, they will increase the chances of reaching such an agreement.
There is a real danger that the situation with long-standing disagreements between the United States and Russia over missile defense will reoccur in relation to the NBGU and, possibly, other high-precision conventional weapons. The analogies are obvious here. Both missile defense and non-nuclear strategic weapons cause deep concern in the Russian strategic community regarding the survival of the country's nuclear forces. And in both cases, the consequences of this concern are reflected in bilateral relations as a whole.
If the creation of the US missile defense system will continue to proceed more slowly than expected (as evidenced, in particular, by the recent abolition of the fourth phase of plans as part of the “Phased Flexible Approach for Europe”), high-precision conventional weapons may take the place of anti-missile defense as a major irritant strategic relations of Russia and the United States. Preventing such a result, of course, is in the interests of Moscow and Washington.
Fortunately, in terms of finding solutions between the NBGU and the missile defense program, there is one major difference: the first is still at the R & D stage. The decision on adopting any NBGU systems has not been achieved, and their deployment, if it takes place at all, will begin no earlier than ten years from now. As a result, the likelihood of successful cooperation on this issue is higher than on an ABM system that is already being deployed. However, this window of opportunity will not remain open forever. Russia and the United States should use it as soon as possible.