Air Defense: Aster Slays The Russian Dragon


April 15, 2012:  The French navy recently used an American GQM-163A Coyote SSST (Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target) missile, in a test of the Aster missile system on one of its Forbin class air-defense destroyers. The test was monitored by another Forbin class destroyer and was a success. The American missile was destroyed, and now France will probably buy more of them.

The Forbin-class destroyers displace 7,000 tons and have a vertical-launch system carrying 48 ASTER-15 or ASTER-30 missiles. The ASTER-15 has a range of 20 kilometers, while the ASTER-30 has a range of 70 kilometers. The Forbin-class destroyers also carry two 76-millimeter guns, eight Exocet anti-ship missiles, two torpedo tubes, two 20mm autocannon, and one helicopter. The first Forbin entered service four years ago and expects to face more anti-ship missiles than manned aircraft.The Aster missiles have been modified for anti-missile work to deal with the threat. But the key to this is realistic testing. That's where the Coyote comes in.

So far 89 GQM-163As have been delivered or ordered, this was sufficient to keep the program alive. It was only three years ago, after nearly a decade of development effort, that the U.S. Navy put this high-speed anti-ship missile simulator/target into service. Coyote is a 10 meter (31 foot) long, 800 kg (1,700 pound) missile with combined solid fuel rocket and ramjet propulsion. It has a range of 110 kilometers and, because of the ramjet, a top speed of over 2,600 kilometers an hour. The Coyote is meant to give U.S. warships a realistic simulation of an attack by similar Russian cruise missiles (like the Klub). Initially, only 39 GQM-163As were to be built, at a cost of $515,000 each. But the missile proved so successful at simulating high speed anti-ship missiles that orders more than doubled. The GQM-163A is the first U.S. target missile to successfully use ramjet engines, and this technology can be now used in other missiles.

Coyote was developed in response to more high speed anti-ship missiles showing up in service. The Coyote is used to test detection and tracking sensors (especially radar) and tweaking fire control systems and anti-missile weapons, so that they can handle Klub type missiles.

The 3M54 Klub is similar to earlier Cold War era Russian anti-ship missiles, like the 3M80 ("Sunburn"), which has a larger warhead (300 kg/660 pounds) and shorter range (120 kilometers). The 3M80 was still in development at the end of the Cold War and was finally put into service about a decade ago. Even older is the P700 ("Shipwreck"), with a 550 kilometers range and 750 kg (1,650 pound) warhead. This missile entered service in the 1980s. That was when the Russians began putting emphasis on making their anti-ship missiles much faster in order to defeat defensive weapons. The Aster missile was designed to cope with these high speed missiles.

These fast Russian missiles are considered "carrier killers" but it's not known how many of them would have to hit a carrier to knock it out of action, much less sink it. Moreover, Russian missiles have little combat experience and a reputation for erratic performance. Quality control was never a Soviet strength, but the Russians are getting better, at least in the civilian sector. The military manufacturers appear to have been slower to adapt.




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