Surface Forces: October 30, 1999


Russian Naval Weapons Development: In the early 1960s there was a flurry of reorganization and revitalization in Russian naval weapons development. New labs were created, others were merged, new academic faculties set up and so on. When the dust had settled, there were two concurrent lines of research by two government institutes that eventually produced a remarkable weapon. One effort, NII-24, dealt with advances in jet engines and fuel technologies, as well as achieving outstanding results in the research of body motion under cavitation (the high speed movement of objects through water) with a view to designing an underwater missile with an underwater speed from four to five times greater than that of conventional torpedoes of the time. The other research effort, GSKB-47, worked on the development of airborne antisubmarine missiles equipped with acoustic homing heads and a jet engine designed to operate under water and reach a submarine within the shortest time after launch from aircraft. 

Eventually the R&D, development and production became the responsibility of what we now know as 'The Region Research and Production Enterprise'. This organization is most widely known for its work on air force programs, but they also developed torpedoes and other Navy guided weapons (including a very sophisticated 'anti-torpedo' decoy).

The first (domestic) version of the underwater missile entered service back in 1977 with the Russian Navy under the designation VA-111 Shkval jet torpedo/missile. 

This early version, not available for export, was armed with a nuclear warhead and provided a guaranteed kill capability at distances of up to 10 kilometers against submarines moving in depths of up to 400 meters with speeds of up to 50 knots.

The Shkval was powered with a jet engine, running on solid hydro-reacting fuel. As a result, at that time, the torpedo could develop an underwater speed of 195 knots, or 100 meters per second. However, the VA-111 was unguided and was only armed with a nuclear warhead, the latter feature being the reason for the removal, ten years ago, of all the Shkvals from the Russian multi-purpose submarines, under a mutual agreement signed by the Presidents of the USSR and the USA. 

However, the story did not end there. The VA-111 has not been withdrawn from Russian Navy service; it's warhead has been replaced with a conventional one and an unspecified type of guidance/control added. Note that at these speeds passive sonar on the missile is a no-no, it is not apparently wire-guided either. Therefore most likely is the transfer of target co-ordinates from launch platform/off board sensors to the missile immediately before launch, with very high speed and clever algorithms severely narrowing target position error, plus short-range terminal guidance in the missile. This probably involves a relatively narrow sector search with active sonar

An upgraded version of this weapon is now available for export. Designated 'Shkval-E'. If they can afford it, the Russian navy will also use this weapon. To quote the brochure:- "..armed with a conventional warhead and has autonomous software, which, in combination with its speed of over 200 knots, virtually eliminates any possibility of evasive maneuver or counter-action by the target, which can be located both in the depth or in shallow waters. Target search is carried out by the missile itself".

Shkval-E attracted a lot of interest at IMDEX-99 in Singapore last May. However, no export sales have yet been announced. But China, India and Syria all received detailed presentations. 
Another formidable Russian naval weapon is the wake-homing torpedoes. These come in various sizes and have been available in the export market for at least six yrs. China, and possibly Iran and India, may have acquired some with their 'Kilo' class subs.
'Kilos' are exported with a weapons package that includes both wake-homing and wire-guided acoustic homing torpedoes. The Russian wake-homing method is highly effective and designed to ignore acoustic ship defenses and evasive maneuvers. Each of the larger KILO types could be equipped with up to 10 wake-homing torpedoes that are especially deadly and hard to counter.
With their last two Kilos, the Chinese Navy may have acquired advanced submarine weapons like the heavy 53-65KE wake-homing torpedo - developed from a Russian Navy weapon designed to take down US nuclear carriers.

And if that wasn't enough. Also being pushed very hard at IMDEX-99 was the Novator 300 kilometer range 3M54-E1 Missile. This is compatible with 533mm sub torpedo-tubes and has a 450kg warhead, 10-15 meter cruise height, and terminal attack using evasive/'smart' profiles. 
Up until now export and proliferation of sub-launched cruise and air to surface missile (e.g. Sub-Exocet, sub-harpoon etc) has been very tightly (and successfully controlled) but now it would seem the gloves are off. --W. Patterson




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