Missile Weapons: “Whether You Like It or Not, You Have to Develop”
On 2 August 2019, at the initiative of the United States of America, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987, ceased to have effect. At that time, the United States and the Soviet Union pledged to destroy existing and not to produce new ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles, whose reach was respectively 1000-5500 km and 500-1000 km. Thus, a part of the nuclear arsenals of both countries was reduced.
The reason for leaving the INF Treaty was the U.S. accusations of the Russian Federation of producing banned missiles, which Russia has consistently rejected since 2013. Two weeks after the termination of the treaty, the States conducted a test launch of a missile, which they had no right to test before.
Ukraine supported the decision of the United States (announced on 1 February 2019) and through the fifth President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko declared its right to create missile systems as a strategic factor in deterring against the Russian aggression. Moreover, during 2016-2019, the National Security and Defense Council, Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Administration repeatedly disseminated the information on testing various missile systems.
So, what are the prospects for forming own missile shield in Ukraine? Employee of one of the enterprises related to the Ukrainian rocket and space industry Radiy Radutny kindly agreed to talk on this topic to the editorial board of Uatom.org
— Considering the termination of the INF Treaty and probable start of the armament race between world powers, can we assume the possibility of manufacturing own cruise and ballistic missiles in Ukraine?
— Since we will probably be read not only by experts, let’s first remember what cruise and ballistic missiles are in general, how they are similar and how they differ. Experts can safely skip the next two paragraphs; they will not learn anything new.
Thus, cruise missiles (CM) are actually, in most cases, not missiles at all. Most of CMs are unmanned aerial vehicles with an aircraft engine operated on aviation fuel, have aerodynamic controls, wings, tail fin, stabilizers, elevators and rudders.
There are exceptions: cruise missiles of another configuration, but they are few. Subsonic cruise missiles fly at a speed of 800-900 km/h and supersonic at up to 4000 km/h. The flying altitude is extremely low: up to 15 m, and above sea level up to 3 m, which complicates fight against such missiles. However, taking into account low flying speed, it is possible to fight against them, and this is a disadvantage. At the same time, cruise missiles are significantly cheaper than ballistic missiles, and this is their advantage.
Ballistic missiles (BM) are classic missiles. They have a rocket engine operated on liquid or solid fuel, fly along a ballistic trajectory, and rise to a height of several dozen, hundreds or even thousands kilometers. The flying speed can reach 7000 m/s or 25000 km/h. The fight against ballistic missiles is a very difficult task, which is not yet fully resolved by any of the most advanced countries in the world. A significant disadvantage of BM is high price and production complexity.
—How realistic and possible is missile production in Ukraine?
— From a technical viewpoint, it is both real and possible. Moreover, the production of cruise missiles can be established very quickly.
In Ukraine, MS-400 turbojet engine is produced. Its prototype was developed specifically for Kh-55 cruise missiles. It is quite actively exported, moreover, to the countries that are well-versed in rocket science, for example, to Israel and Pakistan; it is also planned to use this engine in the Aist (Stork) cruise missile, which is being designed in Belarus. Unfortunately, this engine is also strangely found in Russia, despite all the measures taken and accordingly, can return to its homeland within a finished cruise missile on our heads.
There is no problem with the design documents for Kh-55 missile. Even if a part of the design documents is lost or damaged, there is at least one copy of the missile in Ukraine, and most of the design documents can be restored by reverse engineering.
It’s a little worse with process documents, but I don’t think it is a great problem. X-55 missile is quite old, designed mainly in the sixties of the last century. In my opinion, it is quite possible to update the production technology, in particular, to use composite materials and additive technologies (3D-printing —ed.).
At the same in Ukraine, there are enterprises that produce guidance systems and other important components. Moreover, modern machine vision technologies can bring the accuracy of cruise missiles right up to a direct hit, not just at the target, but at the specified part of the target. There is experience in the area of electromagnetic weapons and not theoretical, but practical, real, and also sold to a foreign customer as a prototype.
Designing a cruise missile from scratch may take a little longer. However, as we see with the example of the Neptune rocket developed at the Luch Design Bureau, we have already made good progress in this area.
