Surface Forces: Secret Defenses Against Carrier Killers


April 10,2008: Once more, the U.S. Navy is being criticized for failing to come up with a defense against high speed Chinese anti-ship missiles. In particular, there is fear that the Russian 3M54 (also known as the SS-N-27, Sizzler or Klub) anti-ship missiles used on Chinese subs, are unstoppable.

At the same time, India, (another major customer for the Klub) is feuding with the Russians over repeated failures of the Klub during six test firings last Fall. The missiles were fired off the Russian coast, using an Indian Kilo class submarines, INS Sindhuvijay. That boat went to Russia in 2006 for upgrades. Now India refuses to pay for the upgrades, or take back the sub, until Russia fixes the problems with the missiles.

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 has a range of 300 kilometers, but 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 an 880 pound warhead. What makes the 3M54 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 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.

These 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.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy refuses to discuss, in public, a lot about its defensive measure against missiles like the Klub. It is known that, two years ago, after six years of effort, the U.S. Navy put its high-speed anti-ship missile simulator into production. 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. That's twice as fast as the Klub. The Coyote is meant to give U.S. warships a realistic simulation of an attack by similar Russian cruise missiles (like the Klub.) By next year, 39 GQM-163As will have been built, at a cost of $515,000 each. The GQM-163A is the first U.S. missile to successfully use ramjet engines, and this technology can be now used in other missiles.

It is feared that the navy has no defense against missile like Klub. Or, it may have developed defenses, but does not want to let potential enemies know how those defenses work (lest the enemy develop ways to get around those defenses.)




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