The Hypersonic arms race: Who is ahead?




In March 17, 2016 it became known that Russia is beginning to test hypersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (ASM) “Zircon”.

Allegedly, the missile can reach speeds of 5-6 times the speed of sound (5-6m – when flying at low altitude is about 6-7 thousand km / h). The product will be installed in the forward-looking multi-purpose nuclear submarines 5th generation “Husky” and replace their heavy anti-ship missiles P-700 “Granit” on cruisers in 1144 “Orlan”. The maximum range of the latest RCC is unknown – presumably, it will be at least 400 km.

This news shows that Russia comes close to creating real hypersonic weapons. But the United States and China are also “not sitting idle.” Unfortunately, to learn a lot of details about the actual project status and performance characteristics of these products is not yet possible. But we still try to piece together the facts and assumptions and to determine how much progress the country achieved in the “hypersonic” field. This is very important, since the creation of real samples of hypersonic weapons will make a revolution in the world of weapons and can seriously affect the balance of power in the world.

Prospective hypersonic weapons of Russia

About the hypersonic RCC 3M22 “Zircon”, developed by “Tactical Missiles” CO., we started talking above. Its maximum speed is greater than that of the P-700 is 2-2.5 times ( “Granite” develop speed 2.5M). This high speed makes the interception of missiles very difficult, and, in addition, greatly reduces the time of the adoption of decisions by the adversary – flight “Zircon” at a distance of 400 km should last less than 4 minutes. Predicting how long will last the test of a new RCC is impossible – too little information is available, and the complexity of the problem is very high. It is unlikely that we can expect the creation of a real serial missiles before 2020, with the high probability that it will happen, and much later (and the main launch carrier – submarine of the new generation of “Husky”, it is unlikely will be taken into service before the end of 2020 -x s).

The second interesting Russian project – the so-called product development leads 4202. His “NPO Machine Building” from 2009. We are talking about the creation of hypersonic, maneuvering warheads for heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles (and once in 2016 to start testing heavy liquid missile RS-28, “Sarmat”, it is clear that the new combat units and are intended for it). Presumably already conducted trials of at least 6 new combat unit, all with the help of IDB UR-100N UTTKh (old heavy liquid-propellant missile, which has already taken a nuclear warhead – used for testing, and to put into orbit satellites). The latter test wrote the Western media, including the authoritative Jane’s agency. From the data presented in the wall newspaper “NPO Machine Building” It is known that the warhead will be covered with radar absorbing coating. The creation of such a warhead would make the existing missile defense system virtually unarmed, as the warhead is flying at high speed, not on a ballistic trajectory and maneuver. In addition, due to the fact that the warhead is controllable, it is possible to achieve very high accuracy of lesion in comparison with classical warheads, and it allows you to do and to use weapons in nonnuclear, or with a low-power nuclear warheads.

Finally, the interest is the possibility of creating a strategic cruise missile – air or sea-based. It is known that even in the Soviet Union began to develop the project X-90 Gael (hypersonic experimental aircraft), but with the collapse of the country’s work stopped, and the prototypes were shown at MAKS in Zhukovsky. As planned by the developers of the missile speed should reach 4-5M, and the maximum launch range – 3000 km. At the moment, targeted information about the development of this missile is not available, but rumors and patchy information about the present.

Hypersonic US projects

The US is also actively developing hypersonic technology, and does not hesitate to show or talk about past tests, although the technical details, of course, the Americans did not disclose.

From the latest projects is worth noting prototype hypersonic cruise missile X-51 WaveRider. product testing began in 2010. From conducted on board a strategic bomber B-52H 4 starts, completely successful was one – the most recent (1 May 2013). The missile has developed a top speed of 5.1M (6100 km / h) at an altitude of about 18 km, with the flight lasted about 6 minutes, the distance was overcome 426 km. In the public domain and has been published video from these tests . Interesting was the predecessor X-51 – X-43A. This cruise missile set a speed record, having developed 9,65M, but the rocket engine worked just 10-11 seconds.

