Russia to roll out new hypersonic missiles

Russia to roll out new hypersonic missiles. Source: ITAR-TASS

Russia to roll out new hypersonic missiles. Source: ITAR-TASS

The 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 models will be the first Russian missiles with inert warheads, which can destroy nuclear warheads by hitting them with precision at great speed.

By 2014, Russia will launch two major plants producing hypersonic missiles, 77N6-N and 77N6-N1, for its state-of-the-art anti-missile defence systems, S-400 Triumph and S-500 Prometheus.

The Ministry of Defence has officially announced that “with those missiles, surface-to-air missile systems will be able to bring down any target flying at a speed of up to 7km per second, including nuclear warheads of ballistic missiles.” This said, the S-500 system is not yet ready, while its S-400 predecessor can currently launch older missiles, the 48N6 and 9M96.

The 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 models will be the first Russian missiles with inert warheads, which can destroy nuclear warheads by force of impact, i.e., by hitting them with precision at great speed. No explosives are needed: engineers’ estimates show that a collision at a speed of 7km/s would be sure to destroy just about any flying object.

The new plants are vital for the development of an anti-missile shield above Russia, since new surface-to-air systems are already entering service but are not equipped with new missiles.

For now, the Triumphs (S-400) are complete with missiles that have been left over from the old S-300 systems. Their range is around 200km, whereas the S-400s are designed to intercept targets at a distance of 400km.

The absence of more advanced missiles stands in the way of fully equipping Russia’s Air Forces and Aerospace Defence Forces with the S-400 systems. Only seven divisions have been supplied with such systems since 2007, with another 49 waiting to receive them, according to official data.

The missile shortage became even worse after production of the old S-300 systems was stopped completely.

“The last S-300 was produced for the Russian army in 1994 or so,” says Igor Ashurbeili, co-chairman of a non-departmental expert council on aerospace defence and former chief designer at Russian defence company Almaz-Antey. “Since then, Russia has only produced these systems for sale. But now even export orders for the S-300s have been suspended.”

Indeed, Moscow turned down a contract with Iran back in 2010, losing $800 million. The production was completely shut down after rolling out the last S-300 division intended for exports, which is to be supplied to Algeria soon. One of the problems faced by the Russian defence industry is that it “stopped accepting orders for the S-300s, but haven’t started to take orders for the S-400s yet,” says Ashurbeili.

The design of S-400 missiles has not been completed either. The system should be fully compatible with short-, medium- and long-range missiles. Presently, however, only short-range missiles, intended for hitting targets within 150 km, have been designed without a hitch. Medium-range missiles (up to 250 km) are still “raw”, and their design needs to be finalised.

The long-range missiles are non-existent, even though such a missile would be a serious hindrance to potential enemy vehicles, including Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). Without these missiles, the S-400 cannot fulfil its purpose – engaging targets at a long range.

As for the future S-500 system, “it will be an S-400, but with long-range missiles,” according to Aleksandr Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis. “The S-500s will at best be created in 2020, no earlier. At present, and for the next 10 years, the chances of countering a massive NATO attack are very low: it takes a long time to recharge the S-300s, so in the best case they will only repel the first wave of an assault, which would be 100 to 200 targets.”

Military expert Vladislav Shurygin agrees with Khramchikhin: “For now, the S-500 is an ephemeral dream, and no one knows if it will ever come true.” Even though the S-300s need to be replaced, there is simply no replacement for them. This is why Almaz-Antey is faced with some very important tasks, and “handling them will determine the future not only of the anti-missile defence system, but also of the country as a whole,” Shurygin believes. The holding is still capable of manufacturing high-quality products, but it needs to modernise its technologies and refurbish its production facilities quickly.

In other words, the production of modern aerospace defence weaponry is a comprehensive task which requires major technological innovations and modernisation of existing production facilities.

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