After the rejection of Reagan's "Star Wars" research in the field of advanced missile defense systems in the United States did not stop. One of the most unusual and interesting projects, the implementation of which reached the stage of construction of prototypes, was an anti-missile laser on an aircraft platform. Work on this topic began back in the 70s and entered the stage of practical implementation almost simultaneously with the proclamation of the Strategic Defense Initiative.
The aircraft laser platform, known as the NKC-135A, was created by re-equipping the KS-135 tanker aircraft (a variant of the passenger Boeing-707). Two machines underwent alteration, the laser was installed on only one of them. The "unarmed" aircraft NC-135W was used to test equipment for detecting and tracking launching ICBMs.
In order to increase the internal space, the fuselage of the NKC-135A aircraft was lengthened by three meters, after which a CO ² laser with a power of 0.5 MW and a mass of 10 tons, an aiming system, target tracking and fire control was installed. It was assumed that the aircraft with a combat laser on board would patrol in the area of launching ballistic missiles and hit them in the active phase of the flight shortly after the start. A series of test firing at target missiles in 1982 ended in failure, which required improvements to the laser and control system.
On July 26, 1983, the first successful firing took place, with the help of a laser it was possible to destroy five AIM-9 "Sidewinder" missiles. Of course, these were not ICBMs, but this success demonstrated the efficiency of the system in principle. On September 26, 1983, a BQM-34A UAV was shot down by a laser from an NKC-135 ALL. The drone fell after a laser beam burned through the skin and disabled its control system. The tests lasted until November 1983. They demonstrated that in "greenhouse" conditions the laser is capable of destroying targets at a distance of about 5 km, but this option is absolutely unsuitable for combating ICBMs. Later, the US military has repeatedly stated that this flying platform was viewed solely as a "technology demonstrator" and experimental model.
In 1991, during the hostilities in the Middle East, the American MIM-104 "Patriot" anti-aircraft missile system in the fight against the Iraqi OTR R-17E and "Al-Hussein" demonstrated not very high efficiency. It was then that once again they remembered about flying laser platforms, with the help of which, in the conditions of air supremacy of the US Air Force, it was possible to hit the starting ballistic missiles. The program, dubbed ABL (Airborne Laser), officially started in the mid-90s. The goal of the program was to create an aviation laser complex capable of combating short-range ballistic missiles in a theater of operations. It was assumed that laser interceptors with a target range of 250 km, flying at an altitude of 12 km, would be on alert at a distance of 120 -150 km from the zone of probable launches. At the same time, they will be accompanied by security aircraft, electronic warfare and tankers.
Initially, it was planned to use the well-proven KS-135A tanker as a carrier of a combat laser, but then settled on a more lifting model. A wide-body passenger Boeing 747-400F was chosen as the platform, and the aircraft underwent a major redesign.The main and most noticeable changes occurred with the nose of the airliner, a rotating turret weighing seven tons was mounted here with the main mirror of a combat laser and numerous optical systems. The tail section of the fuselage has also undergone significant changes, and the power modules of a laser installation have been installed in it. In order for the lower fuselage skin to withstand the emission of hot and corrosive gases after laser shots, part of it had to be replaced with titanium panels. The interior layout of the cargo compartment has been completely redesigned. For the timely detection of launched missiles, the aircraft received six infrared sensors, and to increase the patrol time - an air refueling system.
The aircraft, designated YAL-1A, took off for the first time on July 18, 2002. The program, with an initial budget of $ 2.5 billion, provided for the creation of two prototypes for testing and testing weapons systems, as well as five combat laser platforms based on the Boeing-747. When choosing the type of main armament, the developers proceeded from the maximum energy efficiency of the laser installation. Initially, it was planned to use a hydrogen fluoride laser, but this was associated with a number of difficulties. In this case, it was required to place containers with fluorine on board the aircraft, which is one of the most chemically active and aggressive elements. So in an atmosphere of fluorine, water burns with a hot flame, with the release of free oxygen. This would make the process of refueling and preparing the laser for use an extremely dangerous procedure requiring the use of special protective suits. According to the US Department of Defense, a megawatt laser operating on liquid oxygen and fine powdered iodine was installed on the plane. In addition to the main powerful combat laser, there are also a number of laser systems designed to measure distance, target designation and target tracking.
