According to the news of recent months, this year the first Avangard missile systems, which include hypersonic gliding winged warheads, will take up combat duty. Due to the special combat load, the new complexes are capable of showing high technical and combat characteristics. Thanks to this, the Avangard system becomes a convenient and effective tool for solving military and political problems, and also turns out to be a very difficult challenge for a potential adversary. Why is the new Russian weapon dangerous, and what should the enemy do to combat it?
Benefits and threats
According to known data, the Avangard missile system includes several basic elements. The first is an intercontinental ballistic missile, which is responsible for the acceleration and launch of the warhead to the calculated trajectory. At the first stage, UR-100N UTTH missiles will be used in this role, and in the future the complex will be built on the basis of the promising RS-28 Sarmat ICBM. The second element is a hypersonic gliding warhead. After accelerating and dropping from a rocket, he must fly to the target and destroy it using the built-in warhead.
The planning winged warhead is more than seriously different from traditional warheads for ICBMs, both in terms of technology and principles of operation. Unlike "conventional" warheads, the winged product is capable of gliding, and not just "falling" on the target. In addition, the ICBM in the active phase gives it high speed. All this gives the block a number of characteristic advantages.
The first advantage of the Vanguard combat unit is its high speed. At the end of December, according to the results of the next test launch, it was reported that a speed of M = 27 was reached. At such a speed, the warhead is capable of reaching the target area in the shortest possible time, and thereby sharply reduce the permissible reaction time of the enemy's air and missile defense systems. Since the planning warhead does not have its own power plant, its speed on the trajectory should gradually decrease due to energy losses to overcome the resistance of the environment. However, even in this case, the speed of the product in the final section of the trajectory remains extremely high.
The second positive feature is the presence of control systems that provide maneuvering in flight. Changing the trajectory can be used to reach the target along the optimal route or as an anti-aircraft maneuver. It has been repeatedly noted that maneuvering makes the trajectory of the combat unit unpredictable for the enemy. As a result, Avangard is becoming an extremely difficult target to intercept with existing anti-ballistic missile defenses.
Maneuvering also improves the accuracy of hitting the target. The guidance of traditional warheads is carried out immediately after the end of the active phase of the flight, after which their trajectory does not change. The Vanguard's combat unit is capable of adjusting its trajectory until the target is hit. This gives an obvious increase in combat effectiveness, regardless of the type of warhead used.
The planning warhead can use its capabilities for flight both in the atmosphere and beyond. Due to this, it is possible to use higher trajectories, which reduce energy consumption and increase the flight range. In addition, atmospheric flight is possible, making it difficult to detect with modern ground-based missile attack warning systems. It also excludes the effective operation of existing anti-atmospheric interceptor missiles.
Thus, the Avangard missile system is very different from existing ICBMs and has a number of major advantages over them. This is the ability to fly to targets in an increased range of ranges, increased accuracy of destruction, etc. For the means of defense of a potential enemy, the "Avangard" combat unit turns out to be an extremely difficult target, combining the main qualities of weapons of other classes. It is difficult to detect and accompany it, and an effective attack using modern missile defense or air defense systems is almost completely ruled out.
This year, the first production samples of the Avangard complex will enter service with the Strategic Missile Forces. At first, only a few promising products will be put on duty, but in the future their number will constantly grow. The command does not specify its plans for the medium and long term, but there is reason to believe that during this period Avangards will become an important part of the Strategic Missile Forces weapons, and dozens of such systems will be on duty.
Given the high technical characteristics and unique combat potential, it is not difficult to imagine how the new Avangard products will affect the capabilities of the missile forces and the strategic nuclear forces in general. From the point of view of a potential adversary, the latest Russian missile systems appear to be a very serious threat.
Responding to threats
Obviously, the potential adversary understands all the risks associated with the latest Russian weapons and is already looking for ways to respond to them. The creation of new types of weapons and equipment capable of withstanding Avangard may take a lot of time, but the main methods and ways of reducing the threat are already clear. Indeed, Avangard is not without flaws or ambiguous features that can be used against it.
First of all, it should be noted that the launch of the UR-100N UTTH or RS-28 missile with the Avangard on board will not go unnoticed. The likely adversary has satellite reconnaissance and missile attack warning radars capable of tracking ICBM launches. This means that the enemy command will know about the launch in time, and they will have some time to react.
