Air Defense: U.S. Navy Hurries Preparations For War With China

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July 12, 2013: The U.S. Navy has asked missile manufacturers to quickly design and build them a target drone that will simulate sub-sonic Chinese anti-ship missiles. Previously the U.S. Navy had spent a lot of effort developing and building similar drones to simulate super-sonic anti-ship missiles. Apparently someone did the math and realized that the most likely near-term opponents (China, North Korea, or Iran) all had a lot of Chinese sub-sonic missiles. China sells a lot of these C-801 and C-802 anti-ship missiles. The C-801 is 5.81 meters (18 feet) long, 360mm in diameter, has a max range of 42 kilometers, and weighs 636 kg (1,400 pounds) each. The C-801 is similar to the French Exocet and is believed to have been based on that missile. An improved C0801 is the C802A which is a 6.8m (21 foot) long, 360mm diameter, 682kg (1,500 pound) missile, with a 165kg (360 pound) warhead. The C802 has a max range of 120 kilometers and moves along at about 250 meters a second.

The French Exocet missile is the same size and performance of the Chinese missiles but costs twice as much (over a million dollars each, but the manufacturer is known to be flexible on pricing). The new Exocet MM Block 3 has greater range (180 kilometers) because of their turbojet engine. Exocet is a 670 kg (1,500 pound) missile that has been around for over three decades, has been proven in combat, and is known to be reliable. The C802 is known to be less capable than the Exocet but it looks similar and the Chinese continue to improve their Exocet clones.

The U.S. Navy asked for someone to build a sub-sonic reusable target drone that has a top speed of about 900 kilometers an hour, comes in about a meter above the water, can maneuver (pull 8 Gs), and have a max range of 700 kilometers. The target drone must float, last about for about 20 flights, and cost less than $200,000. This missile would carry electronics to enable it to be maneuvered by a remote operator and monitor jamming efforts and all sorts of flight information.

The navy hopes to repeat an earlier success. Three years ago, after nearly a decade of development effort, the U.S. Navy put its high-speed anti-ship missile simulator into service. This was the GQM-163A Coyote SSST (Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target), which  is a 31 foot long, 800 kg (1700 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). At least 39 GQM-163As are to be built, at a cost of $515,000 each. The GQM-163A is the first U.S. missile to successfully use ramjet engines, and this technology can be now used in other missiles.

Coyote came to be 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 Chinese subs are unstoppable. But maybe not. India, (another major customer for the Klub) has feuded with the Russians over repeated failures of the Klub during six test firings three years ago. The missiles were fired off the Russian coast, using an Indian Kilo class submarine, 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 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 3M54 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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