How to shoot down enemy satellites?

The article was written by Russian military expert Kirill Ryabov and it was originally posted on “Military Commentary”

The armed forces of the developed world are using space devices with different functions. The satellites in orbit are used for navigation, communication, reconnaissance and so on

Therefore, space devices become “priority search and destroy” targets of the enemy. Excluding at least a few satellites in a cluster could have very serious effects on the enemy’s military capabilities.

Anti-satellite weapons have been studied and designed in many different countries, and there has been some success in this area. However, all known systems of this class have only limited potential and are not capable of attacking all objects in orbit.

From the point of view of destructive methods and technology, an orbiting space device is not an easy target to destroy.

Most satellites move in a predictable orbit, which makes it easier to navigate weapons.

But with that, the orbits are at altitudes of at least a few hundred kilometers, and as such the satellite weapon needs to fulfill some special requirements in structure and tactical features.

So intercepting and destroying a space device is actually an extremely difficult one, and this one can be solved in a variety of ways.

Weapons “Earth-Universe”

One method against the satellites is to use the type of weapon “high radiation” with special features, capable of reaching the target even in orbit.

This is one of the earliest (anti-satellite) ideas, and quickly obtained some practical results. However, these combinations were not popular in the past due to their complexity and high cost.

The FY-1C satellite debris distribution chart was shot down by a Chinese missile. Drawings of NASA
The FY-1C satellite debris distribution chart was shot down by a Chinese missile. Drawings of NASA

Specifically, in January 2007, the Chinese Army successfully conducted the first tests of its first anti-satellite complex. The Chinese interceptor missile reached an altitude of about 865 km and hit the FY-1C weather satellite that had crashed earlier.However, up to now, the situation has changed a lot and a number of new missile combinations launched from the ground or launched from warships capable of attacking satellites in orbit have been put into service. .

News of these tests, as well as the massive amount of satellite debris in orbit, has become a source of particular concern for many foreign armies.

In February 2008, the United States also conducted similar tests, but this time a missile launched from the ship’s launch complex. The missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG-70) was on duty in the Pacific at that time launched the SM-3 interceptor missile.

The target of this missile is a reconnaissance satellite that also had the USA-193 incident. The touch point of the interceptor missile and the target occurs at an altitude of 245 km. The satellite is destroyed, and its debris ignites in the dense layers of the atmosphere.

These tests confirmed the ability to deploy anti-satellite missiles not only on land but also on warships. In addition, they also demonstrate the enormous potential of the SM-3 missile, which is designed solely to intercept aerodynamic and ballistic missiles.

According to various sources, the anti-satellite missiles launched from the ground are also being designed – manufactured in our country (Russia).

It is hypothesized that the attack altitude of the latest S-400 air defense missile systems is not limited to 30 km as officially stated, but that these complexes can shoot down space devices. in orbit.

Many experts also believe that specialized anti-satellite missiles will be included in the ammunition base of the S-500 prospective air defense missile complex.

Launched SM-3 missile from the launch pad on the cruiser USS Lake Erie
Launched SM-3 missile from the launch pad on the cruiser USS Lake Erie

On the foreign media, there is a lot of information, claiming that the missile complex “Nudol” is a type of anti-satellite means.At the present time (late 2018), Russian industry is modernizing the A-235 anti-missile defense complex. As part of a larger program, Russian engineers are also designing a prospective interceptor missile bearing the code “Nudol” (successfully tested late November 2020-ND).

However, the features and capabilities of this complex remain secret and the Russian authorities have not made any comment on the aforementioned theories of foreign experts.

“Atmosphere- Universe”

Terrestrial anti-satellite missiles face a serious problem: the target’s enormous altitude. They need to have very strong motivations that are difficult to design.

So right from the late 50s, almost immediately after the launch of the first artificial satellite of the Earth, arose the idea of ​​equipping satellite interceptors for aircraft – carriers.

The aircraft-vehicle will bring the missile to a certain height and guarantee its initial acceleration, thereby simplifying the requirements for the rocket’s own engine.

The first tests in this direction were carried out by the United States in the late 50s.

During that time, the United States was designing strategic air-launched ballistic missiles and after some tests it was found that; some of these models can not only be used against ground targets, but also against space equipment.

As part of the flight tests – the designs of the Martin WS-199B Bold Orion and the Lockheed WS-199C High Virgo rockets, the US has launched several test tests against orbital targets. However, the projects above did not produce the desired results and were ordered to be terminated.

Following that, the Americans continued several attempts to build an anti-satellite missile that launched from the air, but with no success. All new products have certain disadvantages that do not allow them to enter equipment.

At the present time, as far as is known, the US Army has no weapons of this type, and American industry has not developed any new projects yet.

Destroying USA-193 with SM-3 missile.
Destroying USA-193 with SM-3 missile.

In September 1985, the United States conducted the only operational test launch of the missile against a target in orbit to test its capabilities. The fighter plane – the aforementioned carrier taking vertical altitude launched the missile at an altitude of about 24.4 km.The most successful US design in the field of anti-satellite missiles for aircraft is the Vought ASM-135 ASAT with the carrier vehicle the improved F-15.

The product (missile) was directed to the target position with the self-guided lead and destroyed the target. Point of impact between missile and target at an altitude of 555 km. But despite its great success and great potential, this project was halted in 1988.

In the first half of the 1980s, our country (Russia) also started a project to build an anti-satellite complex with an interceptor missile launched from the air. The 30P6 “Contact” combination has a number of components, and the most important one is the 79M6 missile.

Under the project, this missile will be used for aircraft – MiG-31D-type vehicles. According to various sources, the missile of the “Contact” complex can destroy space devices in orbits with altitudes as low as 120-150 km.

As is known, the base 30P6 combination has not entered service. Later, however, there was another project aimed at converting the 79M6 interceptor missile into a small (space-loaded) cargo missile.

At the end of September (2018), on the mass media appeared some new photos of MiG-31 aircraft carrying an unidentified “product” on the outside hangers.

The size and shape of this “product” makes many experts think that it is an anti-satellite missile launched from the air. However, so far these are just assumptions and there is no specific data about the object that has not been identified above.

USAF F-15 launching anti-satellite missile
USAF F-15 launching anti-satellite missile

As is known, anti-satellite missiles fitted to aircraft have been studied at one level or another in a number of countries. However, only two countries, Russia and the US, have the actual “product” and have already tested such weapons.

Other countries have not completed the fabrication and have not tested the anti-satellite missiles equipped for the aircraft. Their anti-satellite programs are built on other ideas.

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