Soviet space rocket-propelled grenade revealed
The Russian military has finally showcased the most mysterious weapon developed for the Almaz space station project in the 1970s. The exotic anti-satellite weapon was slated to fly on the OPS-4 Earth-orbiting military outpost within the Almaz project.
From the time when the Soviet Almaz military space station program was first declassified in the early 1990s, it was known that the original self-defense gun tested aboard the Almaz OPS-2 station in 1975 was planned to be replaced with a more advanced missile system on the follow-on version of the military outpost. However, that purported weapon had never been shown or described until April 2021, when it was profiled in a TV program of the Zvezda TV, the official channel of the Russian defense ministry.
The overall system is officially known as a "Self-guided spinning projectile for the active defense system" or Shield-2. (The Shield-1 referred to the self-defense gun flown on the OPS-2 version of Almaz.) Like its predecessor, the Shield-2 missile system was developed at the Nudelman KB Tochmash, a prolific developer of aircraft weapons for the Soviet Air Force.
The Shield-2 system is currently displayed in the restricted-access demo room at NPO Mashinostroenia, the prime developer of the Almaz project based in the town of Reutov near Moscow. However, the device appeared to be not on on the floor of the exhibit, during multiple visits to the facility by the editor of this web site in the 1990s and the 2000s.
According to a sign in front of the artifact, Shield-2 was a "cosmos-cosmos"-class weapon with a flight range of 100 kilometers. A pair of such missiles were planned to be installed on the follow-on version of the Almaz station, starting with the OPS-4 variant. The weapon could be released in the direction of enemy targets, such as satellite interceptors or inspectors. The projectile would use self-guiding radar head to navigate itself toward the target.
Still, little is known about the specifications and operation of the system, but, according to the Head of Science and Research Center at NPO Mashinostroenia Leonard Smirichevsky, who introduced the weapon, the vehicle's grenade-like solid propellant charges doubled as engines! RussianSpaceWeb.com's 3D recreation of the displayed variant established that it held 96 casings with solid propellant arranged in a globular fashion like the petals of a dandelion around a central combustion chamber. Upon their ignition, the chambers/grenades might have fed hot propulsive gas into a single or multiple combustion chambers at the center of the contraption, producing either the main thrust and/or steering the vehicle. When the missile reached the proximity of the target, according to its guiding radar, the entire vehicle would explode and the small solid chambers would eject under their own propulsive force in every direction acting as shrapnel.
According to Smirichevsky, a pressurized gas from a dedicated bottle would be used to spin the blades of a special belt around the cylindrical body of the vehicle to give it stabilization during its flight to the target.
The weapon was stored in the coffin-like container, which appeared to a have a remote control for the activation by the crew aboard the Almaz and a spin-up mechanism, which could be activated at the release of the weapon in orbit.
Based on the markings shown in the TV program, the system apparently had industrial designation 11V92. It appeared to be consisting of two rocket stages RBP1-SB0101 (242) and SB0102 (243). The self-guiding warhead apparently had the designation No. 241.
Since the Almaz OPS-4 station never made it into space, the Shield-2 system likely remained grounded as well.
The OPS-4 Almaz space station which expected to carry a pair of containers with Shield-2 missiles. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak
The Shield-2 missile appears to be around one meter in length and 0.3 meters in diameter. Credit: Zvezda TV
A close-up view of the explosive/propulsion charges of the Shield-2 system. Credit: Zvezda TV
A close-up view of the first-stage solid motor and the spin mechanism. Credit: Zvezda TV
A close-up view of the guidance head. Credit: Zvezda TV