Weapons: Keeping Yakhont Out Of Iran


September 7, 2010: Israel is trying to persuade Russia not to sell their 3M55 anti-ship missile to Syria. Israel, and many Western nations, fear that sales to Syria will actually be sales to Iran, which is under an arms embargo and cannot buy the 3M55 itself. The missile is particularly dangerous to any warship, mainly because of its size and high speed. Syria has been on the Iranian payroll for decades.

Also known as Yakhont, Oniks and P-800, the 3M55 missile was further developed by India to produce the BrahMos. But the Russians used the Indian financial aid for the BrahMos work, to perfect the 3M55. While officially entering service in 1999, the 3M55 was not really ready for action until the BrahMos was.

The 3M55 can be fired from ships, aircraft, submarines, or trucks. It is a four ton missile that is 8.9 meters (27.6 feet) long and 700mm in diameter. The BrahMos is 9.4 meter/29 foot long, 670mm diameter missile that weighs 3.2 tons (for surface launch) or 2.5 tons (for air launch). Both missiles have a range of 300 kilometers, and a 200 kg/660 pound warhead. After launch, both missiles initially travel at high altitude (nearly 10,000 meters/30,000 feet). The maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target (usually a ship or other small target), then radar (in the navy version) that will identify the specific target and hit it. For its final approach, the missile drops to an altitude of five meters (16 feet), to make it harder to spot and stop. The high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile.)

The 3M55 was still in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer made a deal with India to finish the job. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The BrahMos (or PJ-10) is also being built in Russia.

India is trying to find export customers. China and Iran have also expressed interest in the weapon, but only Malaysia, Chile, South Africa, Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have been approached with a sales pitch. The high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, restricts the number of countries that can afford it. Russia and India are encouraged enough to invest in BrahMos 2, which will use a scramjet, instead of a ramjet, in the second stage. This would double speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.

The 3M55 is believed to be less reliable than the BrahMos, but cheaper (under $2 million each).





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