Russian hypersonic vehicle - more dots added to Project 4202
Hypersonic vehicles seems all the rage these days - China reportedly tested one, named Wu-14 on August 7, the United States made an attempt to test its own on August 25. Neither of these tests was a success, but it is clear that the tests will continue. What about Russia?
Russia first went public with its "hypersonic weapon" more than ten years ago - in February 2004 it tested a warhead thataccording to the Kremlin "will fly at hyper-sonic speed and will be able to change trajectory both in terms of altitude and direction, and missile defence systems will be powerless against them".
The warhead in question appears to go all the way back to the 1980s. One of the projects developed by the Chelomey Design Bureau (NPOmash) after 1987, an Albatross (solid-propellant) ICBM, included some kind of a maneuverable warhead. In 1989 the Albatross missile system was transferred to other design bureaus (and became Universal, which then became Topol-M), but NPOmash apparently kept the warhead. It was tested at least twice - on 28 February 1990 and 5 March 1990. Katayev's notes are a bit cryptic on these tests, but he noted that both tests were conducted "without separation" and mentions "70-80 km altitude." The vehicles flew to Kamchatka. Additional flight tests, including ones "with separation," were planned, but it looks like the first two flights were the last ones for some time.
The tests were resumed in the 2000s. We know that the strategic exercise on 18 February 2004 included a test of a UR-100NUTTH missile that flew from Baykonur to Kamchatka. This was later identified as a test of the new "hypersonic vehicle". It might not be the same Albatross that was flown in 1990, but it's probably related. As it turns out, there must have been a test in 2001, probably in June, although it went unannounced at the time. More reports of new tests appeared in 2011 - a new warhead was tested on a UR-100NUTTH missile on 27 December 2011 and I was told that it was related to the "hypersonic" project. The program was apparently alive and well.
More details appeared about a year ago, thanks to Alexander Stukalin, who found a number of interesting documents that mention Project 4202 and construction activity at the Object 370 at the Dombarovskiy missile base. At that point it was not quite clear what Project 4202 is and whether it is related to Object 370. Everything pointed to a new payload that will be carried by a UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile, even though the evidence was somewhat circumstantial. But now we have some new documents (you've guessed who found them) that link together quite a few elements of the project.
A working document of the Central Design Bureau of Transport Machine-Building (TsKBTM) describes "fueling of the A35-71 [missile] with propellant components during tests at the Object 370 conducted as part of the work on Project 4202." This is a fairly direct evidence of the link between Project 4202 and Object 370. Also, the document refers to a contract signed in March 2009 - apparently Project 4202 was formally started around that time.
Unfortunately, the exact location of Object 370 remains somewhat elusive. We know that it's at Dombarovskiy, but the satellite imagery there is rather old - there is nothing after 2009. There are a few good Panoramio photos from May 2013 that show some serious construction at an old command center (51°3'42"N 59°36'30"E) and at some other silos, but these are a bit farther from Yasnyy than Object 370 (which is about 7 km from the city).
At the same time, the silo at 51.093482° 59.844589°, which is adjacent to a command center, seems to be a good candidate for Object 370.
There is one more link between Project 4202 and the UR-100NUTTH missile - in June 2014 the KBKhA Design Bureau placed an order to explore the extension of service life of rocket engines used in the UR-100NUTTH missile to 42 years. The assignment explicitly said that the extension is done as part of another project - extension of service life of the 15S300-4202 system. Since 15S300 is the designation for the 15A35/UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 missile without the payload section, it's reasonable to assume that 15S300-4202 is that missile adapted for Project 4202. As we can see from this order, the missiles that will be used in the new system are rather old - I don't think any UR-100NUTTH were produced after 1984 - but the engines have been kept dry all these years, so they must have aged gracefully.
