Reusable Rockets: The Cost-Effective Solution for a Rapid Global Strike

Reusable Rockets: The Cost-Effective Solution for a Rapid Global Strike
Reusable Rockets: The Cost-Effective Solution for a Rapid Global Strike

At the beginning of the 21st century, there was a revolution in space exploration. Quietly, almost imperceptibly, without multi-billion dollar national projects such as the lunar exploration program or the Space Shuttle program for creating reusable spaceships. Of course, we are talking about commercial reusable spacecraft, and, first of all, the reusable rockets of the SpaseX company by Elon Musk.


However, he does not rest on his laurels for long, other private companies, including Chinese ones, are breathing down his neck. For example, on August 10, 2019, the Chinese company LinkSpace launched an RLV rocket, which, having taken off to an altitude of 300 meters, returned to the launch pad after 50 seconds. In 2020, it is planned to launch the RLV-T16 rocket, which will be able to reach an altitude of 150 kilometers. Private companies are planning to build reusable spacecraft for all ranges of possible loads - from several hundred kilograms to tens or hundreds of tons.


The widespread use of reusable spacecraft that can be reused up to 100 times, and up to 10 times without repair work, will significantly reduce the cost of launching a payload into orbit, which in turn will spur the development of the commercial space market.

There is no doubt that the possibility of putting a payload into orbit at a lower cost will also interest the military. First of all, these will be traditional reconnaissance and communications satellites, the need for which is growing all the time, taking into account the increase in the fleet of long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are controlled via satellites.

In the future, the possibility of launching the payload at a minimal cost may lead to the emergence of orbital strike platforms of the "space-to-surface" class.

Reusable Rockets: The Cost-Effective Solution for a Rapid Global Strike

However, reusable commercial missiles may have other military applications.

Gliding hypersonic warheads

Since 2003, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), together with the US Air Force, as part of the Rapid Global Strike program, has been developing a Falcon HTV-2 (Hypersonic Test Vehicle) controlled warhead designed for flights at hypersonic speed. The US Army is developing a similar project AHW (Advanced Hypersonic Weapon - a promising hypersonic weapon).


The Falcon HTV-2 and AHW projects have a similar layout - an unengineered gliding warhead is brought to a given height by a carrier rocket, then separates and glides at a hypersonic speed to the target. The estimated flight range of warheads should be 6000-7600 kilometers, at a flight speed of 17-22 M (5, 8-7, 5 km / s). Thus, taking into account the time required for the missile to reach the height of the warhead drop, the target hitting time will be about 20-30 minutes.


To withdraw the Falcon HTV-2 warheads, it is proposed to use the Minotaur-IV launch vehicles (LV) or the LGM-30G Minuteman-III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A three-stage solid-propellant STARS rocket was used to test the AHW hypersonic units.

A similar project has been implemented in Russia - a hypersonic guided warhead as part of the Avangard complex launched by the UR-100N UTTH ICBM.In this direction, Russia is ahead of the United States - already in 2019 it is planned to adopt the Avangard complex into service. The flight speed of the warhead should be about 27 M (9 km / s), the flight range is intercontinental. At the same time, there is a fundamental difference - the Russian warhead is equipped with a nuclear warhead, while the United States is considering the use of non-nuclear hypersonic warheads. A non-nuclear warhead places high demands on the accuracy of targeting warheads.


An alternative solution is hypersonic missiles launched from strategic aircraft such as the American X-51 Waverider or the Russian 3M22 Zircon. The X-51 and 3M22 missiles are more versatile than hypersonic warheads launched by launch vehicles, and possibly less cost. However, their range and speed are significantly less than that of gliding warheads - about 500-2000 km and 5-8 M (1, 7-2, 7 km / s), respectively. The lower speed and range of flight will not allow for a reaction time comparable to that which is possible with hypersonic gliding warheads. When striking at a range of 6000-7000 or more, the total flight time of a bomber and a hypersonic missile will be about five hours, while a hypersonic gliding warhead can strike within half an hour, which can be critical for some missions.