The situation with ballistic missiles is slightly worse. The technology of their production is much more complicated. For example, solid-fuel engine casings are made by winding fibers on a mandrel. The mandrel is about a meter in diameter and up to several meters in length, and you need to wind it up with a constant (or variable according to a certain law) angle, control the uniform lubrication of the fiber with binders, prevent glueline defects, caverns (cavities — ed.). This operation is performed on specialized machines. They are available in Ukraine, but this process is still quite expensive and requires highly qualified personnel. Regarding which, unfortunately, the situation is not the best.
Control and guidance ballistic missile systems are also much more complex than similar devices for cruise missiles. First, they should be designed for significantly higher speeds. Subsonic cruise missiles fly at a speed of 800-900 km/h, and ballistic missiles fly at 3000-7000 km/h. It makes no sense to reproduce Soviet design control devices, since they do not provide the required accuracy, and salvo firing assumed in the USSR is not good for us for financial reasons. Therefore, these systems should be designed from scratch. As far as I know, activities in this area are underway.
— What is the role of missile weapons in deterring armed aggression?
— Significant, but not decisive. Finally, a cruise or ballistic missile is just several dozens, well, maybe several hundred kilograms of explosives. That is, one destroyed bridge, one damaged railway junction or airfield, one destroyed headquarters. Any attack aircraft carries a dozen bombs capable to cause the same losses, and a heavy bomber: more than a hundred. Of course, an aircraft can be shot down, and it can be done easier than intercepting a missile, but the great powers have a huge fleet of attack aircraft and it’s impossible to shoot down all of them.
Missile weapons became a significant deterrent when they “became friends” with weapons of mass destruction. One missile with a nuclear warhead, even a small one, with a capacity of 300 kilotons, is not just one bridge, but an entire city. This is the equivalent of 300 regular one ton bombs or 3000 one hundred kilogram bombs
Taking a Soviet reference book or turning on some kind of nuclear explosion simulator (for example, Outrider) and dropping a conditional warhead on, for example, longsuffering Voronezh, we will see that the losses will be about 170,000 dead and 270,000 wounded. Such a number of victims will make even Russians think, despite the fact that they are insensitive to losses of manpower and civilians.
However, weapons of mass destruction are not expected in the near future. For a number of technical and political reasons, which need a separate study.
If after reading these lines, there is an impression of no sense to develop a missile shield for Ukraine, then this impression is wrong. The fact is that we simply do not have a special choice. Our aircraft is in poor condition. Soviet-made aircraft will begin to fail massively in 2025-2030, and later their operation will be simply dangerous.
In addition, due to moral aging, effectiveness of our aircraft falls quickly. In Ukraine, several ground attack aircraft designs are being developed, but attack aircraft for strategic bombing are now definitely beyond our capabilities. Therefore, if we want to or not, we will have to develop missile weapons and increase its role in deterring the aggressor using a number of innovative solutions.
— What is the current state of the rocket industry?
— In bad. Many industry enterprises went bankrupt. Equipment for the production of Kh-55 (Soviet strategic aircraft cruise missile developed in the late 1970s — early 1980s to arm strategic bombers — ed.) is destroyed. Technological communication is broken. The director of the Pavlograd Chemical Plant, which produces rocket fuel, recently announced mass dismissal due to lack of funding.
The Pivdenne Design Bureau somehow copes with the situation: they not only saved the infrastructure and qualified personnel, but also modernized some areas. In particular, the most powerful supercomputer in Ukraine was recently launched there. It is used to calculate flow and thermal modes of high-speed aircraft. By the way, the computer is still underloaded and computer time can be sold to third parties. Contact them.
— Do we have a full cycle of missile production?
— For the production of cruise missiles, we have. Except maybe electronics. There is a bad situation with electronic components. However, this is not an obstacle. There are military components available on the market, and ways to use civilian mass products.
So, for example, for radiation-resistant devices, standard microcircuits are sometimes used, but those that have passed radiation resistance tests. The technical process of manufacturing microcircuits envisages a certain drift of parameters (within the standard); thus, among hundreds of cheap microcircuits, one or two may be radiation-resistant. If you find them, provide certification, test, then it is quite possible to do without ordering special microcircuits, which are more expensive.
