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Russia Always Delivers
by James Dunnigan
June 10, 2013

Russia recently delivered more of its Yakhont (officially 3M55E, NATO ID is SSN-26) anti-ship missiles to Syria. This is a new version with a much improved guidance system. Israel fears that some of these missiles will be sent to Hezbollah, who might use them against Israeli ships or offshore natural gas field platform facilities. Israel is trying to persuade Russia to stop delivering the missiles but Russia is reluctant to halt these shipments. Iran appears to be paying for this, so the loss of income would be felt in Russia.

This sort of thing has been going on for a while. Two years ago Russia delivered 72 Yakhonts and 18 of the mobile ground launchers (each carrying two missiles) to Syria. Also included were five battery command vehicles. Typically a Yakhont battery consists of one of these vehicles, four launchers, and several more trucks carrying security and maintenance personnel and equipment. The 2011 shipment cost $300 million dollars. The missiles can be stored in their launch containers for seven years before they require major component replacements and refurbishment to stay operational. Yakhonts have a range of 300 kilometers and are very hard to stop. Syria accounted for seven percent of Russian arms exports in 2011, and Russia wanted to show that they always deliver. Russia was also building a naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus. At this point Russia says it is simply delivering weapons ordered before the civil war began two years ago.

The shipment of Yakhont missiles to Syria two years ago came after four years of haggling and efforts by Israel and the United States to block the sale. Apparently the missiles were already paid for before delivery. Russia was happy for any sale and seemed particularly anxious for Yakhont to get some combat experience.

Yakhont was under development throughout the 1990s, but was delayed by lack of funds. By 2011, it was in production, and Russia was energetically seeking export sales. The Yakhont uses a liquid-fuel ramjet and travels at speeds of over 2,000 kilometers an hour (using a high altitude cruise and a low-altitude approach, if it travels entirely at low altitude the range is cut to 120km). When the missile arrives in the area where the target is supposed to be, it turns on its radar and goes for the kill. Israel is the only one in the region the Yakhonts would be used against. However, because Iran is supplying (unofficially) the cash for the missiles, there is also the risk that some of the Yakhonts would end up in Iran for use against numerous targets in the Persian Gulf.

Syria is getting the ground based Yakhont which can use truck mounted or fixed launchers, with up to 36 missiles supported by a land based search radar and helicopter mounted radars (to locate targets over the horizon). Once a target has been identified and located, one or two missiles are programmed with that location and launched. The Yakhont is a 8.9 meter (27.6 foot) long, three ton missile, with a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead.

An improved version of the Yakhont, the PJ-10 BrahMos missile, was developed for India. This is a 9.4 meter (29 foot) long and 670mm diameter missile. Lacking money to finish Yakhont development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually made a deal with India to get it done. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development, an effort which produced the long delayed Yakhont and more capable BrahMos.

The PJ-10 is being built in Russia and India, with the Russians assisting India in setting up manufacturing facilities for cruise missile components. Efforts are being made to export up to 2,000, but no one has placed an order yet. 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 the speed and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.

The 3.2 ton BrahMos has a range of 300 kilometers and a 300 kg warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to a kilometer per second) than a rifle bullet. The high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. 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. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more.

 


 

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