The above comparison does not mean abandoning one or another type of weapon, but only shows the niche of using each of them. In this "division of labor", hypersonic gliding units are assigned the task of hitting high-priority targets - command posts, decision-making centers, etc.

Fast Global Strike and VIP Terror

The article Strategic conventional forces: carriers and weapons considered the installation of hypersonic warheads on ICBMs, the terms of which in service are coming to an end. This decision is fully justified, and it is precisely this decision that is being considered by the US armed forces in the framework of the Rapid Global Strike program.

The BSU program itself also causes skepticism among many, for some reason it is always opposed to nuclear weapons. In fact, it has no effect on the nuclear shield. Although in the START-3 treaty, non-nuclear combat equipment is counted on a par with nuclear, which theoretically could lead to a decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in the United States, in fact, as soon as the BSU program develops and the number of warheads begins to increase, the START-3 treaty will already expire., and if not, then the United States will withdraw from it with the same ease as it withdrew from the ABM Treaty and the INF Treaty, at the same time blaming Russia for it.

Another objection is that the use of BSU funds will start the third world war. It must be understood that the United States does not in any way plan to use BSU funds against Russia at its current level of development of the armed forces. And against the PRC too. But countries such as Iran or Venezuela may well become targets for the BSU, which will receive the first decapitation strike.

In the article Strategic conventional weapons. Damage task of strategic conventional weapons is formulated as:. To this you can add -.

The material resources spent on the funds of the BSU will be repaid a hundredfold by saving the forces and means of general-purpose forces. In some cases, for example, in the event of the elimination of the enemy's leadership, a military conflict may end before it begins. The United States may well realize such a scenario, for example, in Venezuela. By means of BSU to eliminate the incumbent president, at the same time organizing the next "color" revolution, and no tanks, aircraft and ships will help to avoid such a scenario.

Based on the foregoing, one more conclusion can be drawn - the Rapid Global Strike weapon or the Strategic Conventional Weapon is an ideal means for VIP terror, that is, the physical elimination of the enemy's top leadership

No other weapon has such capabilities. The mere presence of this type of Rapid Global Strike, or Strategic Conventional Weapons, in service will force the enemy leadership to behave prudently when making military, political and economic decisions, or make them live under the threat of imminent destruction.

In some cases, ICBMs may not be the most optimal carrier for hypersonic gliding warheads, as well as not the cheapest. Are there other, more efficient carriers for hypersonic gliding warheads?

Reusable missile as a carrier of hypersonic warheads

Promising reusable missiles based on commercial products can become the most effective and cheap means of dropping warheads.

Based on open information posted on the Internet, the height of the throw of hypersonic warheads should be about 100 kilometers. The estimated mass of the Falcon HTV-2 hypersonic combat blogs should be 1100-1800 kg.

The payload of the Falcon-9 rocket delivered to LEO (200 km) is 13-16 tons. The total mass of the second stage of the latest version of Falcon-9 is 111 tons, the second stage is separated from the first at an altitude of about 70 km. The first stage of Falcon 9 is planned to be used up to 10 times, and with maintenance performed after every 10 flights, it can be used up to 100 times.


It can be assumed that the first stage of the Falcon-9 LV is sufficient to launch hypersonic warheads. The abandonment of the second stage weighing 111 tons will presumably allow about 10 hypersonic warheads weighing 1100-1800 kg each to be brought to an altitude of 100 km.

On the basis of technologies implemented in commercial rocketry, other small reusable launch vehicles can be created under specified loads, providing the injection of one or two hypersonic warheads, followed by the landing of the launch vehicle and its repeated reuse.

If we talk about an increase in the combat load, then one cannot but recall the SpaсeX plans to build a fully reusable two-stage BFR missile, with its ability to launch a payload weighing up to 100 tons to LEO. On the Internet, the possibility of a promising use of the BFR as an orbital bomber for striking with guided tungsten rods is already being discussed.


If we draw an analogy with the use of the first stage of the Falcon-9 launch vehicle, then the first stage of the BFR launch vehicle - Super Heavy (Super Heavy) will be able to deploy 55-85 hypersonic warheads.

