Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 07:52 (GMT+7)
Breakthroughs in developing weapons in 2018

Recently, major powers worldwide have been drawn into the spiral of developing modern weaponry as the strategic deterrent. Notably in 2018, the breakthrough achievements in this field (particularly in hypersonic and laser weapons and cruise missiles) are attracting the special attention from the international community.

A breakthrough in developing hypersonic weapons

Speaking about the development of military science and technology in general, weaponry in 2018 in particular, some military experts around the world believe that the most outstanding achievement was Russia’s success in manufacturing hypersonic weapons. After the test of the hypersonic missiles named Avangard (Vanguard in English) on December 26th 2018, Russian President Putin claimed that it was an “invulnerable” missile system and would be provided for Russia’s armed forces in 2019. According to the President, Russia has been the first nation in the world that has managed to develop this strategic weapon which would not only ensure Russia’s national security, but also be helpful in many decades to come. Russia confidently states that its Avangard is the most advanced missile system at present with its intercontinental range and capacity to neutralize the opponents’ reconnaissance and detection. According to Moscow, at present and in the foreseeable future, there will be no missile defence system that could intercept and destroy this type of missile. When an Avangard is launched, its payload separates the rocket, automatically adjusts the height and flight direction to avoid the opponent’s missile defence system, and then travels at 20 times the speed of sound (about 24,500km per hour) towards the target. This is nearly unimaginable as it could remain intact without being burned at such a high speed throughout the atmosphere (equivalent to the escape velocity). However, Russian scientists have succeeded in creating the material for the cover of electronic devices inside the Avangard, which enables it to operate in a plasma cloud at nearly 2,000 degrees Celsius.

The test of Avangard

In addition to Russia, in the past few decades, China has made investments in studying and developing the hypersonic weapons. In 2018, China successfully tested the hypersonic weapon called Starry Sky-2. Although it only moves at a speed of nearly 7,400 km per hour, equivalent to 1/3 of the Avangard’s speed, it has laid the initial foundation for China’s development of the strategic hypersonic missile system. The Starry Sky-2 carries the conventional warhead, but it will possibly carry the weapons of mass destruction in the future. In fact, the Starry Sky-2 is not the first hypersonic glider of China (it has tested hypersonic gliders since 2014), but this is the first vehicle equipped with the gliding technology which uses the shock waves to create the power for pushing the airflow during the hypersonic flight.

Being concerned about the success of Russia and China, in 2018, America decided to invest 928 million USD in the Lockheed Martin Corporation to develop a hypersonic missile system. Earlier, this country had formulated many plans for developing the hypersonic glide vehicles. However, due to its difficulties in technology and funds as well as the “premature death” of several hypersonic weapons programs, America is now pursuing the program for the hypersonic cruise missiles at the speed of Mach 6-8, with the range of about 6.000 km.

It is clear to see that although Russia, China and America have been studying and developing the hypersonic weapons since the 1990s, up to now, only Russia has achieved the success with the Avangard, and China has been initially successful with the Starry Sky-2; meanwhile, America has only started with its programs. Thanks to their speed, the hypersonic missiles will be able to breach all missile defence systems and hit any target in the world, which makes up the dominant strength of this type of weapon. Hypersonic weapons are really leading to a revolution in the strategy for using the weapons in the future.

Laser weapons have been officially put to use

A part from the development of hypersonic weapons, the technology for manufacturing high-energy laser systems has allowed us to use them as a weapon. There are many vehicles which could be equipped with the laser weapons, such as armoured vehicles, surface vessels, aircraft, and spaceships. The laser weapons have no bullet like guns or cannons, but a laser beam travel at a speed equivalent to the light speed, and when hitting a mental object, its energy is highly concentrated and could make the mental object melt, evaporate and even become ions (the thermal fire effects). As the laser beam produces a stronger fire effect on human body, it is called the “death ray”. On December 1st 2018, Russia officially put the Peresvet combat laser system to use as an air defence weapon. This is a breakthrough step in Moscow’s program for developing laser weapons. The energy of the Peresvet combat laser system could disturb the optoelectronic system of a flying vehicle or completely destroy the optoelectronic system and the pilot of a normal aircraft. Moreover, it could be used to shoot down the enemy’s hypersonic warheads or attack the military satellites in the orbit around the earth. Since 2012, Russia’s Government has decided to continue making investments in the national program for studying and developing laser weapons capable of destroying aircraft, satellites and ballistic missiles.