The payload, which apparently includes that "space head section" (the suspected "hypersonic" vehicle) is designated 15Yu71 (15Ю71, see the discussion and links in comments). It looks like that production of the 15Yu71 (or at least some of its key components) will begin in 2015. By that time the infrastructure at the Dombarovskiy site should be fully ready.
Indeed, it's quite possible that the Dombarovskiy site was used for a flight test of the new system already - there was a report about an unsuccessful test of a "hypersonic vehicle" that took place in September 2013. The report was contested, but I think I have fairly strong evidence that there was indeed a test. Whether the missile was launched from Dombarovskiy is rather difficult to say, but I would not rule it out.
So, the bottom line is that Russia is fully in the "hypersonic race", although we may have to wait a year or two before we see the fruits of the Project 4202.[August 26, 2014]
Object 370, Project 4202 and construction in Dombarovskiy
In April 2010, Rosnadzor, the regulatory body of the Russian government, issued a directive that ordered an environmental assessment of a very interesting project - "construction of facilities of the A35-71 launcher with a space head section at the Object 370 site ("создание комплекса ракеты-носителя А35-71 с космической головной частью на объекте 370"). This very brief phrase in a routine bureaucratic document raises quite a few questions - what are exactly the "A35-71 launcher", its "space head section", and "Object 370"? The short answer is that we don't really know. But we could guess (with a lot of help from my readers and some combing through the internet).
Object 370 is apparently a large construction project at a site 7 km away from Yasnyy. There are two R-36M silos of the Dombarovskiy missile division that are located at that distance from Yasnyy. One, to the north of the town
has been converted to the Yasnyy space launch site that supports launches of the Dnepr system, so it is already in use
[UPDATE 02/26/14: No, this silo has not been used for space launches]. The other one, to the east
, is just a regular silo, which looks more suitable for a new project. The construction at the Object 370 site appears to be quite intensive - the site includes an "experimental testing base" as well as a number of buildings and extensive support infrastructure, including a new railroad link to Yasnyy.
The most interesting part of the construction activity appears to involve conversion of the old R-36M silo - SKTB-16, a design bureau with a long history of work on ICBM silos, mentions
"conversion of P718 facility to P771 facility" as one of its projects. Now, P718 is apparently the 15P718, a standard R-36M silo; the missile itself has an index 15A18. So, P771 most likely refers to a silo that would house the A35-71 launcher, whatever it is (we'll get to the A35-71 in a moment). I couldn't find a direct connection between the SKTB-16 work and the Object 370, but there are not very many R-36M silos that could be converted. The Rocket Forces has kept some of these silos
- there may be some in Uzhur and there are definitely a few in Dombarovskiy. Given the level of activity in Dombarovskiy, it is likely that the Object 370 is indeed the place where the silo conversion takes place.
The index A35-71 probably refers to some modification of the 15A35 missile system, otherwise known as UR-100NUTTH or SS-19. The index seems to suggest that the missile itself has not changed very much and the most important modification is the new "space head section" (космическая головная часть). I must admit it is really no more than a guess, but it seems to be reasonably consistent with other bits and pieces of information. So, what is this new "head section" and why the missile that carries it could not be deployed in old UR-100NUTTH/SS-19 silos?
The SKTB-16 report mentions that the conversion is done as part of the Project 4202 (в интересах темы "4202"). This is something new we could work with. As it turns out, Project 4202 is "one of the most important projects"
of NPO Mashinostroyeniya - the old Chelomey design bureau that designed the UR-100NUTTH missile. A search through the NPOMash site reveals that this work involves manufacturing of something that has several sections of a fairly complex shape and uses some non-metallic and anti-radar materials - not a bad candidate for the new "head section" of the "A35-71 launcher."
