Russia has finally completed development of the naval version of its Pantsir-S1 mobile anti-aircraft system. The naval version is called Pantsir-ME and first revealed during an early 2019 trade show. Development of the naval version was originally announced in 2013 with deliveries scheduled for 2015. The 2013 announcement also mentioned a major upgrade to Pantsir (land and naval versions) by 2016. That upgrade was mainly about electronics and software and would expand the number of targets Pantsir could handle to anti-ship missiles and surface targets.
There was a general slowdown in Russian weapons development after 2013 as the price of oil plummeted and economic sanctions were imposed in 2014 in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine (which was halted by an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance creating a stalemate that continues to the present). Russia sent troops to Syria and by 2016 the original vehicle-mounted version of Pantsir had gained a lot of combat experience, which led to more modifications of the system to increase effectiveness. Meanwhile, the sanctions hurt the Russian economy and the continued low oil prices made the worse. The defense budget suffered severe cuts, especially for systems in development. Weapons developers also suffered personnel problems as thousands of Russian scientists and engineers emigrated.
In some respects, Pantsir ME benefitted from the delays because the basic Pantsir design became more reliable and effective as a result of the combat experience and more time to implement changes. Pantsir ME differs from the vehicle version by replacing the two lower missiles canisters with two 30mm six-barrel autocannon of the type long used (like the American Phalanx) to defend against anti-ship missiles at close (under 3,000 meters) range. The basic turret type design, with four twin-missile canisters and radar. One less visible addition to the Pantsir-ME is that the turret apparatus below deck includes 32 more missile canisters for quick reloading. A third change is that the command post (where the system operators sit) can be located anywhere on the ship. Pantsir-ME is also connected with the ship fire control system although it can be placed on automatic is there is a threat of anti-ship missile attacks.
The turret weighs eight tons and is designed for use on ships larger than 400 tons displacement. The turret is of more rugged construction to handle salt water (which is corrosive) and the stress of operating at sea. The current versions of the Pantsir missiles have a max range of 20 kilometers and Pantsir-ME is built to provide better and more compact anti-missile and anti-aircraft protection for smaller warships by replacing separate anti-missile and anti-air systems. Pantsir-ME suits post-2014 Russian warship construction plans (mainly patrol ships, corvettes and frigates) and is expected to gain export sales because of the combat experience of the basic Pantsir system.
The original Pantsir-S1 is a further development of the Cold War era 2K22 (SA-19) and entered service in 2008. The SA-19 was mounted on a tracked armored vehicle and was developed in the 1970s, to replace mobile 23mm autocannon anti-aircraft systems. Pantsir-S1 uses the latest computer and missile technology and fixes many of the performance and reliability problems the SA-19 suffered from and is mounted in a wheeled vehicle (usually a heavy truck).
Each Pantsir-S1 vehicle carries radar, two single barrel 30mm autocannon, twelve Tunguska missiles (in six twin canisters), and has a crew of three. The 90 kg (198 pound) missiles have a 20 kilometer range, the radar a 30 kilometer range. The missile can hit targets at up to 8,400 meters (26,000 feet). The 30mm cannon is effective up to 3,200 meters (10,000 feet). The type of vehicle varies, but the most common one carrying all this is the KamAZ-6560, a 37 ton 8x8 truck that can carry up to 20 tons.
Each Pantsir-S1 vehicle costs about $15 million. As soon as Pantsir-S1 appeared it was obvious that a naval version would be ideal for smaller warships and integrated into the central fire control system. The naval version was always seen as a turret mounted version of the missile launchers and 30mm guns. The ship version was expected to be capable of receiving targeting data from the ship’s radar and ME can do that but it depends more on the radar mounted between the missile canisters. Another change in the ME version was that the two 30mm autocannon were no longer mounted between the missile canisters but replaced with a larger six barrel autocannon and replaced the two lower missile canisters. Each of these autocannon has 300 rounds of ammo, which is good for a 5-10 bursts of fire.
The army version of Pantsir-S1 is organized into batteries, with each such unit consisting of sixPantsir-S1 vehicles, three ammo resupply vehicles, four maintenance and spare parts vehicles, and a mobile trainer (containing a computerized Pantsir-S1 simulator to help maintain operator skills). The ship version would have ammo resupply handled by the ship ammo storage system which, like most ship-mounted guns, consists of a certain number of “ready (for quick use)” rounds beneath the turret and more ammo in the ship ammo storage area. The naval versing assigns maintenance tasks sailors responsible for weapons and electronics. The simulator would become part of the ship’s weapons simulation/trainer system, something that is becoming common for most navies.