Tests of the laser missile defense system, placed on board the Boeing-747, began in March 2007, initially target detection and tracking systems were being worked out. On February 3, 2010, the first successful shooting at a real target took place, then a target that imitated a ballistic solid-propellant missile was destroyed. In February, firing took place at solid-propellant and liquid-propellant rockets in the active phase of the trajectory. Tests have shown that the YAL-1A aircraft with a laser cannon on board can also be used to destroy enemy aircraft. However, this was only possible at high altitudes, where the concentration of dust and water vapor in the atmosphere is minimal. Potentially, with the help of a flying laser platform, it was possible to destroy or blind low-orbit satellites, but it did not come to tests.
After evaluating the results obtained, experts came to the disappointing conclusion that with very significant operating costs, the system can be effective against launching missiles at a relatively short range, while the "flying laser" itself, located near the line of contact, is quite vulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles and enemy fighters. And to protect it, it is required to allocate a significant outfit of fighters and electronic warfare aircraft. In addition, for continuous duty in the air of the covering forces, additional tanker aircraft are needed, all this increased the cost of an already very expensive project.
In 2010, more than $ 3 billion was spent on the laser interceptor program, and the total cost of deploying the system was estimated at $ 13 billion. Due to the excessive cost and limited efficiency, it was decided to abandon the continuation of work and continue to test one YAL-1A aircraft as a technology demonstrator.
Google earth snapshot: YAL-1A aircraft at Davis-Montan storage base
After spending $ 5 billion, the program was finally closed in 2011.On February 12, 2012, the plane took off for the last time from the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, going to the Davis-Montan aircraft storage base in Arizona. Here engines and some equipment were dismantled from the plane.
Currently, research is underway in the United States to create flying missile defense interceptors based on heavy unmanned aerial vehicles. According to the developers and the military, their operating costs should be several times lower compared to heavy manned platforms based on the Boeing 747. In addition, relatively inexpensive drones will be able to operate closer to the front line, and their loss will not be so critical.
Even at the stage of development of the MIM-104 "Patriot" anti-aircraft missile system, it was considered as a means of combating short-range ballistic missiles. In 1991, the Patriot air defense system was used to repel the attacks of the Iraqi OTR. At the same time, one Iraqi "Scud" had to launch several missiles. And even in this case, with an acceptable accuracy of guidance of anti-aircraft missiles, 100% destruction of the warhead OTR R-17 did not occur. Anti-aircraft missiles of the Patriot PAC-1 and PAC-2 complexes, designed to destroy aerodynamic targets, had insufficient damaging effect of fragmentation warheads when used against ballistic missiles.
Based on the results of combat use, along with the development of an improved version of the "Patriot" PAC-3, which was put into service in 2001, an anti-missile missile with a kinetic tungsten warhead ERINT (Extended Range Interceptor) was created. It is capable of fighting ballistic missiles with a launch range of up to 1000 km, including those equipped with chemical warheads.
ERINT anti-missile towed launcher
The ERINT rocket uses an active millimeter-wave radar head along with an inertial guidance system. Before turning on the seeker, the missile nose cone casing is dropped, and the radar antenna is aimed at the center of the target space. At the final stage of the rocket flight, it is controlled by turning on miniature impulse steering motors located in the front part. The anti-missile guidance and accurate destruction of the kinetic warhead weighing 73 kg of the compartment with the warhead is due to the formation of a clear radar profile of the attacked ballistic missile with the determination of the aiming point.
The moment of interception of the warhead by the anti-missile ERINT during test launches.
According to the plan of the American military, ERINT interceptors should finish off tactical and operational-tactical ballistic missiles missed by other missile defense systems. Associated with this is a relatively short launch range - 25 km and a ceiling - 20 km. The small dimensions of ERINT - 5010 mm long and 254 mm in diameter - allow four anti-missiles to be placed in a standard transport and launch container. The presence in the ammunition of interceptors with a kinetic warhead can significantly increase the capabilities of the Patriot PAC-3 air defense system. It is planned to combine launchers with MIM-104 and ERINT missiles, which increases the battery's firepower by 75%. But this does not make the Patriot an effective anti-missile system, but only slightly increases the ability to intercept ballistic targets in the near zone.
