Submarines: Antidote for High Speed Anti-Ship Missiles

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March 30, 2007: A year ago, the U.S. Navy began production of 39 high-speed anti-ship missile simulators. The GQM-163A Coyote SSST (Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target) is a 31 foot long missile with a combination 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. Navy a realistic simulation of an attack by similar Russian anti-ship missiles. (which are also large and fast, and used by other nations as well.) The GQM-163A costs $515,000 each, and about one a month will be built. The navy has not released any information on how anti-missile tests, using the Coyote, have gone.

The GQM-163A will be used as a stand-in for the Russian 3M54 (also known as the SS-N-27, Sizzler or Klub) anti-ship missile. Weighing two tons, and fired from a 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tube on a Kilo class sub, the 3M54 has a 440 pound warhead. The anti-ship version speeds up to 3,000 kilometers an hour during its last minute or so of its flight, and has a range of 300 kilometers. There is also an air launched and ship launched version. A land attack version does away with the high speed final approach feature, and has an 880 pound warhead. What makes this missile particularly dangerous is its final approach, which begins when the missile is about 15 kilometers from its target. Up to that point, the missile travels at an altitude of about a hundred feet. This makes the missile more difficult to detect. The high speed approach means that it covers that last fifteen kilometers in less than twenty seconds. This makes it difficult for current anti-missile weapons to take it down. The U.S. Navy has two anti-missile systems. Phalanx, which uses a 20mm automatic cannon, only has a range of two kilometers, while the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) has a range of seven kilometers. The radars on both Phalanx and RAM can detect an incoming missile at about twenty kilometers, but that does not really give Phalanx enough time to score a hit. RAM isn't much better. The new navy target missile will enable tests to determine just how effective RAM or Phalanx might be, and if a new system might be needed. There are a number of electronic countermeasures to Russian anti-ship missiles, but these are better tested in simulations or static setups.

The 3M54 is similar to earlier, Cold War era Russian anti-ship missiles, like the 3M80 ("Sunburn"), which has a larger warhead (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 1,650 pound warhead. This missile entered service in the 1980s.

Iran may have Russian 3M54 missiles, for use in the Kilo class subs it bought from Russia in the 1990s. China has a dozen Kilos on order. China already has some of its Kilos, and has received 3M54 missiles as well. India also has the 3M54. These missiles are considered "carrier killers," but its not known how many of them would have to hit a carrier to knock it out of action, much less sink it.

 


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