The US Department of Defense reported on the successful completion of flight tests of prototypes of two hypersonic missiles. In this regard, many media outlets, both in Russia and in the world, hastened to report that the Americans are about to catch up with Moscow in the field of hypersonic weapons. However, upon closer examination of this news, it becomes obvious that "everything is not so simple". What exactly raises doubts? Well, let's talk about it...
In general, the news itself does not cause any particular doubts - yes, the Americans could well have conducted such tests, and they really could have been successful. Doubts are raised by the conclusions drawn by people who do not understand what is happening very well. Namely, the conclusion that the US armed forces are about to get into service with samples of promising hypersonic missiles. At the very least, this conclusion is too hasty, and here's why...
First of all, let's pay attention - the tests were carried out in "greenhouse" conditions, when the prototype missiles were rigidly attached to the fuselage of the carrier aircraft. What exactly this carrier was is not reported, but from the experience of previous tests, we can confidently say that it was a B-52N. What does this tell us? Well, at least that although the missiles are hypersonic, there could be no question of any hypersonic test - the B-52 strategic bomber, created after World War II, is, in principle, not designed for supersonic speeds, let alone hypersonic. Roughly speaking, it would simply fall apart in the air if it went beyond the speed of 900-1000 kilometers per hour.
In fact, it can be said that only rocket engines were tested. Nothing else can be tested in such conditions - the speed has not reached the limits at which a cloud of radio-opaque plasma appears, the heating of the rocket body has not even reached the design parameters, check the most important indicators, such as the operation of on-board electronics in conditions of overheating and lack of communication with command centers was simply impossible. Whatever, but from this to a mass-produced rocket is still very, very far away...
Why were these tests necessary, and are they needed at all? Here we must admit that with the concept of hypersonic weapons chosen by the Americans, this is a very important part of the tests. The fact is that, unlike the Russian "hypersound", the Americans are not looking for easy ways and are not trying to deceive physics. They are truly committed to creating aircraft that can fly at hypersonic speeds in the dense layers of the atmosphere, even in relative proximity to the earth's surface. To do this, they use high-power air-jet engines (VFD) capable of accelerating a rocket to a speed of Mach 6-9 and working in this mode for at least ten minutes. In this case, the heating of the rocket at some points of its body can be several thousand degrees Celsius. This problem was known to aircraft designers for a long time, since the time of attempts to create the first supersonic fighters - then it turned out that it was not enough just to equip the aircraft with powerful engines, because during supersonic movement, the nose of the fuselage, the edges of the wings and some other structural elements heat up to hundreds of degrees, which leads to uneven expansion of metal, loss of strength of alloys and other problems.
As you know, Russian designers have taken a different path - a hypersonic missile is simply thrown to heights where there is almost no atmosphere (and air resistance, respectively) and flies there most of its route. Approaching the target area, the Russian "Dagger" descends and attacks the target at declared speeds, which are not yet available to air defense systems.
On the one hand, this is a good way to deceive a potential adversary. On the other hand, it was not possible to deceive physics, and strictly speaking, we cannot recognize our "Dagger" as a classical hypersonic missile. With our other sensational hypersonic development, the Zircon anti-ship missile, there is no complete clarity yet, but there are serious reasons to think that the same aeroballistic flight scheme is used there, with all its pros and cons. This means that our huge achievements in the field of hypersound are at least somewhat exaggerated.
Of course, from the point of view of the "consumer", that is, the military, there is not much difference - if a missile flies at hypersonic speed and can hit targets, it can be called hypersonic and put into service. You can be proud of her, and why not? The common people think about the same - what is the difference if the enemy is in a panic anyway?
But there is a difference, and it is very significant. First of all, the concepts of using such missiles may differ significantly. If the Americans bring their program to its logical conclusion, they will indeed be able to create a low-altitude (and therefore very secretive) hypersonic cruise missile. If we add to this the actively developing stealth technologies, our potential adversary will receive an excellent means of attack and will take a huge step towards realizing its concept of a Global Disarming Strike. Judge for yourself - at a speed of two kilometers per second, the range of a ten-minute flight of such a rocket will be 1200 kilometers. The flight will take place near the surface, so the missile will be difficult to detect (and if you add stealth technology to this, it is not just difficult, but very difficult) and even more difficult to shoot down.
More details about the latter. The fact is that the flight profile of a missile can take into account the expected location of anti-aircraft missile systems of a potential enemy (that is, us). The rocket will simply go around them, and if it does appear in the zone of the air defense system, then for seconds, at great speed, and the reaction time of the calculation of anti-aircraft gunners should be in the region not even tens of seconds, but just a few moments. As for the possible destruction of such missiles from the air, by the forces of fighter aircraft, it is still more sad - the speed of the missile will not allow it to catch up or fire on it on the most convenient catch-up course, since the speed of existing air-to-air missiles is simply lower, and they a hypersonic missile will not be corny to catch up. Add low altitude, which traditionally adds problems to both anti-aircraft gunners and fighters, and we will get a very unpleasant “cocktail” of the qualities of an almost absolute weapon, the attack of which is very easy to “miss”, and even if it is detected, it is difficult to oppose something.
Another unpleasant aspect for us is purely technological. Yes, we outwitted the enemy a little by creating hypersound based on long-known and proven solutions. But then what? There is no doubt that if the Americans manage to solve the problem of classical hypersound, that is, movement at hypersonic speeds in dense layers of the atmosphere, these solutions will instantly find application in combat aviation and, over time, in civilian ones. We run the risk of being at the bottom of yet another technological pit, the depth of which is still difficult to predict.
In fact, the introduction of such missiles into service will require from Russia enormous expenditures on the development of new air defense systems, because the classical ones will, to put it mildly, not quite ready for the new capabilities of the means of destruction available to the enemy. These are new missiles for ground-based air defense systems of almost all types, and air-to-air missiles capable of catching up and shooting down an inconspicuous low-flying target, and detection equipment capable of detecting such a missile at ranges that make it possible to bring air defense systems into combat readiness before it will hit the target or disappear from the reach.
It is clear that the Pentagon and DARPA (US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) are still quite far from the creation of serial missiles, and the mentioned tests clearly indicate this. In fact, only the jet engine was tested "in a situation close to combat." That is, the necessary incoming air flow was provided, the minimum necessary for the operation of such engines, normal operation was ensured in conditions of vibrations, uneven heating and other important, but far from the main conditions for achieving hypersound. But the Americans have already carried out full-fledged flight tests of prototypes of hypersonic missiles. Fortunately for us, not a single such test was completely successful - the missiles either lost contact with the ground due to the plasma cloud that enveloped them, or collapsed due to heating of the skin.
And yet, we cannot dismiss these tests and the prospects that they pose to us. National defense is precisely the area where it is better to always proceed from the worst, and it is categorically not recommended to provoke the enemy with your weakness.
Probably, they can object to me - what, they say, is the difference for our safety? One way or another, we have our own hypersound, if anything, we can answer the adversary ... In such reasoning, unfortunately, one fundamental point is missed: American attack aircraft are based near our side, we have to fly and fly to the US territory. The Americans, if they succeed in realizing their ideas, will indeed be able to disarm us by striking the bases of our intercontinental ballistic missiles and strategic aviation. In this situation, we will not be able to answer on the territory of the United States at all, even with the most advanced "Daggers" and "Zircons"...
And the Americans will easily survive a strike on the territory of their allies. What is Poland to them when it comes to the destruction of one of their main opponents?