Many countries have a full production cycle of cruise missiles. There are even amateur designs. The situation with ballistic missiles is more complicated. As far as I know, one of the components of solid rocket fuel in Ukraine is not produced in commercial quantity and its purchase abroad is quite complicated due to the missile technology control regime (MTCR) and internal bureaucratic factors
Part two of the Technical Annex to MTCR contains a large list of products, materials and components that can be used to manufacture cruise and ballistic missiles. Each case of such material purchase attracts increased attention of special services of the countries concerned (and almost everyone is interested), intelligence services: technical, military and political. One wrong step can cause getting into the sanction lists and in some cases automatically.
There are several ways to go round this obstacle. I think development of new fuel formulations, including solid, liquid, and jelly-like is the most promising area. An area that is even more promising is engines based on other physical principles. Finally, the actuating medium in the combustion chamber does not have to be heated using a chemical reaction, there are other ways. Unfortunately, all studies cost a lot of money and take some time.
— Who, besides Ukraine, is capable of such developments?
— I am offended a little to mention the countries that worked on creating a complete missile production cycle at the time, which we lost. However, to voice the problem is to take the first step to solving it, so we have to mention. Several large states have a full cycle for a while: the USA, France, China, and Russia.
As for France, the decision to have its own full cycle and its own nuclear weapons was purely political. Interestingly, under other programs, the French are willing to cooperate with the Great Britain (which, incidentally, has lost the full cycle) and Germany. The Germans could master the full cycle and nuclear technology, but eighty years ago, they did not prove to be the best, so now preventive measures are taken regarding them.
Recently, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and India obtained the full cycle. The situation with the full cycle in the DPRK is not entirely clear. On the one hand, the results of the work of the Koreans are noticeable, especially from South Korea and Japan, on the other hand, such rapid progress in the rocket industry shows either extremely efficient intelligence activities or external assistance. I even guess where it comes from. Not far there, especially by sea.
Many countries have the full cycle to produce short-range missiles, unguided aircraft and multiple launch rockets.
— What is the path of missile development from the design to bringing into service?
— Very complicated. It starts with forming operational requirements for a new product by one of the units of the Ministry of Defense. Based on the operational requirements, a field performance specification is developed. As a rule, the Central Research Institute of the Armed Forces develops this document, but sometimes a smaller but specialized institution develops it. At this stage, potential developers are involved: as a rule, experts and heads of specialized enterprises. We have a few experts. Several hundred of missile specialists graduated from Soviet universities each year, but only a few remained in the profession. Thus, experts know each other; they meet at conferences, meetings and training grounds. Therefore, there are no problems with engagement.
Problems begin during harmonization of the requirements of the field performance specification. Customers often set high demands, developers refer to the capabilities of own enterprises, personnel shortages and import restrictions on certain details and components. Each party tries to ensure that its position is taken into account
Interestingly, the military, as a rule, is not interested in the cost of a new product. In my opinion, this is not entirely correct, and there are many examples in history when the neglect of this parameter led to a military and political disaster. For example, the Tiger was an excellent tank, powerful, well-armored, and its “acht-acht” gun (eight-eight, i.e. 88 mm caliber) covered the American Shermans by fire. However, the Tiger cost as several Sherman, and its manufacturability was lower. Accordingly, less Tigers were produced.
The result is known. I would say that the mistake of the Germans should not be repeated, and the cost is as important characteristic of military equipment as speed or range.
However, let’s back to developing and introducing a new product. After agreement of the field performance specification by customers and developers, preparation of research and development plans starts. Most of the development ends at this stage. Satisfied developers get money, less satisfied Ministry of Defense: chunky mass of paper.
If the project goes through this stage, development activities are initiated. The output of this stage is not only paper, but already something flying. Sometimes successful, sometimes not very successful. The success is determined at the following stages: first factory, then departmental, and finally during state tests. According to their results, a commission is assembled and the new product first is put into trial and then into constant operation.
All stages are recorded by signatures of responsible persons. A number of signatures at each stage increases. On one of the documents that recorded transfer of a small product to trial operation, four pages were allotted for signatures.
In my opinion, this system is extremely imperfect and even harmful, especially during the war, but I do not see a way to change it.
— What is the maximum range of missiles produced by the Ukrainian defense industry?
