Hypersonic arms race: visionary China is on par with its opponents
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Hypersonic arms race: visionary China is on par with its opponents

26 October , 15:14
Just a few days ago, China showed another novelty in the field of weapons - the latest version of its H-6N strategic bomber in conjunction with a hypersonic missile.

Victor Kuzovkov

If the bomber itself, which is a licensed copy of the old Soviet Tu-16, is of great interest only to specialized specialists, then its hypersonic missile really looks worthy of attention.

Presumably (and even very likely), we are talking about an air-launched ballistic missile, or an aeroballistic missile equipped with a hypersonic gliding unit. In the media, it is known as DF-ZF, and its alleged characteristics are impressive - a range of 1800-2500 kilometers, the speed of the warhead in the final section of Mach 5-6, the rocket can carry a sufficiently powerful b / h of both conventional and nuclear types. Therefore, some experts hastened to declare the complete superiority of this missile over its Russian counterpart, the Kinzhal hypersonic aeroballistic missile.

Let's not rush to conclusions and first try to figure out whether China has really reached such heights in curbing the hypersonic element that it was able to overtake Russia? It is also interesting how correct this comparison itself is, because the range and mass of the warhead are important, but not the only parameters.

First of all, we note that China long ago, even before modern Russia, began serious research in the field of combat hypersound. Moscow, on the other hand, returned to a serious extent to Soviet developments in this area only after 2006, which allowed Beijing, at least, to significantly reduce the existing gap. Moreover, some experts note that without the aforementioned Soviet developments, Moscow would now be in the role of hopelessly lagging behind, not only from the United States, but also from China.

It is also noteworthy that at the moment the PRC has several "products" at once, to one degree or another related to hypersound. According to the estimates of Chinese observers and experts, such hypersonic missiles or warheads as WU-14, or DF-ZF, Xingun-2 (Starry Sky-2), Dongfeng-17 are now very close to being put into service. , "Dongfeng-21D" and three small rockets - D18-1S, D18-2S, D18-3S. Presumably, the aforementioned "small missiles" can be used as warheads of more complex and long-range complexes, so let no one be confused by the word "small" - their range in conjunction with a medium-range missile can amount to thousands of kilometers.

The Sinkun-2 system, which is already called an analogue of the Russian Zircon, deserves a separate mention. True, this is not so much connected with the performance characteristics of the rocket, but with the main task for which it was developed. This, as you might guess, is the destruction of American aircraft carriers and strike aircraft carrier groups.

"Sinkun-2" may become the main strike complex of the Chinese Navy, since, according to available information, it is being developed for use from a standard vertical launch launcher used on Chinese surface ships. In the future, it is possible to deploy this missile on Chinese submarines. In this it is similar to the Russian "Zircon" - similar tasks dictate and similar ways of solving them.

But the differences between the complexes are very significant: the speed achieved by the Chinese missile is significantly lower than the Russian "analogue" and is "only" 5-6 Mach numbers. And these are test launches, the results of which on serial copies will be very difficult to repeat. During the tests, Sinkun-2 flew about a thousand kilometers at an altitude of 30,000 meters, which clearly marks it as a classic hypersonic complex, moving, albeit in rarefied, but still rather dense layers of the atmosphere due to a hypersonic ramjet engine. This clearly translates it into a different class compared to the Russian systems Kinzhal and Avangard: it is neither better nor worse, but simply different.

But it is worth noting its not very high speed. Mach 5-6 at the moment looks like an impressive figure, but only as long as the old generations of anti-aircraft missiles are in use. It should be remembered that the American Patriot air defense systems were quite confident in shooting down Iraqi Scud ballistic missiles even during Operation Desert Storm, and they flew on the final segment of the trajectory at Mach 6. That is, the computing power of the air defense missile system and the speed of the missiles already then, thirty years ago, were quite enough to ensure the meeting of the latter with the Scud warhead. Now, the ability to maneuver has been added to the speed of the attacking missile, so it is very likely that old interceptor missiles will remain out of work. But the emergence of new air defense and missile defense systems can be expected with almost "iron" probability, especially since, according to available information, the S-500 system expected soon will be able to deal with maneuvering targets flying at the mentioned speeds or even a little faster. And if we can, then surely the Americans can. Or maybe it is already able to shoot down such targets, just because of the secrecy of information about this, there is not very much so far...

A serious advantage of Russia is the presence of such carriers of hypersonic systems as the MiG-31K, Tu-22M3, and in the future, apparently, the Tu-160. The fact is that due to the high speed and altitude of the supersonic launch vehicles, the rocket saves a lot of fuel at launch, because the launch vehicle takes over the main work. This allows you to maximize the range of missiles - Kinzhal after launching under optimal conditions is able to independently fly 1300 kilometers (2000 along with the recommended range of the carrier, that is, the MiG-31K), while its ground prototype, Iskander OTRK, is designed for a range only 500 km. The Chinese are forced to use a not very modern, subsonic bomber H-6N. On the one hand, this does not give any special advantages when launching, but on the other hand, the aircraft's carrying capacity allows you not to be very shy with the weight characteristics of the strike complex, and besides, it adds its own, rather rather large, bomber flight range of 6000 kilometers. True, it is not easy to realize this range in conditions of active counteraction by enemy fighter aircraft, but this is a separate topic...

The question of homing systems also remains open. Alas, the plasma opaque to radio waves enveloping a hypersonic missile at maximum speeds makes it very difficult to use the usual homing systems for hypersonic anti-ship missiles. This problem is relevant for all major players in the field of hypersound, including Russia. Moreover, the difficulties with the guidance systems of the Kinzhal and Zircon complexes have been talked about almost since the appearance of these systems, and it is not yet entirely clear how they could be overcome. However, we will not insist - the topic is very sensitive, and if the problem is nevertheless solved, then let this issue continue, like plasma, envelop a cloud of secrecy.

Nevertheless, some observers note that China has not yet solved all the problems with the creation of radar homing systems, including those for quite conventional ammunition. If this is so (and here you can doubt both the official data and the opinion of third-party experts), then it is not entirely clear how the mentioned problem was solved in hypersonic systems. Again, unofficially, but persistently, there is talk that Chinese hypersonic systems can slow down at the very last leg of the trajectory. If so, this slightly reduces their potential effectiveness. On the other hand, a warhead diving vertically onto an aircraft carrier, even at a speed of 1000-1500 meters per second, does not look like an easy target. In any case, the ability to painlessly overcome the outer borders of an echeloned air defense / missile defense system and be left alone with the anti-aircraft systems of the attacked ship is in itself worth a lot.

One way or another, arguments of about the same level of confidence apply to Russian hypersonic systems. And if we believe that Russian scientists and designers have managed to solve the problem of creating homing systems for hypersonic weapons, then we will have to proceed from the fact that the Chinese have also solved it. And how and by what means, this is another question, to which we are unlikely to get a clear answer in the next decade ...

Summing up our small study, it must be stated that China turned out to be surprisingly perspicacious, having thrown significant forces on hypersound at the turn of the nineties-zero years. At the same time, Chinese developments in the field of hypersound are quite original, which implies the presence of not only good intelligence, but also its own serious scientific and engineering school.

We should probably not draw direct analogies between the Kinzhal and DF-ZX complexes, the Sinkun-2 and Zircon systems, simply due to the fact that, despite some external similarity, there are also serious differences between them. Accordingly, it is simply impossible to say who has surpassed whom, if we want to maintain at least some objectivity. Let's just remember that in the hypersonic race, in addition to Russia and the United States, a third player is also participating. And he, apparently, has already quite gained the appropriate, "hypersonic" speed...

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