America and Israel are now conducting their programs for developing laser weapons. America is developing the airborne laser system (ABL) which is planned to put to use by 2023. This system will be installed in an innovated Boeing 747 aircraft and include 4 laser generators called COIL, optical sensors, and devices for tracking and locating the ballistic missiles. After locating the ballistic missiles, the COIL will launch a laser beam towards the targets via the laser turret in the aircraft’s head. The high-energy laser beam will penetrate the missile cover, neutralize or explode the missile; its degree of destruction depends on the attack range. Meanwhile, Israel has succeeded in studying and developing an air defence system called Iron Beam which is a small-sized high-energy combat laser system. The Iron Beam could only shoot down the short-range targets, such as rockets, artillery, mortars, and UAVs at the altitude of 2km. This system is easily dismantled, assembled, carried by military vehicles, working as an air defence weapon like Russia’s Peresvet combat laser system with a much shorter range.

A breakthrough in developing new-generation cruise missiles

Applying the achievements in the 4th industrial revolution, military powers in the world have made progress in developing the new-generation, smart, high-precision, long-range, hard-to-be-intercepted cruise missiles. In 2018, several countries effectively used this type of missiles in their air strikes in Syria.

As for the US military, priority has been given to developing and using the Tomahawk Block IV missile integrated with the inertial navigation system, the global positioning system (INS/GPS), and the optoelectronic guidance system which is capable of photographing, recognizing, monitoring, and destroying the moving targets by itself. Being connected with the headquarters via the two-side transmission line, Tomahawk could receive the order to change the target during its flight. With this additional function, the US Tomahawk cruise missiles could attack both immobile and mobile targets. On April 14th 2018, America used the AGM-158A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) in its air attacks against Syria. JASSM is seen as a new strategic weapon of the U.S. and will potentially replace the Tomahawk in the future. As JASSM is launched from the outside of the enemy’s air defence zone, it is hard to detect these missiles. At the low altitude (tens of meters above the ground), JASSM starts aiming at the target with the speed of a normal jet aircraft, flying under the programmed route, using the INS and GPS. The head of a JASSM carries the infrared reconnaissance system (IR) and the system which automatically identifies the targets via the optoelectronic image; therefore, it could hit the targets with a minor deviation. However, the most dangerous characteristic of this weapon is its stealth capability due to its special shape and design with the radar-absorbing material, enabling it to penetrate the safe zone of the most advanced air defence complexes.

In 2018, successfully applying the achievements in the digital technology, artificial intelligence, and nanomaterial, Russia managed to test new-generation cruise missiles and effectively deploy them on the battlefield of Syria, such as the Kh-35U anti-ship cruise missile and the Kalibr land-attack missile. The Kh-35U is equipped with the INS, GPS, and radar system to proactively detect the targets (on September 25th 2018, it was launched from a Su-34 fighter successfully and destroyed a warship within a range of 260km). Russia’s Kalibr land-attack missile was highly appreciated by military experts when accurately destroying the targets of the IS in Syria within a range of 1,400km.

The UK and France have achieved a breakthrough in developing the SCALP-EG/Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles which was used in their air attack against Syria on April 14th 2018. This type of missile is equipped with the INS and GPS and updates itself on the flight route via the digital terrain map, thereby being capable of better dealing with the military electronic equipment. In the early and middle stages of its cruise, it flies at a rather low altitude to avoid being detected by the enemy’s radar system. In the final stage, it will automatically roar up into the air and use the optoelectronic and infrared seekers to compare the real image with the image of the programmed target, select the positions and then attack the target.

According to military experts, the breakthroughs in developing weapons in 2018 have proved the outstanding achievements of the world’s military technology. However, they could ignite a new Cold War. It is believed that major powers will continue further developing the strategic weapons, which will seriously impact on the world’s peace and security. Thus, while each country needs to strictly abide by international conventions that they signed, the UN Security Council should further promote its role and responsibility and adopt various measures to prevent the risk of an arms race, thereby making contributions to maintaining peace, stability and cooperation on a global scale.

Sr. Col. Dang Dong Tien, General Technical Department

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