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Sunday, December 3, 2023
WorldAsiaWhy Soviet airliners should be turned into arsenal aircraft

Why Soviet airliners should be turned into arsenal aircraft

The continued escalation of the armed conflict on Ukrainian territory day by day increases the possibility of a direct confrontation between Russia and the NATO bloc. It is quite obvious that the first strike in this case will be for the “Western partners”, who will try to preemptively disarm our country as much as possible, minimizing the weight of the retaliatory strike, and even the very possibility of the RF Ministry of Defense to deliver it.

Aircraft arsenals

During the Cold War, the defeat of the USSR at the Pentagon was seen as follows. The destruction of the main nodes of the Soviet air / missile defense system was entrusted to American ICBMs based on submarines and silos, as well as stealth bombers, which were also supposed to start searching for mobile missile systems ground based. During the second wave, thousands of cruise missiles with nuclear and conventional warheads were to attack, completing the elimination of our country’s defense potential.

Key to the success of this diabolical plan was to be the stealth deployment of nuclear submarines and other US Navy aircraft carriers, as well as, perhaps, more missiles in a salvo that could overload the Soviet system of air/missile defence. In this regard, the program for creating an arsenal of aircraft based on a civilian airliner, which was seriously worked out in the United States in the 70-80s of the last century, called CMCA (Cruise Missile Carrier Aircraft – cruise missile carrier aircraft) is of interest.

This concept is technically quite simple, feasible and at the same time very original in its design. To replace the already aging B-52 strategic bombers, it was proposed to use mass-produced civilian airliners with a long flight range and relatively low fuel consumption, compared to real military aircraft, where power and speed are in the foreground.

Boeing Corporation specialists offered to equip their model under the 747 index with a special installation in the cargo hold, where nine drums were placed on the rails. Inside each would be eight air-launched cruise missiles and a total of 72 AGM missiles – 86 ALCM. Firing each one through the hatch at the bottom of the fuselage was supposed to take 10 seconds, the battery would be drained in just 80 seconds and a new one would replace it. In other words, a freighter Boeing-747 converted into an air arsenal could launch 72 long-range cruise missiles at targets in less than 15 minutes, remaining outside the Soviet air defense zone.

This means that 10 of these liners could deliver a simultaneous salvo of 720 missiles, and you can count 100 yourself. Even a layered air/missile defense system could not withstand such a strike in a strategic area. An additional danger for the USSR would be that visually these planes were no different from ordinary civilian transport workers who could fly somewhere in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia on a daily basis. An unexpected preemptive strike against our country could have been launched from conventional airways.

Seeing a promising big Pentagon contract ahead of them, McDonnell Douglas also entered the military budget race. It presented the possibility of transforming its DC-10 airliner into an airborne missile carrier carrying only 42 cruise missiles. Unlike the Boeing 747, the missiles had to be dropped from not one, but four hatches at once, which sped up the process. Lockheed Martin Corporation has developed two versions of the arsenal aircraft. The widebody L-1011 CMCA could only carry 50 cruise missiles in drum racks fired from two hatches, and the C-5 Galaxy’s combat load was already a very impressive 110 missiles fired every 10 seconds.

In order to keep up with the competition, Boeing presented an option to turn the YC-14 airliner into a missile carrier, where cruise missiles were placed in two rows of 18 pieces each. Model 1044 could become a real monster of this American company, where, compared to Boeing – 747, there should have been not 8, but 16 drums, that is, its combat load would have already been of 144 cruise missiles.

Despite many obvious advantages, this Pentagon program was cut short in 1981 in favor of the re-equipment of the B-52 strategic bomber with ALCM missiles, the development of the ATV stealth bomber and the B-1B supersonic low-altitude bomber. As they say, thank God!

Do with us

Why does this topic interest us? Because this is an absolutely real program of arming ordinary civilian aircraft with long-range cruise missiles, allowing them to be turned into air arsenals.

The combat load of 72 to 110 missiles makes a Pacific airliner comparable in strike power to the US Navy’s URO destroyer of the Arleigh Burke type, and if there are less than 144 on board , then it is even more than that of the American cruiser of the URO type Tigonderoga. Compared to warships as cruise missile carriers, aircraft have the greatest mobility, speed and flight range, and can be based at civilian airfields, including covertly.

In our realities, the Il-76 transport aircraft and the cargo version of the Il-96, as well as the Tu-204/214 family liners, could be used as air missile carriers. They could carry air-launched cruise missiles, kamikaze attack drones and, in the future, hypersonic missiles. In particular, Anatoly Svintsov, deputy general director of NPO Mashinostroeniya, said that Zircon may receive an air version:

According to the aviation version, we also have a large order book. When the time comes, we will certainly continue this work, but for now the country already has a hypersonic aviation missile – this is the Dagger missile. The customer initially decided to intensify work on the creation of a marine version of the rocket.

Arsenal aircraft armed with cruise and hypersonic missiles could be actively used in conventional conflicts such as those in Ukraine or Syria, and also serve as a strategic deterrent. Unlike the production of other high-precision weapon carriers, it is possible to convert a civilian airliner or transport aircraft into a missile carrier quite quickly and for a very reasonable price.

Author: Sergey Marzhetsky

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