A guided missile that can be safely launched from dozens of kilometres away, and then skims across the sea surface with unerring accuracy and supersonic speed before striking with deadly effect, is a weapon every navy sailor fears. Within mere seconds of being fired, such a precision weapon can sink a multi-million-dollar warship. This type of deadly asset is known as the anti-ship missile (AShM), a weapon Germany pioneered in 1943. Today’s advanced AShMs are obviously far more lethal than Germany’s primitive designs, and they can be launched from aircraft, surface vessel, submarine or land-based platforms. This weapon class poses a direct and serious threat to ships of all sizes, and Russia is one nation that has developed an array of AShMs. This brief article “skims the surface”, if you will excuse the pun, of Russian systems that are available, plus it looks at their use in the Asian context.
8th Jun 2011
Russia’s anti-ship arsenal
Gordon Arthur / Hong Kong
A guided missile that can be safely launched from dozens of kilometres away, and then skims across the sea surface with unerring accuracy and supersonic speed before striking with deadly effect, is a weapon every navy sailor fears. Within mere seconds of being fired, such a precision weapon can sink a multi-million-dollar warship. This type of deadly asset is known as the anti-ship missile (AShM), a weapon Germany pioneered in 1943.
Today’s advanced AShMs are obviously far more lethal than Germany’s primitive designs, and they can be launched from aircraft, surface vessel, submarine or land-based platforms. This weapon class poses a direct and serious threat to ships of all sizes, and Russia is one nation that has developed an array of AShMs. This brief article “skims the surface”, if you will excuse the pun, of Russian systems that are available, plus it looks at their use in the Asian context.
We begin by examining a missile that is only half Russian, for the BrahMos is the prodigy of a joint venture with India. Capable of Mach 2.8, it holds the distinction of being the world’s fastest cruise missile . Designed primarily as an AShM, BrahMos is currently available as ship and land-based platforms, and it will eventually arm submarines and aircraft too.
The Russian partner, responsible primarily for the two-stage propulsion system, is NPO Mashinostreyenia (NPOM), while India’s state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) worked on the control and guidance systems. To comply with Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) regulations, the BrahMos’ range is limited to 290km.
The naval BrahMos N1 with 200kg warhead can be launched either vertically or from an inclined position, with the first vertical launch occurring on 18 December 2008. Both AShM and land attack cruise missile (LACM) variants are being fitted aboard Talwar-class frigates, Shivalik-class frigates and Rajput-class destroyers of the Indian Navy (IN). Kolkata-class destroyers will also be armed with BrahMos, with the first due for commissioning in 2012. As a first important step towards a submarine-fired version, BrahMos is to be launched from an underwater pontoon this year.
The Indian Army has one regiment of Block I missiles (also known as A1) that were inducted from 21 June 2007. A Block II LACM with upgraded seeker software possessing target discrimination capabilities was successfully tested in March 2009. Both anti-ship and LACM Block II versions should be deployed from 2012 onwards, with two new army regiments to be raised.
Faced with tensions along the rugged Pakistani and Chinese frontiers, the Indian Army also desired a missile that could strike enemy forces sheltering on reverse mountain slopes. The Block III BrahMos was thus conceived, with one being test-fired on 2 December 2010. Its modified guidance and software systems allow it to hug terrain and perform steep-dive manoeuvres. The manufacturer is now awaiting Indian Army orders.
Integration of the air-launched BrahMos, which has a 300kg warhead, is taking place in Russia. Two Indian Air Force (IAF) Su-30MKI fighters were dispatched there in 2009, but integration is proving more difficult than expected as carriage of the 2.5-ton missile requires structural reengineering of the aircraft fuselage. Despite these cost and technical wrangles, a launcher drop test is scheduled for next year. While the aircraft carrying the missile can take off without problems, landing with an unused weapon still attached is likely to be more of an issue.
The scramjet-powered BrahMos-II is being developed with a hypersonic speed of Mach 5+. Testing of an LACM variant began in February 2011, and the design could be finalised by 2016. It will arm future Indian Project 15B destroyers and Project 17A frigates.
Interestingly, India’s enthusiasm for BrahMos stands in sharp relief to Russia’s apparent apathy. However, reports suggest Russia is now considering BrahMos for enhancements on vessels such as Project 21956 destroyers. It is expected 2,000 BrahMos missiles will be produced over the next decade, with half to be exported. Dr. A.S. Pillai, CEO of BrahMos Aerospace, told Defence Review Asia that “BrahMos is attracting interest from other countries” though he had “no idea” when the first exports might occur. Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa are allegedly in acquisition discussions. Its future looks promising, for, as the CEO explained, “its competitors are yet to be born!”