Thus, the United States have a serious foundation for the creation of real combat cruise missile. As far as the Americans are close to it is not yet clear – the information is classified.

Another project being developed in the framework of the “Prompt Global Strike» (Prompt Global Strike) – This Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW, «promising hypersonic weapon”). This promising weapons disarming non-nuclear strike is a hypersonic warhead, which is displayed by a launch vehicle STARS IV (modification of a decommissioned missile submarines medium-range UGM-27 Polaris) in the upper atmosphere, and then at a hypersonic speed “plans” to the target. American gunsmiths calculated so hit targets at distances up to 6000 km. According to the US military AHW first test in 2011 proved to be the best – combat unit flew 3,700 km in about 30 minutes and hit the target. The second test, passed in 2014, it was a disaster – combat unit self-destructed in the 4 second flight.

Competitor AHW program is Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). The essence of the project is the same. In the first tests, which were conducted in 2010, for a combat unit the following requirements: to fly 7,700 km, has a top speed of about 20M. HTV-2 was launched into the upper atmosphere by a Minotaur IV-booster (option decommissioned ICBM LGM-118 Peacekeeper). The flight was supposed to last 30 minutes, but a 9-minute connection to the combat unit has been lost. Roughly the same scenario developed and the second test in 2011 – the connection was also lost about 9 minutes.

And finally – March 15, 2016 US arms giant Lockheed Martin announced that work is underway to create a hypersonic drone SR-72. Airspeed of an aircraft should be not less than 6M. According to the company, the aircraft can be created by the middle of the 2020s, and the cost of one machine will be less than $ 1 billion. Dimensions are similar to the UAV fighter 5th generation F-22, so it can be assumed that the machine can perform intelligence and possibly shock problem. By the way, a project to create a hypersonic aircraft HTV-3X under the Falcon program (to the same part of the above and HTV-2), was frozen in 2008 due to lack of funds, but now the project seems to come alive.

Other countries conducting tests of hypersonic weapons

According to American sources (later briefly confirmed by Beijing), China is also working to develop a hypersonic warhead by product type 4202 or HTV-2. The product has been tested 6 times and, apparently, from 5 tests were successful or partially successful. A more accurate and detailed information about the project yet, as well as on the technical characteristics of the Chinese gipezvukovogo glider.

Success is and the other Asian giant – India. It created a tactical missile “surface-to-surface» Shaurya, accelerates to a speed of about 7M (about as Russian tactical missiles Iskander-M). However, included in the list of tactical ballistic missiles, perhaps, not very well. On the other hand India conducts joint development with Russia RCC Brahmos-2, which may be a modification of the above “zircon”.

France is also developing a hypersonic weapon – started developing a cruise missile “air-to-surface» ASN4G. The French want to disperse the carrier of nuclear weapons to a speed of approximately 8M, but no timetable on when the first prototype will be ready until called.


1. Hypersonic weapons can seriously affect the steady-strategic balance in the world. It reduces the time limit to respond to the enemy, and precision, maneuvering hypersonic warheads of ballistic missiles can pass any anti-missile system. High precision and, consequently, the possibility of rejection of nuclear warheads increases the “temptation” to use such weapons for the purpose of disarming the enemy.

2. With the current level of technology to create real models of hypersonic weapons is no longer a fantasy. This is especially true hypersonic warheads for ICBMs-gliders. Cruise missiles with a flight speed of 5-6m, too, may soon become a reality.

3. doubtful until just look hypersonic aircraft projects – such projects are too expensive at this stage. Thus, the “ride” from Moscow to New York for an hour will be able, perhaps, more soon.

4. None of the parties has a decisive advantage in hypersonic race. US most openly talk about their projects (maybe not all?), Russia, and, increasingly, China – is trying to fully disclose their cards. The rest is play the role of catch-up.