Translated from Russian by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The world’s first medium range hypersonic ballistic missile has been adopted, but for the time being, unofficially
The Chinese medium range ballistic missile DF-26 was first launched a few days ago. It is important to note that it can move with hypersonic speed, affecting objects at sea and on land, and the appearance of this multistage missile has also become public knowledge for the first time. In fact, it is the world’s first medium range hypersonic missile system with high power engines in service. However, it differs from the Russian Avangard, which is fighting for a nominal “championship” – the development and testing of Chinese missiles was very quiet. All the facts presented here are for the information of interested parties only.
On the other hand, on January 24, for the first time, images of the Russian drone Okhotnik-B, which was located at the rear of the T-50-3 fighter, were published. This may mean that the Okhotnik-B will accompany the Su-57. At the same time, the US Air Force reports possible problems with the purchase of F-15X fighters due to the low production speed of the F-35. What can we understand from these two facts? The second part of our article will answer this question.
Information from China for those who understand the subject
As stated in the February 23 edition of Junshi Baodao, CCTV showed for the first time a screenshot of the DF-26 missiles testing and trial lunch on the Chinese steppes. This means that in addition to the DF-26s deployed in the western part of the country for India’s strategic deterrence (previously, DF-4 missiles on this base were intended for Moscow’s nuclear deterrence), China has a second base to deploy these missiles.
From the TV news footage we can see the missile launcher and chassis. Thus, it can be launched in a very short period of time, which is in line with the main goal of creating this missile system – the launch of nuclear and conventional warheads, because in the case of a nuclear missile launch the question of “recharging” does not arise. This means that all modifications of the DF-26, which represent a destructive force in the event of a targeted strike, as well as all missiles with similar types of warheads have already been tested in practice.
In 2017, a rapid strategic launch of the DF-26 was carried out in the west of the country, which was close to a real critical situation. A Chinese missile outpaced and destroyed the enemy’s nuclear warhead before enemy missiles were launched.
Of course, some of you will now say that China has promised not to use nuclear weapons first… At this I can only answer thus: capability and desire are two different things. We have shown our opponents our capabilities, while saying that we have no desire to apply them in practice. This is no longer nuclear blackmail, is it?
As I understand, at the time of the presentation at the military parade, the conventional and anti-ship modifications of the DF-26 were in the test phase, so the CCTV statement that “these missiles are capable of striking large and medium surface ships” is strictly for the future. Of course, once these missiles are operational and adopted, all of this will be history.
In 2018, in an interview with US Deputy Secretary of Defense for Research and Development Michael Griffin, he was asked if the US “adversaries” have hypersonic ballistic missiles. He answered: “I do not know how close they are, I don’t know…” I would recommend this science and technology specialist to read Junshi Baodao.
Interestingly, a few days ago, one US Navy spokesman bragged shamelessly in an interview calling the SM-6 “the first sea-based anti-ship ballistic missile in service”. In fact, this gentleman is making a fool of himself – it wouldn’t hurt this pseudo-representative of the Navy to study this issue. The US Navy has always used the SM family of semi-active homing missiles in the fight against small ships. The missiles in this family are too small to cause serious damage to large ships.
Of course, if you don’t take this seriously, the question will seem trivial, and the US media hardly know about the Chinese YJ family missiles. But wait…do the Americans know about the existence of the SM-401 export missile system? Hmm…that’s why the aforementioned representative says “in service” ballistic missile, which, of course, is a bit of a stretch.
A friend recently told me that his father was an engineer in the 1950s and 1960s. He began to take an interest in the question “who invented what in this world and who invented it”, thinking that everything was done by Russia or the USSR. The reason for this is very simple, when he studied, the development of science and technology in China followed the Soviet Union, which was very eager to leave its mark in this area, be it radars, machine guns, cars or planes.
This is well in line with the basic principle of the USSR, to compete with the West in everything. Having entered the 21st century, everybody was tired of the “race of inventions” and Russia became more self-confident, at the beginning of the new century it did not deny the fact of creating a stealth aircraft, did it? Recently, however, as Russia’s economy recovers and its military might grows, Russia has once again begun to show off its aces.
