Nadezhda Alekseeva, Elizaveta Komarova
Britain must develop hypersonic weap-ons to compete with Russia’s growing military might. This was stated by the chief of the defense staff of the United King-dom, Tony Radakin. Ho-wever, experts doubt that such plans will be implemented in the foreseeable future, since London has not previously been involved in the development of hypersonic technologies and currently does not have the necessary resources for this. According to analysts, the UK thought about the creation of such weapons primarily for reasons of national prestige.
The British army needs hypersonic weapons to compete with Russia’s growing military power. Tony Radakin, Chief of Defense Staff of Great Britain, said in an interview with the Times.
“We do not have (such missiles. – RT ), but we should be,” he said.
London called the presence of hypersonic weapons in other countries a threat before. This, in particular, was mentioned in the strategy for the modernization of the country’s Armed Forces “Defense in an era of rivalry”, published in March 2021.
“Efforts are intensifying to undermine our traditional technological advantages through targeted investments in funds designed to counter our strengths and undermine strategic stability, such as hypersonic missiles to penetrate missile defenses and nuclear-powered cruise missiles,” the document said.
However, experts believe that such rhetoric on the part of the British authorities is primarily dictated by considerations of prestige – London, fearing reputational losses, does not want to lag behind Moscow in the field of advanced weapons.
“Thus, official London is trying, in the difficult conditions of the crisis caused by both the pandemic and Brexit, to play on the feeling of historical national pride of the British,” military expert Yuri Knutov explained in a commentary on RT.
A similar point of view is shared by Vadim Kozyulin, head of the Center for Global Studies and International Relations of the IAMP of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Britain has nuclear weapons, and among the members of the nuclear club, it has always had a serious weight, therefore, the technological lag in the field of delivery vehicles is perceived by British politicians as a blow to the country’s image,” the expert said in an interview with RT.
“No military need”
Recall that the development of hypersonic technologies was started in the USSR and the USA back in the XX century. However, the level of materials and technologies of that era did not allow bringing such undertakings to practical implementation – during a flight at hypersonic speed, the equipment experiences a very high load.
The topic has regained relevance in recent years. The main impetus for the development of hypersonic technologies in the world was the appearance of such weapons in Russia. In 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a message to the Federal Assembly, spoke about a new weapon developed in Russia. In particular, the Russian leader said that the Kinzhal hypersonic aviation missile system took up experimental combat duty back in December 2017.
Another hypersonic complex, Avangard, which is launched using a ground-based ballistic missile, was successfully tested in December 2018. The complex took up combat duty at the end of 2019.
The Zircon, a sea-based hypersonic missile, will enter service with the Russian army in early 2022.
In the light of the emergence of combat-ready hypersonic weapons in Russia in the United States, work in this direction has also intensified on the basis of already existing developments.
Since 2003, the Boeing Corporation has been developing the X-51 Waverider hypersonic missile in the United States, and it was even tested in 2013. However, subsequently, very little information about the fate of this development appeared in the media.
In September 2021, the Pentagon announced the successful test of the Raytheon Technologies’ HAWC hypersonic missile.
At the same time, the US ally in NATO, the United Kingdom, does not have such developments in the field of hypersound. As noted in a 2017 study by the RAND Corporation, London has traditionally paid little attention to hypersonic technology. Thus, within the framework of the Future Offensive Air Systems (FOAS) program, British specialists previously studied the country’s needs in the field of extended-range air-to-ground weapons, including hypersonic missiles. And in 2006, analysts concluded that the kingdom should not be channeling resources towards creating hypersonic weapons.
“Given the lack of a specific military need for high-speed weapons, the UK’s lack of capabilities in key areas and the burden on R&D funding, it is not recommended that the UK seek to build its own high-speed weapons capabilities,” the analyst said.
As a result, the British government has invested very little in hypersonic programs and virtually all research has been conducted in collaboration with either the US or the EU, RAND analysts noted.
“There is no necessary school”
It should be recalled that the British aerospace company Reaction Engines, together with BAE Systems, has been developing the SABER engine for a long time. This power plant is designed for both hypersonic development and spacewalk. As conceived by the developers, in the earth’s atmosphere, the engine should provide a speed of up to Mach 5, and in space – up to Mach 25.
The project is financed by the British government, as well as the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
In the fall of 2019, the company announced the successful completion of testing in the United States of an important engine component – a patented heat exchanger.
“It (the heat exchanger – RT ) was exposed to hypersonic conditions and temperatures close to 1000 ° C. This test program confirmed the performance of the precooler in the high-temperature airflow conditions expected during high-speed flight at speeds up to Mach 5, “Reaction Engines said at the time.
British company co-founder and CTO Richard Warville called the test “a milestone.”
“Our patented precooling technology has been proven effective in hypersonic flight, bringing us closer to our goal of creating the first air-jet engine capable of accelerating from Mach 0 to Mach 5,” he said.
From the point of view of Vadim Kozyulin, in this case we are talking about a hybrid or universal hypersonic engine.
“The point is that the hypersonic engine starts up at a speed of about Mach 3. For an airplane or rocket to reach this speed, one more stage is needed. And such a design becomes disposable, which is unacceptable for a hypersonic airliner – an aircraft cannot be disposable, ”says Kozyulin.
According to the expert, if the SABER becomes an engine that does not need an additional stage, it can be called a breakthrough. As the analyst noted, such work is also underway in Russia, but in this case we are talking about the use of hypersonic technologies not so much in the field of missile weapons as in civil air transportation.
As for the prospects for the creation of hypersonic weapons by Great Britain, experts are skeptical about them. As Yuri Knutov explained, it is not enough to develop an engine to create a hypersonic rocket – the guidance system of such a rocket is also very important, which, according to the analyst, the kingdom does not yet have.
According to Knutov, the availability of special materials that can withstand loads at hypersonic speeds play a key role.
“I don’t think that the UK will quickly have its own hypersonic weapon, it does not have the necessary school and resources for this,” the expert said.
According to him, London is now buying American missiles for its nuclear submarines. Moreover, Great Britain was unable to create a full-fledged nuclear triad, since it does not have its own modern strategic bombers.
“In the best case, the British side will be able to agree with Washington on the supply of hypersonic technologies, or even just on the supply of ready-made missiles. I think it will take Great Britain at least ten years to get closer to creating its own hypersonic weapon, ”the expert summed up.