— The announced launch range of the Neptun is 280 km. The limitation is artificial, caused by the above-mentioned MTCR. As a rule, the design has certain reserves for modernization, and in the case of withdraw from the MTCR by Ukraine or in the case of a special period, the range can be increased. However, of course, this is only my personal assumption.
Grim-2 firing range is also 280 km for export modification and 500 km for the version intended for armament of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In addition, there were reports on the possibility to increase the range to 1200-1500 km. Technically, it’s not difficult, and everything depends solely on the political will.
— What missile projects are currently being implemented in Ukraine? The media reported on tests of models such as Vilkha, Neptun and Hrim-2.
The Vilkha is a tactical missile system. Its missiles have a caliber of 300 mm, warhead mass is 250 kg. The missiles are guided, and the control system has at least two channels: inertial and satellite. The satellite channel provides greater accuracy, but can be jammed by obstacles, inertial one, respectively, is less accurate, but cannot be jammed. Due to the guidance system, hitting accuracy was brought up to 15 m. For comparison, hitting accuracy of the Smerch missile with similar characteristics was 300 m, and accuracy of much more expensive and heavy missile of the Tochka-U tactical system was 150-200 m. There is also Vilkha-M modification, which has a range of up to 120 km (as aforementioned Tochka-M).
RK-360MTs complex missile better known as the Neptun is a classic subsonic cruise missile with all its disadvantages and advantages mentioned above. Flight range is 280 km. Developers of the target seeking device have declared increased resistance to obstacles. The Neptun also has an up-to-date, easy-to-use sighting system. The system includes six launching installations, which are guided by the machine of the mobile command center. Accordingly, up to 24 missiles can be launched in a salvo fire simultaneously. This is enough to completely destroy a large attack ship of any class or take out of action most of landing ships and make mass landing impossible.
Grim-2 is the export name of the Sapsan operational and tactical missile system. This is a “long-term project” of the Ukrainian missile industry. Now Grim-2 is being tested. This is an up-to-date operational and tactical missile system with high accuracy and ability of homing guidance at the final stage of flight. Its missile flies at high speed along a ballistic or pseudo-ballistic trajectory and is a heavy target for missile defense systems. In addition, it has a powerful warhead weighing up to 480 kg.
In addition to the aforementioned missiles, products of the Typhoon series also deserve attention. These are missiles for salvo fire rocket system developed by the Pivdenne Design Bureau. Typhoon-1 has a caliber of 122 mm and a launch range of 40 km, which, by the way, is twice as much as a Grad shell of the same caliber. Typhoon-2 has a caliber of 220 mm and a maximum range of 65 km and Typhoon-4, respectively, has a caliber of 400 mm and a maximum range of up to 280 km.
There are a lot of promising projects, including supersonic anti-ship missiles, hypersonic attack and reconnaissance aircraft, operational and tactical missile systems.
Activities are underway on air defense missile systems of short and medium range. There are several designs of specialized C-UAS air defense missile systems.
There are interesting designs of rocket vehicles. Two years ago, a project was launched to construct a spaceport in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the political situation has not changed for the better, and in the near future this project is unlikely to be continued. However, several air launch missiles are being developed at once (the project to form a floating launch pad in the Kherson region was proposed by the Southern Machine-Building Plant in early 2019, but current chairman of the State Space Agency of Ukraine Volodymyr Usov supports the air launch option — ed.).
In the most realistic project being developed at the Pivdenne Design Bureau, the rocket is loaded into the An-188 transport aircraft, transferred to a predetermined area of the Atlantic Ocean, dropped there, starts the engine in the air and puts payload weighing up to 450 kg into the orbit.
Other rocket vehicles of various classes from light to super heavy are being developed. So, the Mayak-SH-7 missile is capable to bring up to 125 tons into a low Earth orbit, which is quite enough even for a manned mission to the Moon. There are dozens of interesting projects regarding the Moon too: here is the Eney robot to penetrate to lava tubes on the Moon’s surface, and an all-terrain vehicle, and several devices capable of landing, as well as a project of Moon settlement. However, the Moon is a topic for a separate big story.
There are also several reusable space vehicle designs, both manned and unmanned.
— Are these projects being implemented now or do they remain on paper? Is the state ready to introduce them?
