Air Defense: Coyote And The Klub Killers


June 3, 2011: The U.S. Navy has ordered seven more GQM-163A Coyote SSST (Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target) missiles, for $3.9 million each. This makes 89 Coyotes delivered or on order so far. There might well have been none. It was only two years ago, after nearly a decade of development effort, that the U.S. Navy put this high-speed anti-ship missile simulator/target into service. Coyote is a 10 meter (31 foot) long, 800 kg (1,700 pound) 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. The Coyote is meant to give U.S. warships a realistic simulation of an attack by similar Russian cruise missiles (like the Klub.) Initially, only 39 GQM-163As were to be built, at a cost of $515,000 each. But the missile proved so successful at simulating high speed anti-ship missiles, that orders more than doubled. The GQM-163A is the first U.S. target missile to successfully use ramjet engines, and this technology can be now used in other missiles.

Coyote was developed in response to more countries arming themselves with high speed 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 Indian, Algerian and Vietnamese ships, are unstoppable. But maybe not.  India, (a major customer for the Klub) has feuded with the Russians after repeated failures of the Klub during six test firings four years ago. 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. India refused to pay for the upgrades, or take back the sub, until Russia fixed the problems with the missiles (which it eventually did).

Weighing two tons, and fired from a 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tube on a Kilo class sub, the 3M54 has a 200 kg (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 400 kg (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 Coyote is used to test detection and tracking sensors (especially radar) and tweaking fire control systems and anti-missile weapons, so that they can handle Klub class missiles.

 The 3M54 Klub is similar to earlier, Cold War era Russian anti-ship missiles, like the 3M80 ("Sunburn"), which has a larger warhead (300 kg/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 750 kg (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.

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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