Surface Forces: Puzzle Boxes


April 16, 2019: China has become the third nation to reveal it had developed a system to fire missiles from a standard 40 foot shipping container. The Chinese version is apparently designed to handle the YJ-18C missile. This is the latest version of the YJ-18, which is normally used as an anti-ship missile and is very similar to the Russian Klub. The C version is said to have a longer range and meant mainly for land-based targets.

The Chinese containerized missile system is very similar to the one a Morinformsystem-Agat JSC, Russian firm began marketing in 2010. That one fired a version of the 3M54 Klub cruise missile. The Morinformsystem-Agat system was called “Pandora’s Box”, and designed so that missiles were carried in and fired from a 40 foot (12.3 meter) shipping container. The launcher and the missile have to slide out of the container before firing, thus limiting where it can be placed on a ship, particularly your typical container ship. Each container contained a small compartment for the two-man firing crew. You could get two or three of these shipping container Klubs on most cargo ships, turning the vessel into a warship. The Klub missile is a key weapon for the Kilo class diesel-electric submarines. Weighing two tons, and fired from a 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tube, the 3M54 has a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead. The anti-ship version has a range of 300 kilometers, and speeds up to 3,000 kilometers an hour during its last minute or so of flight. 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 a 400 kg warhead or a longer range (500 kilometers or so). This is what the YJ-18C sounds like. The basic YJ-18 is used on Chinese destroyers, launched from VLS cells. This is what the U.S. Navy has long been using for firing Tomahawk cruise missiles.

In 2012 a new version of “Pandora’s Box”, was announced. This one used a smaller, slower, and presumably cheaper cruise missile. This unidentified weapon is described as weighing 520 kg (half a ton), having a 145 kg (319 pound) warhead, and being 3.8 meters (11.8 feet) long. Max range is 130 kilometers. The version cost about $4 million per container while the original version with Klub cost $6 million. There is not a lot of high-tech involved with systems like Pandora’s Box or the Chinese version, but manufacturers believe there is a market for this sort of thing.

Meanwhile in mid-2017, Israel conducted a successful test of a new version of its LORA (Long Range Artillery Rocket) system that can be mounted and fired from standard shipping containers. The test involved a truck hauling a shipping container parked on a ship deck. The containerized LORA uses a minimum of two containers; one containing four missiles each in the standard sealed container, and the standard electric (not hydraulic) system to point the missile skyward so it will be fired without the rocket blast damaging the ship. Another container contains the control center and some maintenance and test equipment. In the original ship launched version, the launch center electronics were installed in the ship CIC (Combat Information Center) like other fire control equipment. A ship could carry four or more containers with launchers and the container version could also be used on land with the containers mounted on any heavy truck or tractor-trailer designed to carry those containers. The new container system also makes it easier to add more firepower to existing warships or even unarmed naval support vessels.

Israel said it already has an export customer for the container version of LORA, but would not say who it is or whether the containerized LORA was built at the request of an export customer, the Israeli military or both. Since Israel already has nuclear weapons mounted on its longer-range Jericho ballistic missiles, similar warheads are an option for containerized LORA as used by the Israeli military. That is not likely but can be done. Meanwhile, the LORA manufacturer mentioned a ground (and bunker) penetrating conventional warhead for LORA.

Israel introduced LORA in 2007 and back then it was noted that the Israeli weapon was similar to the U.S. ATACMS. Each LORA missile weighed up to 1.8 tons depending on which types of warhead carried. These weighed from 400 to 600 kg. Normally range is 300 kilometers but that can be extended 30 percent with a lighter warhead. GPS guidance is standard (with jam proof INS backup) which will land the warhead within 10 meters (30 feet) of the aim point.

LORA was an improvement on the American ATACMS (introduced in 1986) which was fired from a MLRS launcher that normally carries six of the standard 228mm MLRS rockets. Both LORA and ATACMs are 610mm rockets that weighed about the same and used GPS/INS guidance system. Both are basically short-range ballistic missiles. Where LORA differed was in that it was carried, four to a sealed launcher, on a heavy truck. Moreover, LORA was designed from the beginning to be operated from ships and to use additional guidance system options. The one that was known about was a two-way video link that enabled an operator to confirm the target, abort if necessary and also adjust aim to make it a bit more accurate. Israel has other guidance system options which are not advertised, like a pattern matching system that will provide even more accuracy and is jam proof (no GPS or radio link).




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