—Most projects remain on paper. Not more than one percent of all projects or even less reaches the production stage. However, do not look for betrayal. This is a normal situation for all countries and at all times. For example, Skunks, a development team dealing with reconnaissance aircraft, created at least a dozen different designs before dwelling on what later became legendary Black Bird SR-71. This is a masterpiece aircraft, advanced in almost all aspects, so it’s not surprising that they approximated to this achievement not always directly.
One of the famous “Murphy’s laws” says that the need for fundamental changes in the design increases in direct proportion to the degree of its preparedness. So, that’s true. Quite often, at the end of the development stage, it becomes clear that the way it was done is not correct and it should be done in another way.
At the same time, financial reporting hang over the heads of developers like the sword of Damocles, and if it suddenly turns out that the money was wasted, heads will roll. That’s why sometimes developers are simply forced to complete an initially inefficient or even inoperable design, just to avoid being incompetent or criminally liable.
However, more often, money are not allocated to implement a good project. Sometimes because of lack of money; but, as a rule, since numerous guidance documents prohibit this. As a result, there are not enough up-to-date weapons at the front and people die.
Therefore, if suddenly there is a person who will destroy senseless bureaucratic obstacles in the military sphere, then developers and customers will willingly chip in for a large monument to such a hero.
Leader of the above Skunks group, distinguished aircraft designer Clarence Johnson, established fourteen work rules and most of them are not about aerodynamics or engines, but about maximum relief of bureaucratic pressure. It would not hurt our customers and managers to study these rules and take a test on them annually.
— In addition to the military sphere, where our projects are applied?
— In many areas. First of all, of course, in the space industry, however, it should be a separate topic. In aviation. Missile navigation, control systems, structural materials, production technology are very similar to aviation ones, so a rocket engineer, as a rule, can easily transfer to the aviation industry and vice versa. The Kh-55 cruise missiles mentioned above were constructed at the Kharkiv Aviation Plant.
Rocket production technologies are widely used in the latest industry: design and construction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Actually, a cruise missile is a specialized UAV. So, technologies and turnkey solutions are applied in both areas and the industries help each other. Indirectly, through the UAV area, rocket production impacts all sectors related to unmanned aerial vehicles: aerial reconnaissance, cartography, surveying, agriculture, and delivery of urgent cargo.
If we consider not only direct relation, but all the experience gained during rocket science development, the list will be very large, much larger even than the above-mentioned four-page signature sheet. One of the most famous examples is the Teflon material. The material, which covers pans. Yes, this material is a by-product of the rocket science.
And if we take into account completely indirect relation, then the rocket production annually saves 50—100 million people from starvation. Since due to missiles, astronautics appeared, and due to missiles, several meteorological satellites are now flying around the Earth and thanks to them, crop productivity has increased so much that it allows maintaining eight billion people.
And even posting cats on Facebook would be very difficult without satellite communication, which works also thanks to missiles.
— How rocket science is related to space exploration?
— Very closely related. All our space programs are also a product of military rocket science. The R-7 missile, which has been launching spacecraft and satellites into orbit for sixty years, was designed as an intercontinental carrier for a nuclear warhead. The genius of Serhii Koroliov was needed to include in advance components that allowed using the design for space research. I am sure that he did this intentionally taking advantage of the Soviet Ministry of Defense and even the Committee for State Security. Let me remind you of Wernher von Braun (German and then American designer of military and civilian missiles — ed.), who went to prison for a similar attempt and spent several weeks there.
The Proton rocket vehicle was also designed to deliver a superheavy warhead weighing several dozen tons, as well as to put military spacecraft into orbit.
Earth remote sensing satellites, the same due to which each of us has a navigator in our pocket with detailed maps of any country, were born as reconnaissance satellites. The famous Hubble telescope is a close relative of the American Keyhole reconnaissance satellite.
The Space Shuttle, which put the Hubble into orbit, many satellites and most of the International Space Station, was also developed primarily for military purposes.
— How promising are projects of the Pivdennye Machine Building Plant? Are there projects implemented jointly with foreign partners?
— There are and a lot. The cooperation on the Antares rocket vehicle can be considered, perhaps, the most famous project. The main executor on this topic is the Orbital ATK Inc. American space and military company. Ukraine is working on the first stage in this project.