Along with the improvement of the Patriot air defense system and the development of a specialized anti-missile system for it, in the United States in the early 90s, even before the US withdrawn from the ABM Treaty, flight tests of prototypes of antimissile missiles of a new anti-missile complex began at the White Sands test site in New Mexico., which received the designation THAAD (English Terminal High Altitude Area Defense - "Anti-missile mobile ground-based complex for high-altitude transatmospheric interception of medium-range missiles"). The developers of the complex were faced with the task of creating an interceptor missile that could effectively hit ballistic targets with a range of up to 3500 km.At the same time, the THAAD affected area was supposed to be up to 200 km and at altitudes from 40 to 150 km.
The THAAD anti-missile system is equipped with an uncooled IR seeker and an inertial radio command control system. As well as for ERINT, the concept of destroying a target with a direct kinetic strike is adopted. Antimissile THAAD with a length of 6, 17 m - weighs 900 kg. The single-stage engine accelerates the anti-missile to a speed of 2.8 km / s. The launch is carried out by a detachable launch accelerator.
Launching the THAAD anti-missile
The THAAD missile defense system should be the first line of the zonal missile defense. The characteristics of the system make it possible to carry out sequential shelling of one ballistic missile with two anti-missile missiles on the basis of the "launch - assessment - launch" principle. This means that in the event of a miss of the first anti-missile, the second will be launched. In the event of a THAAD miss, the Patriot air defense system should enter into action, to which data on the flight trajectory and speed parameters of the penetrated ballistic missile will be received from the GBR radar. According to the calculations of American specialists, the probability of a ballistic missile being hit by a two-stage missile defense system, consisting of THAAD and ERINT, should be at least 0.96.
The THAAD battery includes four main components: 3-4 self-propelled launchers with eight anti-missile missiles, transport-loading vehicles, a mobile surveillance radar (AN / TPY-2) and a fire control point. With the accumulation of operating experience and according to the results of control and training firing, the complex undergoes modifications and modernization. So, the THAAD SPUs produced now in appearance are seriously different from the early models that were tested in the 2000s.
Self-propelled launcher complex THAAD
In June 2009, after the completion of tests at the Barking Sands Pacific missile range, the first THAAD battery was put into trial operation. At the moment, it is known about the supply of five batteries of this anti-missile system.
Google earth snapshot: THAAD at Fort Bliss
In addition to the US Department of Defense, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Japan have expressed a desire to purchase the THAAD complex. The cost of one complex is $ 2.3 billion. At the moment, one battery is on alert on the island of Guam, covering the American naval base and strategic aviation airfield from possible attacks by North Korean ballistic missiles. The remaining THAAD batteries are permanently stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas.
The 1972 treaty prohibited the deployment of missile defense systems, but not their development, which the Americans actually took advantage of. The THAAD and Patriot PAC-3 complexes with the ERINT antimissile are, in fact, short-range missile defense systems and are mainly designed to protect troops from attacks by ballistic missiles with a launch range of up to 1000 km. The development of an anti-missile defense system for the US territory against ICBMs began in the early 90s, these works were justified by the need to protect against nuclear blackmail of "rogue countries".
The new stationary missile defense system was named GBMD (Ground-Based Midcourse Defense). This system is largely based on the technical solutions worked out during the creation of early anti-missile systems. Unlike THAAD and "Patriot", which have their own means of detection and target designation, the GBMD's performance directly depends on the early warning systems.
Initially, the complex was called NVD (National Missile Defense - "National Missile Defense", it was intended to intercept ICBM warheads outside the atmosphere on the main trajectory. Received the name Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GBMD) Testing of the GBMD anti-missile system began in July 1997 at Kwajalein Atoll.