On the one hand, the development of the BFR has not yet been completed, so it is somewhat premature to talk about its military use. On the other hand, Elon Musk is determined to finish building this missile. According to SpaceX's plans, it should replace all missiles used by the company, including the Falcon-9 launch vehicle.

The question arises, why should such a promising development be lost? The SpaсeX company may well adapt the first stage of the Falcon-9 or simply sell all the developments on this rocket to the military, fully focusing on the BFR. The military, in turn, will receive a unique reusable platform for launching gliding hypersonic warheads or other payloads.


The problem with reusable missiles is that, unlike bombers, you cannot land them on an airfield, nevertheless, there are enough options for placing such weapons.

If a launch vehicle with gliding hypersonic warheads is deployed in the southern part of the United States (the spaceport at Cape Canaveral is taken as an example), almost all of Latin America will be in the affected area. If deployed in Alaska, most of Russia, China, and all of North Korea will be in the affected area.This is provided that the range of the warheads will be 6000-7000 kilometers, and will not be intercontinental, like the Avangard complex.


To deploy a launch vehicle with gliding hypersonic warheads in Europe or Asia, the United States can use the territory of its satellites. It is unlikely that Poland, Romania or Japan would dare to deny their overlord this little.

In addition, given that private military companies (PMCs) are already armed with combat aircraft, one cannot help but assume a scenario in which sites for launching launch vehicles with planning hypersonic warheads will be leased by PMCs and provided to the US Armed Forces on a commercial basis upon request.

And finally, such an option as the creation of offshore launch platforms similar to the Sea Launch commercial project cannot be ruled out. The weight and size characteristics of the Falcon-9 launch vehicle are comparable to those of the Zenit-3SL launch vehicle, so there should be no problems.


Considering that only the first stage with a combat load will need to be launched, two launch vehicles with ten gliding hypersonic warheads on each may well be placed at the floating cosmodrome. When a floating spaceport is located in the Mediterranean Sea, almost all of Africa, the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, partly Central Asia, China, and most of the territory of the Russian Federation fall into the affected area. The launch vehicle can land on the existing ASDS (Autonomous spaceport drone ship) offshore platforms used for landing the first stage of the Falcon-9 launch vehicle, or similar vessels / platforms developed on their basis.


The question can be asked: if Russia or China, as nuclear powers, are not considered as a target for BSU, then why is it indicated that their territory is in the affected zone? The answer is simple, BSU is a factor that will have to be taken into account. If the placement of Mk-41 launchers in Europe has caused so much noise, then what will happen when a floating cosmodrome with a launch vehicle with gliding hypersonic warheads appears in the Mediterranean …

The financial side of the issue

The cost of the first stage of the launch vehicle is 60–70% of its full cost. The declared launch cost for Falcon-9 is $ 60-80 million, respectively, the cost of the first stage will be $ 36-56 million. Even taking into account the tenfold use of the first stage of Falcon-9, the cost of the launch will be 3, 6-5, 6 million dollars, the cost of fuel will be about 500 thousand dollars for launch. Thus, for 10 blocks, the cost of delivery will be about 400-600 thousand dollars per block (not counting the cost of the block itself). With a Falcon-9 first stage resource of 100 launches, the cost of each launch will drop by almost an order of magnitude. Of course, it is necessary to take into account other costs - maintenance, repairs, transportation, etc., but after all, other weapons systems do not do without additional costs. For example, an hour of flight for a B-2 costs more than $ 150,000, and upon impact to a range of 7,000 km, the total flight time will be 10 flight hours, i.e. one flight will cost $ 1.5 million.

What do we have?

Apparently, in terms of hypersonic weapons in general, and in terms of planning hypersonic warheads in particular, we are ahead of the rest of the planet.

But we have serious problems with reusable launch vehicles, or rather, there are no problems, since there are no reusable launch vehicles themselves. But there are projects, including interesting ones, some of which may well be adapted for military use. Perhaps, as often happens in our country, this will give life to their civilian modifications. However, we will talk about this in the next article.

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