In his message to the Federal Assembly in 2018, Putin announced the creation of “hypersonic missiles systems”, named Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, which is an aircraft version of the Islander complex, and Avangard, carrying hypersonic blocks of which will be liquid-propellant ballistic missiles UR-100N.
Subsequently, these two types of weapons were hastily adopted, as if to write in textbooks that hypersonic missile systems were invented in Russia…
China is not interested in empty chatter, at least that’s what officials say. Hmm, that’s not quite true; won’t the Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation publish this year’s result in the magazine “Chinese Cosmonautics” with the words “the transition from ballistic to planning cruise missiles”?
In fact, it’s not that simple. In 2018, the report on the winners of the Guanghua Science and Technology Prize described the testing process of DF-26 winged warheads. They were carried out using a modified DF-4T missile warhead, which was obtained by converting a DF-4 missile. The test was a success, and subsequently a DF-26 simulated strike was carried out on ground targets.
The report specifically noted that, since the target zone was very large in size, it was impossible to build infrastructure at a scale of 1:1 and therefore had to use the topographic features of the polygon, turn the warhead in the air to conduct a simulated strike in the visibility area from different angles. This means that the DF-26 has excellent manoeuvrability, and the training goal was probably the American base in Guam.
It was also noted that the flight speed of the DF-26 was Mach 15, which is higher than that of other hypersonic cruise missiles.
Thus, the DF-26 is quite firmly established as the first mid-range solid-propellant missile in the history of mankind, working on the technology of boost planning. Since Russia announced in 2017 that it would stop developing RS-26 missiles, the Russian army will soon be equipped with an Avangard equal in strength to the Chines DF-5.
In 2018, China conducted the first test launch of the DF-31B solid-propellant missile. According to the available information, the launch time was postposed to seven o’clock in the evening so that the residents of the capital could see it with their own eyes. Subsequently, there were reports of UFOs over Beijing.
Of course, there are “proven” US reports that the Chinese missile DF-17 has previously reached a speed ten times the speed of sound and hit the target.
In general, China not only allowed the mainstream media to openly announce the adoption of hypersonic ballistic missiles, but also surpassed Russia and the United States. China has ambitions; it just doesn’t chase after sensationalism, but does everything so that only those who “fool around” understand.
I do not know if China is doing so in order not to worry the public, but I believe that countries with infrared early-warning anti-missile satellites can easily confirm the veracity of these tests and the technical level of this type of missile weapon. The US military and academic circles will be able to understand us unequivocally – these people to not need the media to understand the current contrast in missile technology in China, Russia and the US.
That is why, despite the fact that some Chinese publications started to chase the success of “Junshi Baodao” and tried to show all the “strength” of DF-26 with expressions like “huge corps” (if we talk about the size, then DF-26 is inferior to the Indian three-stage “Agni-V”), their articles speak in sufficient volume about potential enemies.
The future air forces of major power
Not so long ago there were photos of the Russian drone Okhotnik-B, taken at the flight test station of the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant. This aircraft, undoubtedly, is of great importance for the future of the Russian Air Force.
On my page on Weibo I already talked about the connection between Okhotnik-B or the development of drones in Russia. In general, the calm that has prevailed in the last few years in the manufacture of drones in the Russian Federation is largely due to the fact that in their creation it is impossible to use accumulated technologies from manned vehicles, and the development of new equipment requires the creation of a base for further development. The appearance of Orlan and Okhotnik-B indicates that such a base has been created, and Russia has joined the club of manufacturers of “high-tech drones”. Looking at the situation from this point of view, Okhotnik-B was created a little late, but it is always “better late than never”.
On the other hand, on the drawings the drone was positioned at the aft of the T-50-3 fighter jet, as well as wing-to-wing with the Su-57. This may mean that the Okhotnik-B will become the “escort” of the Su-57 and will play an important role in the future of the Russian air combat system.
The concept of “drone escort” has already been adopted by the major powers involved in the development of the next generation of combat aircraft.
The confrontation of stealth planes, just as the confrontation of slow-moving nuclear submarines, looks like a struggle in the dark. But where there is a struggle in the dark, there are canes for the blind.