Since the warheads of ICBMs have a higher speed compared to the OTR and IRBMs, for effective protection of the covered area, it is necessary to ensure the destruction of warheads in the middle section of the trajectory passing through outer space. The kinetic interception method was chosen to destroy the ICBM warheads. Previously, all developed and adopted American and Soviet missile defense systems that intercepted in space used anti-missiles with nuclear warheads. This made it possible to achieve an acceptable probability of hitting a target with a significant error in guidance. However, during a nuclear explosion in outer space, "dead zones" that are impenetrable for radar radiation are formed. This circumstance does not allow for the detection, tracking and firing of other targets.
When a heavy metal blank of an interceptor missile collides with a nuclear warhead of an ICBM, the latter is guaranteed to be destroyed without the formation of invisible "dead zones", which makes it possible to sequentially intercept other warheads of ballistic missiles. But this method of combating ICBMs requires very precise targeting. In this regard, the tests of the GBMD complex proceeded with great difficulties and required significant modifications, both of the interceptor missiles themselves and their guidance systems.
Launch from a mine of an early GBI anti-missile missile
It is known that the first versions of GBI (Ground-Based Interceptor) interceptor missiles were developed on the basis of the second and third stages removed from service of the Minuteman-2 ICBM. The prototype was a three-stage interceptor missile 16.8 m long, 1.27 in diameter m and a launch weight of 13 tons. The maximum firing range is 5000 km.
According to data published in the American media, at the second stage of testing, work was carried out already with a specially created GBI-EKV antimissile. According to various sources, its starting weight is 12-15 tons. The GBI interceptor launches an EKV (Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle) interceptor into space at a speed of 8, 3 km per second. The EKV kinetic space interceptor weighs about 70 kg, it is equipped with an infrared guidance system, its own engine and is designed to directly hit the warhead. In a collision between an ICBM warhead and an EKV interceptor, their total speed is about 15 km / s. It is known about the development of an even more advanced model of the MKV (Miniature Kill Vehicle) space interceptor weighing only 5 kg. It is assumed that the GBI anti-missile missile will carry more than a dozen interceptors, which should dramatically increase the capabilities of the anti-missile system.
At the moment, the GBI interceptor missiles are being fine-tuned. In the past few years alone, the missile defense agency has spent more than $ 2 billion on fixing problems in the space interceptor control system. At the end of January 2016, the modernized anti-missile missile was successfully tested.
The GBI anti-missile missile, launched from silos at the Vandenberg base, successfully hit a conditional target launched from the Hawaiian Islands. Reportedly, the ballistic missile, acting as a conditional target, in addition to an inert warhead, was equipped with decoys and means of jamming.
The deployment of the GBMD anti-missile system began in 2005. The first interceptor missiles were deployed in mines at the Fort Greeley military base. According to US data for 2014, 26 GBI interceptor missiles were deployed in Alaska. However, Fort Greeley satellite images show 40 silos.
Google earth snapshot: GBI missile silos at Fort Greeley, Alaska
A number of GBI interceptors have been deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In the future, it is planned to use converted silo launchers of Minuteman-3 ICBMs to deploy the GBMD complex on the west coast of the United States. In 2017, the number of interceptor missiles is planned to be increased to 15 units.
Google earth snapshot: GBI anti-missile silos at Vandenberg airbase
After the North Korean tests of the Eunha-3 launch vehicle at the end of 2012, it was decided to create a third GBI missile base in the United States. It is reported that the total number of interceptor missiles on alert in five positional areas could reach a hundred. In the opinion of the American military-political leadership, this will allow covering the entire territory of the country from limited-scale missile strikes.
Simultaneously with the deployment of GBMD complexes in Alaska, it was planned to create positions in Eastern Europe. Negotiations on this were conducted with the leadership of Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic. However, later they decided to deploy a missile defense system based on Aegis Ashore.
In the 90s, US Navy specialists to create an anti-missile system proposed using the capabilities of the ship's multifunctional combat information and control system (BIUS) Aegis. Potentially, the radar facilities and the computer complex of the Aegis system could solve such a problem. The name of the system "Aegis" (English Aegis - "Aegis") - means the mythical invulnerable shield of Zeus and Athena.
