Naval Air: Cruise Missile Pretenders


June 29, 2010: An American amphibious ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, has left California carrying two 1960s Czech jet trainers on its flight deck. These L-29s are 3.2 ton aircraft, rebuilt with American engines. The two L-29s will be used to simulate air-launched cruise missiles attacking American ships. While the original L-29s had a top speed of 655 kilometers an hour, the rebuilt ones with more powerful. J-60 engines, can moves as fast as 800 kilometers an hour.

While the L-29s, which are supplied by a civilian contractor, are adequate for simulating the more numerous subsonic Chinese anti-ship missiles, they are obviously not adequate for simulating the more modern supersonic missiles. That has ben addressed as well. Last year, after nearly a decade of development effort, the U.S. Navy put its high-speed anti-ship missile simulator, the GQM-163A Coyote SSST (Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target), into service. This 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.) At least 39 GQM-163As are being built, at a cost of $515,000 each. These missiles are used once, while the L-29s have human pilots and are reused.

The GQM-163A is one of the few U.S. missiles to successfully use ramjet engines, and this technology is expected to show up more often. 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 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. 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 30-40 meters. 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 (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 kilometer range and 1,650 pound warhead. This missile entered service in the 1980s.