A few more dots to connect - in 2004, NPOMash demonstrated what was described as a "hypersonic maneuverable warhead" that was flown on a UR-100NUTTH missile
. Could that be the new "space head section"? I would say it's quite possible. It is a bit strange that it would be described as a "space" warhead, but it does seem to travel through space for a significant part of its flight, so it won't be much of a stretch. If this is indeed what the Project 4202 is about, it explains why its deployment requires modification of a silo - as I understand, this warhead is rather big, so it won't fit into a standard UR-100NUTTH silo. The R-36M silos are much deeper - the missile is about 9 meters longer than UR-100NUTTH - so it could probably accommodate the bigger "head section" as well. But the silos may need some modification - unlike R-36M family, UR-100NUTTH is a "hot launch" missile. I'm not sure this would be the main reason why the conversion is necessary, though - there might be others.
The "hypersonic warhead" is not the only possible explanation for the activity at the Object 370. The description of the A35-71 as a "launcher" (ракета-носитель) seems to imply that it would be used to deliver payload into space. I thought that the Naryad-V ASAT system
is a reasonably good candidate as well - it was supposed to be deployed on UR-100NUTTH missiles. But a colleague who spent some serious time researching Project 4202 assured me that it's not Naryad-V. Another argument against Naryad is that an ASAT kill vehicle is unlikely to need anti-radar coating or a complex shape. Also, there is a possibility that Object 370 has nothing to do with the Project 4202.
Another question about this whole enterprise is whether it makes sense to develop a new payload for the UR-100NUTTH missile, which will turn 40 years old in a few years. One possible answer to that is that Russia may be planning to resume production of UR-100NUTTH or build a derivative of this missile - there are signs that something like this is under consideration. It's also possible that the new payload could be deployed on Topol-M, although this does not seem to be part of the current plan.
If all this activity is indeed about deployment of a new system that would carry some kind of a "space head section" it could raise a few questions about whether this new system should be covered by the New START treaty. The treaty defines a ballistic missile as a "a missile that is a weapon-delivery vehicle that has a ballistic trajectory over most of its flight path." This definition would probably exempt some of the systems that the United States wants to deploy as part of its Prompt Global Strike program. The U.S., of course, would argue that these systems should not be considered "new kinds of strategic offensive arms"
as they do not meet the definition of the treaty - they are not ballistic missiles, for example. Russia might be happy to agree with that position, since that would leave its own systems outside of the treaty as well. But unlike the U.S., Russia might want to deploy them with nuclear warheads - this would probably give the United States a pause.
I should say I remain quite skeptical about all these fancy systems - it is unlikely that in terms of delivered payload or the ability to penetrate missile defenses (probably a big selling point in Russia) they would outperform ICBMs. But that's never been the point of these kind of projects anyway.
In the end, I think the long answer to the questions about Object 370, A35-71, and Project 4202 is very much similar to the short one - we don't really know. But there is something interesting (if not quite reasonable) going on at Dombarovskiy. My guess is that we'll soon hear more about it.
[February 6, 2013]
Разработка гиперзвуковых ракет активно велась в СССР с 1970-х годов, однако в 1990-е практически сошла на нет. В частности, "НПО машиностроения" создавало ракету "Метеорит", а позднее начало работы на аппаратом с шифром "4202". МКБ "Радуга" в 1980-х начало проект ГЭЛА Х-90. В 1970-х годах на базе ракеты комплекса С-200 была создана ракета "Холод", сумевшая развить скорость в шесть тысяч километров в час.
Х-90 / ГЭЛА - AS-X-21
Рисунок аппаратов СЛА-1 и СЛА-2 системы "Призыв" с рекламного буклета НПО машиностроения, 1990-е годы
机械制造科学生产联合体(НПО Машиностроения)和中央机械制造科学研究所(ЦНИИМАШ)为УР-100НУТТХ洲际弹道导弹(15А35 / РС-18Б，北约代号SS-19 Mod.2“匕首”/ Stiletto)研制的“呼号”(Призыв)系统，用于对海上遇难船只进行紧急救援。该项目的早期研究从1987年就已经开始了，并在1991年进行了首次试验，其开发代号为“信天翁”(Альбатрос)。