The American BIUS Aegis is an integrated network of shipborne airborne lighting systems, weapons such as the Standard missile 2 (SM-2) and more modern Standard missile 3 (SM-3). The system also includes means of automated combat control subsystems. BIUS Aegis is capable of receiving and processing radar information from other ships and aircraft of the compound and issue target designation for their anti-aircraft systems.
The first ship to receive the Aegis system, the missile cruiser USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), entered the US Navy on January 23, 1983. To date, more than 100 ships have been equipped with the Aegis system; in addition to the US Navy, the Navy of Spain, Norway, the Republic of Korea and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces use it.
The main element of the Aegis system is the AN / SPY-1 HEADLIGHTS radar with an average radiated power of 32-58 kW and a peak power of 4-6 MW. It is capable of automatically searching, detecting, tracking 250-300 targets and guiding up to 18 anti-aircraft missiles at them. Moreover, all this can happen automatically. The detection range of high-altitude targets is approximately 320 km.
Initially, the development of the destruction of ballistic missiles was carried out using the SM-2 missile defense system. This solid-propellant rocket is developed on the basis of the shipborne missile defense system RIM-66. The main difference was the introduction of a programmable autopilot, which controlled the flight of the rocket along the main section of the trajectory. An anti-aircraft missile needs to illuminate the target with a radar beam only for accurate guidance when entering the target area. Due to this, it was possible to increase the noise immunity and rate of fire of the anti-aircraft complex.
The most suitable for missile defense missions in the SM-2 family is the RIM-156B. This anti-missile missile is equipped with a new combined radar / infrared seeker, which improves the ability to select false targets and over-the-horizon firing. The missile weighing about 1500 kg and a length of 7, 9 m. Has a launch range of up to 170 km and a ceiling of 24 km. The defeat of the target is provided by a fragmentation warhead weighing 115 kg. The rocket flight speed is 1200 m / s. The missiles are launched under the deck of the vertical launch launcher.
Unlike anti-aircraft missiles of the SM-2 family, the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) rocket was originally created to combat ballistic missiles. The SM-3 interceptor missile is equipped with a kinetic warhead with its own engine and a matrix cooled IR seeker.
In the early 2000s, these missiles were tested at the Ronald Reagan Anti-Ballistic Missile Range in the Kwajalein Atoll area. During test launches in 2001-2008, anti-missile missiles launched from warships equipped with Aegis BIUS managed to hit several simulators of ICBMs with a direct hit. The interception took place at altitudes of 130-240 km.The beginning of the tests coincided with the withdrawal of the United States from the ABM Treaty.
SM-3 interceptors are deployed on Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke destroyers equipped with the AEGIS system in a standard Mk-41 universal launch cell. In addition, it is planned to arm Japanese destroyers of the Atago and Congo types with them.
Search and tracking of targets in the upper atmosphere and in outer space is carried out using the modernized shipborne radar AN / SPY-1. After detecting the target, the data is transmitted to the Aegis system, which develops a firing solution and gives the command to launch the interceptor missile. The anti-missile is launched from the cell using a solid-propellant launch booster. After the completion of the operation of the accelerator, it is dumped, and a dual-mode solid-propellant engine of the second stage is launched, which ensures the rise of the rocket through the dense layers of the atmosphere and its output to the border of the airless space. Immediately after the launch of the rocket, a two-way channel of digital communication with the carrier ship is established, through this channel there is a continuous correction of the flight trajectory. Determination of the current position of the launched anti-missile missile is carried out with high accuracy using the GPS system. After working off and resetting the second stage, the third stage impulse motor comes into play. It further accelerates the interceptor missile and brings it to the oncoming trajectory to hit the target. In the final phase of the flight, the kinetic transatmospheric interceptor begins an independent search for a target using its own infrared seeker, with a matrix operating in the long-wavelength range, capable of "seeing" targets at a distance of up to 300 km. In a collision with a target, the interceptor's impact energy is more than 100 megajoules, which is approximately equivalent to the detonation of 30 kg of TNT, and is quite sufficient to destroy a ballistic missile warhead.
