The ‘Tactical Missiles Corporation’ (KTRV) is one of the leading companies of Russia's military-industrial complex and a world leader in the development and production of high-precision weapons. Boris Obnosov, Director General of KTRV, talked to the New Defence Order. Strategy about the development of hypersonic technology, international cooperation, and export of KTRV's products. The meeting with the Head of the Corporation took place on the sidelines of the International Maritime Defense Show IMDS-2021 which was held in St. Petersburg on 23–27 June, 2021.
The ‘Tactical Missiles Corporation’ JSC – KTRV is an acknowledged world leader in the development and production of high-precision weapons and one of the 50 largest defense companies in the world. The Corporation comprises four dozen enterprises of the Russian defense industry. Priority areas of the ‘Tactical Missiles Corporation’ are development, production, and modernization of tactical high-precision air-launched systems of various classes, unified seaborne weapon systems, rocket and space equipment, radio-electronic equipment, as well as high-tech dual-use products for various industries.
Mr. Obnosov, in the 1990s you worked with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a security and disarmament adviser. In the light of this experience, how do you assess the current situation in the field of arms control and international security?
As President Vladimir Putin has stated before, the process of normal negotiations needs to be restored, because when there are no adequate agreements that would regulate the rules of behavior for the superpowers, the situation becomes very sad. I believe that the recent meeting [of Russian President Vladimir Putin] with U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva would at least give impetus to the restoration of confidence-building measures.
I happened to participate in the Vienna talks on transforming the CSCE into an organization – the OSCE, and in the preparation for the Treaty on Open Skies (OST), and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). There were many ongoing negotiations at that time, and there was a high level of trust and understanding. I would like the atmosphere that existed back then to be revived.
In your opinion, is there ever going to be a separate treaty for hypersonic weapons? How could this area develop in the future?
Hypersonic and supersonic technologies are very fashionable topics nowadays. Hypersonic weapons are the result of the development of human thought. They have an impact not so much on defense as on the development of all areas of science and technology. If there were no hypersonic weapons, a hypersonic airplane would appear. Perhaps, hypersonic weapons are only the first stage, and in the future, we will witness the creation of some other technology. Not that I would like to compare the case here with the atomic bomb, but remember that the development of atomic energy began with a bomb, and today it would be difficult for many countries to ensure normal life without nuclear power plants.
Everything related to hypersonic technology requires the development of all branches of science and technology – from materials science and engineering to mathematical and semi-realistic simulation. Many processes that occur during a hypersonic flight will not be fully investigated until we, as they say, feel them at our fingertips; only then will we start to understand them. We simply have not fully explored them yet. For example, at speeds over 6-7 Mach plasma is formed, the question here is: How will control systems work in a long-term flight under these conditions? It is not easy to fly out of the atmosphere and then return to it. It is yet more difficult to carry out a constant hypersonic flight in the atmosphere when it is necessary to maneuver and not make “jumps.” There is an entire array of issues to deal with here – the engine, fuel, control systems, materials, etc. This is what gives impetus for the development of science and technology.
Do you see a potential for establishing a Center for Hypersonic Technology in the KTRV – something similar to centers of excellence that are being organized today in different enterprises?
Of course, being a missile corporation we think in this direction but there are no specific decisions yet. We have many highly qualified specialists to carry out such a project, but this is too early to talk about now.
What do you think is the most promising deployment for hypersonic missiles?
A universal hypersonic missile of course, which means that it can be launched from various platforms, such as mobile ground launches, ships, submarines, and aircraft. Air, land, or sea deployment should not be considered separately. It all depends on what is being developed and what tasks are set.
Which of KTRV’s products are in high demand in the global market? How would you assess the possibility of exporting hypersonic weapons in the future?
As you have seen, our stand at the IMDS has a large collection of products, and there is not a single hypersonic missile there. Nevertheless, we have received good orders for presented samples. Trust me when I say that the outcome of future conflicts, in case they – God forbid! – arise, will not be decided by hypersonic weapons. Priority will be given to control systems and situational awareness systems. The most important thing is information; it is important to know where to concentrate efforts and where to transfer and deploy forces.
Moreover, hypersonic weapons are not cheap. Therefore, to say that they will replace everything that exists today is an overstatement; it will take centuries before this happens, and by then there might be new principles for the weapons operation and new ideas will have appeared. Therefore, all the samples that we have presented [at IMDS] and will present at MAKS in July have great export potential.
Weapons purchases should be justified, first of all, by expedience, and not by political motives or “fashion” trends. What's your comment on this?
Of course! The cost-effectiveness criterion is essential and should be taken into consideration in any purchase. Without this criterion, one would simply buy a weapon system just for the sake of buying it and because one can afford it. But such a system would not solve any tasks in real combat. Thus, the starting point should be to pinpoint the tasks facing the armed forces of the involved country.
More important, we are fully aware of all international treaties and agreements that regulate the proliferation of a particular type of weapons. Russia abides by all these treaties in the strictest manner and is keen on fulfilling them with the greatest responsibility. We have repeatedly witnessed gross violations of these international agreements over the past decades, but, for some reason, only we are being blamed for their collapse. I am sure that Russia is meeting its obligations and is doing everything by the book. This is my personal belief.
Regarding international cooperation, what projects are you developing?
We are working on several international projects. And, as I always like to say, the perfect example of international cooperation is the BrahMos Joint Venture with India. This is a case when both parties see an interest in a common cause, where there is no infringement of any rights and the ultimate goal is visible for both parties. Such projects are carried out so that both countries can benefit in terms of both security and defense and, perhaps in the future, in terms of financial gains when these products would be delivered to third countries.
Are you considering similar cooperation with other countries?
Such projects should be considered individually based on each case, there are no common answers here. It is necessary to study what kind of cooperation is proposed and how this might affect the future, and so on.
You spoke about the importance of mathematical modeling in the development of new types of weapons, and recently KTRV hosted a meeting of the Military-Industrial Commission where this idea has been discussed. Could you expand on that?
It is very expensive to carry out all tests on full-scale samples. Digital Twins and modeling –everyone is talking about this today, but we are trying to translate words into deeds. We have come a long way – if we recall the Soviet times, there were not just dozens, but hundreds of full-scale samples for each type of weapon. It was exorbitantly expensive to test weapons. Nowadays, weapons themselves are much more expensive, because they are based on different principles and therefore require completely different capital investments.
Getting to flight tests by means of mathematical and semi-realistic modeling in order to get a more reliable result is a very crucial task. But the main criterion is still carrying out full-scale tests, though it is necessary to reduce them to the minimum.