Depending on the chosen flight path, the gliding warhead can be seen by the enemy's over-the-horizon radar station or be out of their coverage area. In flight, the hypersonic "Vanguard" must form a plasma cloud around itself, recorded by infrared reconnaissance satellites. If a spacecraft of this kind is capable of not only fixing heat-contrast targets, but also providing target designation in real time, the enemy's chances of reacting to the threat are slightly increased.
A successful interception of a hypersonic glider on the main part of the trajectory with the help of existing air defense systems is simply impossible. The solution to such a problem eliminates the disadvantageous combination of altitude, speed and maneuverability for air defense.
Missile defense systems have more potential, but even in their case, success is not guaranteed for a number of reasons. For example, the main US interceptor missiles use a kinetic intercept method, which requires the highest targeting accuracy. A ballistic target moves along a predictable trajectory, and it is relatively easy to aim a missile at it. The Vanguard block can literally dodge such an attack.
To increase the potential of anti-missile systems in the context of intercepting hypersonic gliding warheads, old but proven ideas can be used. Due to the high flight speed, any objects pose a danger to the Vanguard block. A collision with even a small striking element can lead to structural damage and destruction of the aircraft due to high loads of various kinds. Thus, it makes sense to intercept using a missile carrying a fragmentation warhead.
You can also recall more daring decisions. In the past, interceptor missiles with a neutron warhead were created and put into service. It was assumed that such a high-yield ammunition would reduce the requirements for the accuracy of the anti-missile, but provide it with high efficiency. The flux of fast neutrons generated by the detonation of a neutron charge must hit the nuclear warhead of the target and provoke its destruction. Such equipment has already been used in missile defense systems, but has long been removed from service.
In theory, the existing interceptor missiles are still capable of intercepting hypersonic units. For a small part of the final phase of the flight, implying a fall on the target, the warhead can follow a ballistic trajectory. Moreover, its speed should be significantly less than the maximum. In such conditions, serial interceptors, created to combat ballistic targets of limited speed, get some chances to cope with the Avangard.
At the level of a curious, but not the most convenient and simple proposal, it is worth considering fundamentally new types of weapons. For example, a satellite with the so-called a neutron gun or an X-ray emitter. Such a product can be considered a good alternative to an anti-missile with a neutron warhead. Missiles with fragmentation charges can be replaced with an orbital-based laser system. She will have to damage the hull of the warhead, weakening it and provoking further destruction. All alternatives look interesting and promising, but such ideas are far from practical implementation and implementation in the armed forces.
Weapons and fighting them
From the available data, it follows that the Russian Strategic Missile Forces are receiving a unique strike complex with a number of important capabilities. The Avangard missile system with a hypersonic gliding warhead is capable of solving the same tasks as ICBMs with conventional warheads, but has a number of advantages. The latter are directly related to overcoming the enemy's missile defense.
Avangard is capable of attacking strategic targets faster, more accurately and with a lower probability of interception than traditional ICBMs, but it still has its drawbacks. So, according to some reports, one missile cannot carry several warheads, and the latter are difficult to manufacture and are highly costly. In addition, in the projects of warheads for ICBMs, long-known and proven solutions are used, while the creation of Avangard required a long research work.
Despite the existing advantages, the "Vanguard" complex, at least at the level of theory, is not invulnerable. Its units cannot be considered fundamentally protected from interception, and a 100% missile defense breakthrough is not guaranteed. Even at the level of the general concept, the hypersonic gliding unit has specific features that can become disadvantages or help the enemy in intercepting.
However, modern and promising air and missile defense systems are not yet able to cope with the threat in the form of Avangard. They are able to fix the launch and even track the flight of the warhead, but its interception is not guaranteed. You can try to intercept an ICBM with a gliding block in the active leg of the trajectory, or attack a "falling" glider in the terminal leg of the trajectory. However, solving such problems is also associated with a number of serious problems.
Modern air defense and missile defense systems, which are in service with a potential enemy, cannot cope with the threat in the form of the "Vanguard". Nevertheless, there are ways of their development that can lead missile defense and air defense to the desired state and the desired results. This requires the development of fundamentally new interceptor missiles and the creation of other algorithms for the defense. Obviously, this takes a lot of time and money. For this reason, the potential adversary will remain defenseless for some time.
The Avangard missile system, with all its advantages, will not be able to remain invulnerable forever. In the distant future, foreign countries may acquire new air and missile defense systems that can cope with such a threat. Their development will turn into a separate problem, but the results of such projects will be of great importance. Russia should take this scenario into account and work on improving the latest weapons. With the advent of serial Avangards, our Strategic Missile Forces gain an advantage over foreign defense systems, and it must be preserved in the future.