We move now to AShMs designed purely in Russia. The short-range Kh-15A air-to-surface missile (NATO codename AS-16 “Kickback”), designed for launching from Russian bombers, entered service in the 1980s. In its final flight phase the 4.78m-long missile dives steeply towards its target at a speed of Mach 5. The Kh-15S export variant with 150kg warhead has an active radar seeker for anti-shipping use. Though in Russian service, the Kh-15 was never exported.
Introduced in 1988, the two-stage Kh-31 held the distinction of being the first supersonic AShM to be launched by tactical aircraft. Also known as AS-17 “Krypton”, this short-range air-to-surface cruise missile developed by Tactical Missiles Corporation is capable of Mach 3. It appears most commonly as the Kh-31P anti-radiation missile, though the anti-ship version is known as Kh-31A. The 4.7m-long Kh-31A carries a 94kg warhead to a maximum range of 70km. With its active radar homing head, the 610kg Kh-31A skims the sea as it approaches targets up to destroyer size. Meanwhile, the Kh-31AD with 110kg warhead is offered for export with an improved range of 160km when launched at high altitude.
In 2001 India acquired 60 Kh-31As for its Su-30MKIs. In 1997 it was reported small numbers of Kh-31Ps had been delivered to China in parallel with sales of the Su-30MKK. China subsequently created the YJ-91 anti-radar missile by copying them, and it developed an associated anti-ship version too. In Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam all use the Kh-31.
The original Kh-59 Ovod was a TV-guided cruise missile launched by Su-24M aircraft. However, a modified version known as the Kh-59M (AS-18 “Kazoo”) possessing a larger warhead, inertial guidance system and turbofan engine was revealed in 1993. While the Kh-59M was essentially an air-launched LACM, the Kh-59MK unveiled in 2001 is specifically designed to attack ships with its 320kg warhead. This version with 285km range has an ARGS-59E active radar seeker, and it makes up the Su-30 fighter’s weapons fit. In Asia the Kh-59 has been fielded by China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Last year China unveiled the air-launched C-802AKG with a claimed 250km radius that now gives it an advantage in standoff range. The arrival of the C-802AKG will mean the Kh-59 is no longer China’s AShM of choice for the Su-30MKK.
Also from Tactical Missile Corporation, the Kh-35 SS-N-25 “Switchblade” was intended as a surface-to-surface missile for both ship-based and coastal-based launching, in which case it is known as the Kh-35E Uran (3M24E) and SSC-6 “Stooge” (3K60 Bal) respectively. Vietnam installed Kh-35 missiles on its new Russian-built Gepard-class frigates, while India fitted them on Brahmaputra-class frigates and Delhi-class destroyers.
A short-range air-launched Kh-35U (NATO name AS-20 “Kayak”) version similar in function to the American AGM-84 Harpoon was later added to the range. Nicknamed Harpoonski, this AShM was inducted by Russia in 1995. With a 130km range and 145kg warhead, it targets vessels displacing up to 5,000 tonnes. The AS-20 is propelled to a speed of Mach 0.8 by a turbofan engine, and it employs an active radar homing head and inertial guidance system. Targeting data is supplied from either the launch platform or another external source.
Launched from aircraft like the MiG-29K, Su-24, Su-27, Su-30, Tu-95 and Tu-142M, the Kh-35U has found homes in India’s and China’s militaries. India ordered 100 missiles in 1997, and it was allegedly going to fit some to its Il-38SD aircraft. A Kh-35V version with rocket booster can be fired from helicopters like the Ka-27, Ka-28 and Ka-50. The Kh-35UE offers an extended range of 260km, and it can be launched by aircraft or helicopter. A Kh-37 (3M24E1) with 250km range and land attack capability was proposed.
In a desire to obtain much-needed funds from export sales, Russia has been very active in marketing its AShMs. However, the country is facing stiff opposition from China, especially in terms of price. With missiles like the 180km-range C-802A, China is successfully drawing customers away from Russian products. Thailand uses the C-802A while Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Pakistan field the older C-802. China is also aggressively marketing its 280km-range C-602, with Pakistan likely to acquire it.