That is why future nuclear submarines need an airborne underwater navigation tool, and invisible combat aircraft need an “escort drone”.
At the MAKS Airshow and the Zhuhai Airshow last year, Russia showed a schematic model of a drone similar in appearance to the Okhotnik-B. Radar with an active phased array of antennas can be seen at the front. For comparison, the US bomber B-2 installed a radar antenna with the same technology to detect ground targets, but on the toe of the wing, which allows you to form an image of the target. However, the Russian development may be equipped with an X-band fire control radar. This means that the concept of an “escort drone” promoted by the Russian Federation in Okhotnik-B is similar to the American concept of a “self-propelled missile launcher”.
China is also moving in this direction, having created the Sharp Sword drone in a short period of time, which is likely to play the role of escorting the J-20 aircraft. At one of the conferences, Jan Wei, Chief Engineer of the J-20, said that the ideal 6th generation aircraft for him is a combination of the J-20 and a “similar drone”. This coincides with the F/A-XX project of the US company Boeing (a joint project of the 6th generation aircraft of the Air Force and the US Navy, replacing the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and supplementing the F-22). It also implies that the next-generation combat aircraft should have a manned and unmanned aircraft, where the former controls the latter’s activities on the battlefield.
Of course, in reality such “double” combat aircraft will not appear soon – now we see only ideas that will be implemented by 2030-40. However, the combination of an advanced aircraft with a drone such as a flying wing capable of conducting air combat (although its capabilities are still limited to reconnaissance and firing medium-range missiles) is likely to become a reality in the 20s of the 21st century, an essential part of a possible future “high-tech confrontation” between the air forces of major powers. However, in developing combat aircraft, all countries in the world face serious differences between the idea and its implementation.
Thus, the characteristics of the Russian Su-57 are far from what is required, and the development of Okhotnik-B has only entered the testing phase, and the overall progress is hardly satisfactory.
At the same time, the problem of aging equipment is becoming more serious – recently there were reports of an unsuccessful forced landing of a Tu-22M3, which resulted in loss of life, as well as the collision of two Su-24. This means that the Russian Federation also faces a serious problem of re-equipping the army. The current speed of delivery of the Su-57 cannot meet demand in any way (according to the most optimistic estimates, several dozen more planes will be delivered by 2025), so the Su-27 will have to continue to bear the burden alone.
In the US, the F/A-18C continues to be in service with the APG-79 radar – so it will serve another 10-20 years. On the other hand, an upgrade (replacement of the radar and electronic control system) is also required in the F-16 in order to keep it alive. Let’s add to this the problems with the purchase of the F-15X, discussed in the American magazine “Air Force”.
A recent issue published an interview with US Deputy Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, who said that according to the plan, the US Army currently has to have more than 700 F-35s, but in fact it only has a little over 100. According to the most optimistic estimates, by 2024 the US Air Force will receive 80 aircraft annually, which is lower than the planned figure of 110 aircraft per year. In this situation, the question arises: is it worth buying brand new F-15Xs or pay attention to retrofitting old machines.
Donovan hinted that the F-35s are just a replacement for the F-16s, and the F-15s should be replaced by the F-22s, but since there is no hope of restoring production of the F-22s, the F-15X looks quite feasible, a compromise option. Of course, he also said that the ideal solution would be to increase the production speed of the F-35 to meet the army’s demand against “confrontations with major powers”.
Looking at what is happening in Russia and the United States, it is not difficult to draw conclusions. Despite the fact that the future lies behind a combination of manned stealth aircraft and the escort drone, financial problems and low production speed make the major powers (and even the United States) view this concept as a “long-term project”.
The next 20 or more years the Chinese army will have the heavy J-20 and J-16, Su-35, as well as the upgraded J-11B to the 4th generation. They are almost no different from the American F-15X, F-22 and F-35.
While the US Army is thinking about the need to purchase the F-15X, the Chinese Air Force should consider the following question: is it necessary to increase the number of J-20s in the future or to create some kind of “mass” 5th generation aircraft? The answer to this question is likely to be determined not only by the characteristics of the developments themselves.