Surface Forces: Yakhont Threatens Israeli Gas


March 14, 2014:   Israel recently admitted that it must prepare for the possibility that Hezbollah has received some Russian Yakhont missiles. This is a three ton missile designed to cripple large ships or, as Israel fears, one of their new offshore natural gas rigs. Russia pioneered the use of larger (up to three ton) supersonic “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles and Iran wants to buy them via Syria. The most common “carrier killer” is the Yakhont which is an 8.9 meter (27.6 foot) long, three ton missile with a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead and a 300 kilometer range. Russia has been building missiles like this since the 1970s but they are only popular with the few nations that have a need to destroy American aircraft carriers. Hezbollah wants to use Yakhont against any Israeli target it can reach and some of the Israeli offshore oil facilities are within range.

Even before this Yakhont scare Israel was establishing a special military force to protect the offshore facilities. A defense system is being built (at a cost of $700 million) in and around the facilities and shore installations. It will cost $100 million a year to man and maintain these defenses. Some of the offshore gas wells are within range of rockets fired from Gaza or southern Lebanon (where Hezbollah does as it wants). The unguided rockets are not accurate enough to hit a gas well, unless dozens (or more) were fired at once (after than Israeli air power will be all over the launch sits). Guided missiles are another matter. Hezbollah can use their more accurate C-802 anti-ship missiles (range 120 kilometers). This is a Chinese weapon that Iran produces its own version of. It’s a 6.8 meter (21 foot) long, 360mm diameter, 682 kg (1,500 pound) missile, with a 165kg (360 pound) warhead. It can be jammed or intercepted, but equipping the offshore platforms with these devices and manning them 24/7 is expensive. The C-802 can only reach some of the Israeli gas rigs, but the Yakhont can reach all of them.

Israel is not discussing the details of its offshore oil field defenses. That’s standard procedure when it comes to defending something so vulnerable against a lot of unpredictable threats. Israel is known to produce a wide range of sensors and military defensive systems. Much of this stuff is probably in use to defend the offshore gas fields. Israeli warships and patrol boats are regularly seen around the offshore gas operations. Israel also recently put into service its new Barak 8 system, which is designed for stopping anti-ship missiles. The Barak 8 is a 275 kg (605 pound) missile with a 60 kg (132 pound) warhead and a range of 70 kilometers. The warhead has its own seeker that can find the target despite most countermeasures. The missiles are mounted in a three ton, eight cell container (which requires little maintenance) and are launched straight up. The compact (for easy installation on a ship) fire control module weighs under two tons.

Barak 8 is also being installed in the three Saar 5 class corvettes (also referred to as the Eliat class) that, because of their size, were built in the United States. The 1,075-ton vessels are 85.6 meters (281 feet) long, and carry an impressive amount of firepower: 64 Barak surface-to-air missiles, eight Harpoon (or Gabriel) anti-ship missiles,  two triple 12.75-inch torpedo tubes firing Mk 46 torpedoes, two 25mm Sea Vulcans, and a 20mm Phalanx CIWS (for destroying incoming missiles) and a helicopter. Top speed is 61 kilometers per hour and there are only 74 crew. These vessels entered service in 1993 and 1994. They are still perhaps the best surface combatants in the region.

Currently the Israelis have 15 Saar type ships in service (three Saar 5, ten Saar 4.5 and two Saar 4). Most of the Saar 4s were retired, sold off or converted to Saar 4.5.



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