Also known as SS-N-22 “Sunburn”, the P-270 Moskit is a dedicated AShM developed by the Raduga Design Bureau to defeat large-displacement Aegis-equipped surface ships. Although originally conceived for ship-based launching, it was subsequently modified for truck-based, underwater and air launches. The ramjet-propelled P-270 can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads. Its 320kg payload and Mach 3 speed mean it is considered one of the world’s most dangerous AShMs. Thanks to its velocity, it only travels less than two minutes before striking an enemy ship, giving targets little time to deploy countermeasures. The P-270 Moskit (3M80) was joined by the improved 3M82 with longer 160km range in 1993. Offered for export is the Kh-41 version launched from Su-33 aircraft.
The Moskit is fitted in Russian late-model Sovremenny-class destroyers and Tarantul-class corvettes, while China acquired 3M80E missiles via its 1999-2000 purchase of four Sovremenny destroyers. Through a joint development programme, China also received 3M80MBE missiles that feature an enhanced 200km range. These weapons would pose a serious threat to US Navy carrier strike groups in any conflict over Taiwan. India and Vietnam also possess the SS-N-22 “Sunburn”.
The supersonic, short-range P-800 Oniks (3M55), also known by its NATO pseudonym of SS-N-26 “Yakhont”, was developed from the P-700 Granit (3M45). This ramjet-powered missile developed by NPOM entered Russian service in 1999 as successor to the P-270. The fourth-generation 3M55 can be launched from land, sea, air or submarine platforms, and it serves in the Indonesian and Vietnamese militaries. The 8.9m-long missile weighs 3 tonnes and contains a 250kg warhead. Travelling at Mach 2.6, the air-launched Yakhont-M has a range of up to 300km depending on its release altitude. Mobile truck-based or fixed coastal systems are known as SSC-5 Bastion. BrahMos is reportedly based on the SS-N-26. An underwater-launched variant will be fitted on the soon-to-be-commissioned Russian Yasen-class submarine.
This new series of short-range AShMs from the Novator Design Bureau is also known by its NATO reporting name SS-N-27 “Sizzler”. The Klub-S is launched from submarines, Klub-N from surface vessels, Klub-K from ground platforms and Klub-A from aircraft. Interestingly it was being exported even before the Russian Armed Forces accepted it. Offered from 1997 onwards, five different warheads are available for anti-shipping, land attack and anti-submarine roles:
1. Guided by an ARGS-54 active/passive seeker, the 3M54E AShM makes a Mach 2.9 low-altitude supersonic sprint towards its target in the final phase to reduce enemy reaction time. The three-stage AShM can also probably perform high-angled defensive manoeuvres. The 8.22m-long missile carries a 200kg warhead and it has a 220km range. It can be launched from ship or submarine.
2. The 6.2m-long subsonic 3M54E1 AShM, designed for export only, possesses a 300km range. The two-stage AShM has a larger 400kg warhead and it skims at sea level at a terminal speed of Mach 0.8. It can allegedly disable aircraft carriers.
3. The subsonic 3M14E (SS-N-30) is designed for land attack with its inertial guidance system. Its range is 275km and it bears a 400kg warhead. The 3M14E is submarine-launched, while the 3M14TE is designed for surface ships.
4. The submarine-launched 91RE1 contains an anti-submarine torpedo. Measuring 8m long, its range is 50km. It follows a ballistic path to the surface and then attains speeds of Mach 2.5.
5. The 91RE2 has an identical anti-submarine role, except it is launched from surface ships. It is 6.5m long and has a 40km range. Its warhead is 76kg in size, and at 1,300kg, this is the lightest Klub variant.
Kilo-class submarines from China, India and Russia can launch the 3M54E Klub-S, as can Akula, Yasen, Lada and Amur classes. Vietnam will receive the first of six Kilo 636 submarines in 2013, and it will be capable of firing the latest 3M14E LACM. India’s Talwar-class and Shivalik-class frigates operate with the 3M54E Klub-N. It is reported an air-launched version is in development for use on the Tu-142. Quite likely, Indian Tu-22M3 aircraft will eventually be armed with it.
A new version known as the Club-K Container Missile System (CMS) began to be marketed in 2010. Morinformsystem-Agat JSC has drawn criticism by marketing this four-missile variant that fits inside a commercial shipping container, with separate containers housing command, control and launch equipment. By loading these containers aboard trucks, trains or merchant ships, critics say it may lead to missile proliferation by rogue states and even by terrorists. Mr. Rostislav Atkov, the company’s Director of Foreign Economic Activities Concern, explains the containerised system can arm mobilised civilian vessels in a period of threat, and when loaded onto railcars or trucks, it offers coastal defence out to 150-200km. He argued that for countries unable to afford expensive frigates, corvettes or naval aviation assets, Klub-K is a cost-effective solution. Mr. Atkov also contended that Russia’s export laws will prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.