Surface Forces: Yakhont And Son Will Do It Fast


March 8, 2011: Russia has agreed, despite strenuous Israeli objections, to sell Syria the SSN-26 Yakhont anti-ship missile. This missile was under development throughout the 1990s, but was delayed by lack of funds. Now it's in production, and the Russians are seeking export sales. The Yakhont uses a liquid-fuel ramjet and travels 300 kilometers 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.

The ground based Yakhont 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. The 9.4 meter (29 foot) long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Yakhont, which was still in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually 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, 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 speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.

India ordered nearly a thousand BrahMos missiles. The Indian Army plans to buy 80 launchers in the next ten years. Russia has not yet ordered any BrahMos, while India is also working on lighter versions for use by aircraft and submarines. A submarine launched version is ready for testing, but the navy has not yet been able to spare one of its 13 subs to carry out the test. The sub launched version requires the building of a vertical silo behind the conning tower. The navy is not keen to be tearing apart any of its subs for this. So the BrahMos people are waiting for the next six subs to be bought, and arrange for a BrahMos silo to be built in. The air force version of BrahMos will be ready this year, and two Su-30 aircraft will be made available for tests.

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. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target (usually a ship or other small target), then radar that will identify the specific target and hit it. The weight of the warhead, and the high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile.)

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.

India indicates it plans to make the missile a major weapon system. The BrahMos can carry a nuclear warhead, but is designed mainly to go after high value targets that require a large warhead and great accuracy. The BrahMos could take out enemy headquarters, or key weapons systems (especially those employing electronic or nuclear weapons.)

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