Surface Forces: April 15, 2005

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  There are anti-ship missiles that have not quite reached the level of notoriety (or fame) of the Harpoon, Exocet, and Styx. This is because these are missiles that, while sometimes boasting impressive performance on paper, have not proven themselves in combat. Doing well in tests against hulks during tests is one thing, doing well when the target is firing missiles and throwing out all sorts of decoys and jamming the radars for all its worth, is another matter. So, which of these are the best?

Russia did not stop with the Styx. In fact, two new anti-ship missiles are now in service. The first is the SS-N-22/3M-80 Sunburn. The Sunburn has been talked about a lot and rightfully so. It has a range of 100 kilometers, a speed of Mach 2.5, and delivers a 660-pound warhead to its target. The Sunburn is primarily in service with Russia and Ukraine, although China has purchased some as well.

The other missile currently in Russian service is the SS-N-25/3M-24 Switchblade. Originally an air-launched missile (the AS-20/Kh-35 Kayak), this is a system that is comparable with the Exocet and Harpoon. Speed is Mach 0.9, has a range of 130 kilometers, and delivers a 320-pound warhead. This system is in use on some Russian vessels (the Gepard, modernized Krivak I, and Neustrashimmy-class frigates), and had been exported to India and Algeria. The latter country has replaced the four SS-N-2C Styx with sixteen Switchblades, turning the three Nanuchka II-class corvettes into a potentially potent force against enemy surface vessels.

Italy has an anti-ship missile of its own, the Otomat Mk 2. The Original Mk 1 version could only go 65 kilometers. The Mk 2 has a range of 185 kilometers, has a speed of Mach 0.9 and a 485-pound warhead. This missile is on every Italian surface vessel (including the carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi), and has been put on Lupo-class frigates exported to Peru and Venezuela.

Chinas current family of missiles are the C-801/C-802/C-803. The first two missiles travel at Mach 0.85 to Mach 0.9, and have 363-pound warheads. The major difference in these two systems is their range. The C-801 reaches out to 42 kilometers, the C-802 can reach out to 120 kilometers. These systems have been exported, most notably to Iran. The C-803 is a faster (Mach 1.5), and can reach as far as 250 kilometers, again delivering a 363-pound warhead to its target. These missiles can be launched from ships or from aircraft. This simplifies the logistical chain for a country that might be looking for one missile for use from aircraft and ships.

Swedens RBS-15 is another missile few have heard about. The RBS-15 Mk 2 has a range of 100 kilometers, with a speed of Mach 0.8. The 485-pound warhead is roughly on par with the Harpoons. The Mk 3 version will double that range, add some stealthy features (to make it harder for radar-guided surface-to-air missiles to be guided into the incoming missile).

Which of these is the best? The Mk 3 version of the RBS 15 appears to be a superb system. That said, it has never really faced combat, and as such, it is far less proven than the Harpoon or Exocet. The Chinese system could end up in combat if Iran initiates a misunderstanding in the Persian Gulf or if things with Taiwan go hot (the Russian SS-N-22 would also see service). These missiles are, in a sense, waiting for their chance to become the next Exocet or Harpoon. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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