Not so long ago, information appeared about the most modern warhead of the kinetic action KW (KineticWarhead - Kinetic warhead) weighing about 25 kg with its own solid-propellant impulse engine and thermal imaging homing head.
Evolution of SM-3 modifications
According to information published in open sources, the most advanced modification to date is the Aegis BMD 5.0.1. with missiles SM-3 Block IA / IB - 2016 - has the ability to fight missiles with a range of up to 5500 km. Opportunities to combat warheads of ICBMs with a longer launch range are limited.
In addition to countering ICBMs, SM-3 interceptors are capable of fighting satellites in low orbits, which was demonstrated on February 21, 2008. Then an anti-missile launched from the cruiser Lake Erie, located in the waters of the Barking Sands Pacific Range, struck the emergency reconnaissance satellite USA-193, located at an altitude of 247 kilometers, moving at a speed of 7.6 km / s with a direct hit.
According to American plans, 62 destroyers and 22 cruisers will be equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system. The number of SM-3 interceptor missiles on US Navy warships in 2015 was supposed to be 436 units. By 2020, their number will increase to 515 units. It is assumed that American warships with SM-3 anti-missile missiles will mainly carry out combat duty in the Pacific zone. The Western European direction should be covered thanks to the deployment of the Aegis Ashore ground system in Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic.
American representatives have repeatedly stated that the deployment of anti-missile systems near the borders of Russia does not pose a threat to the security of our country and is aimed only at repelling hypothetical attacks by Iranian and North Korean ballistic missiles. However, it is difficult to imagine that Iranian and North Korean ballistic missiles will fly towards European capitals when there are many American military bases near these countries, which are much more significant and convenient targets.
At the moment, the Aegis missile defense system with existing SM-3 interceptors is really not capable of preventing a massive strike from Russian ICBMs in service. However, it is known about plans to drastically increase the combat characteristics of the SM-3 family of interceptors.
In fact, the SM-3 IIA interceptor missile is a new product compared to the previous versions of the SM-3 IA / IB. According to the manufacturer's company Raytheon, the rocket body will become significantly lighter and, despite the additional fuel volume in the extended sustainer stage, its launch weight will slightly decrease. It is difficult to say how much this corresponds to reality, but it is already clear that the range of the new modification of anti-missile missiles will increase significantly, as will the ability to combat ICBMs. In addition, in the near future, SM-2 anti-aircraft missiles are planned to be replaced with new SM-6 missiles in below-deck launchers, which will also have enhanced anti-missile capabilities.
After the adoption of new interceptor missiles and their deployment on warships and stationary launchers in Europe, they can already pose a real threat to our strategic nuclear forces. According to the strategic arms reduction treaties, the United States and the Russian Federation have mutually reduced the number of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles several times. Taking advantage of this, the American side tried to gain a unilateral advantage by starting the development of global missile defense systems. Under these conditions, our country, in order to preserve the possibility of delivering a guaranteed strike against the aggressor, will inevitably have to modernize its ICBMs and SLBMs. The promised deployment of Iskander complexes in the Kaliningrad region is rather a political gesture, since, due to the limited launch range, the OTRK will not solve the problem of defeating all American anti-missile launchers in Europe.
Probably, one of the ways of counteraction could be the introduction of the regime of "random yaw of warheads", at a height where interception is possible, which will make it difficult to defeat them with a kinetic strike. It is also possible to install optical sensors on ICBM warheads, which will be able to record approaching kinetic interceptors and preemptively detonate warheads in space in order to create "blind spots" for American radars. The new heavy Russian ICBM Sarmat (RS-28), capable of carrying up to 10 warheads and a significant number of decoys and other missile defense breakthroughs, should also play a role. According to representatives of the Russian Defense Ministry, the new ICBM will be equipped with maneuvering warheads. Perhaps we are talking about the creation of gliding hypersonic warheads with a suborbital trajectory, capable of maneuvering in pitch and yaw. In addition, the preparation time for the Sarmat ICBMs for launch should be significantly reduced.