In the Vega program, vice versa, we are working on the stage four sustainer engine unit. This program is implemented jointly with the European Space Agency. Jointly with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, we produce turbo-pump assemblies (this is the most difficult part of the rocket engine) and high-pressure spherical vessels. There are cooperation programs with India and China.
There is a chance to revive the project of launching Ukrainian missiles from the launch site in Alcantara, Brazil, but I would not say that it is very high.
If we raise the issue more broadly and consider also grantors as partners, then cooperation range expands even more. For example, within the EU Framework Program for Research and Technological Development, a new thermal protection material is being developed. Its main difference is the possibility of reuse. This gives the green light to hypersonic missiles, as well as to new generation of space shuttles, which are lighter, cheaper, and safer. I am very pleased that Ukraine does not keep out of this topic.
There are joint projects on defense issues with Poland, Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
— On 8 August 2019, near Nyonoksa (Arkhangelsk region of the Russian Federation), an unpleasant and sensational story happened with the test of their new product, probably with a nuclear fuel engine. Is it true that no one except Russia tried to develop nuclear fuel engines?
— Why did not try. The development of nuclear rocket and aircraft engines is underway for more than seventy years: since the middle of the last century. Several ground rigs; several flying laboratories with reactors on board were constructed.
The Americans came closest to implementing the design. Their SLAM Pluto project (Supersonic Low Altitude Missile) was a large-scale unmanned aerial vehicle that had to carry sixteen thermonuclear warheads, as well as inflict additional losses due to the shock wave of supersonic flight and ground contamination caused by radioactive release from the reactor. It was planned that after a successful bombing, the missile would fly in zigzag over the enemy’s territory until it was shot down or until its resource was completely exhausted. The design was partially embodied in metal, and the reactors were tested on the ground.
Less known Avro Z-59 British project provided only one warhead, but also had a deadly radioactive trail.
Several nuclear aircraft were designed in the USSR (by the way, they should be equipped with nuclear engines designed under the leadership of Ukrainian Arkhyp Liulka), and the idea of turning one of these aircraft into a huge cruise missile was discussed.
— Do such projects make sense?
— All these projects were scuttled, as there was no sense in such projects.
The reasons are simple: high risk, impossibility of full-scale tests, dubious effectiveness. Fear of risk, as we now see, turned out to be quite fair: the tests in Russia resulted in an accident and area contamination. The impossibility of full-scale tests is also obvious: the launch will cause severe area contamination, and it will not be possible to hide it. The air passed through the reactor will become radioactive and will quickly spread throughout the planet.
The thesis of dubious effectiveness may seem paradoxical, but only at first sight. Anyway, this is a cruise missile, even with a different engine, but still a good old cruise missile, which is an easy target for up-to-date air defense systems. As mentioned above, the perfect cruise missile is massive and cheap; its task is to saturate the enemy’s air defense system and break through due to mass nature. A missile with a nuclear reactor on board can neither be a mass nor, moreover, a cheap product.
— Do such missiles threaten the world and, above all, Ukraine?
— The main advantage of this missile is its unlimited flight range, that is, the ability to attack from an unexpected direction, but the United States, a potential opponent of Russia, is already constructing an all-aspect air defense and missile defense system being fearful of terrorist missile attacks. Therefore, there will be no unexpected attack.
Therefore, the threat to the world from this development is associated mainly with the possibility of emergencies, which due to the Russian style of equipment handling is simply inevitable. This, in fact, was shown in August 2019. Radiation leaks threaten the world and Ukraine much more than the hypothetical use of the Burevestnik.
Although there is another threat, first of all for Russia itself. By launching this program, Putin shot his foot. Responding to a new round of the nuclear arms race, states around the world take all possible countermeasures. The race-initiating country is hit by sanctions, stifled by low oil prices, several states announced hypersonic missile development programs at once, and NASA resumed activities on nuclear rocket engines.
Do not forget that the past cold war ended within the collapse of the USSR. However, before that, the world was on the brink of a “hot” nuclear war several times. I hope this time such extremes will not be reached the world several times found itself on the brink of a “hot” nuclear war. I hope this time will not reach such extremes.
Uatom.org. Editorial Board