Gulf Balance of Power Weaponry

by JASON | 10:02 PM in |

An older article I stumbled on with some insights into what may currently play out in the Gulf at some point in the near future....

The Sunburn Missile

I was shocked when I learned the facts about these Russian-made cruise missiles. The problem is that so many of us suffer from two common misperceptions. The first follows from our assumption that Russia is militarily weak, as a result of the breakup of the old Soviet system. Actually, this is accurate, but it does not reflect the complexities. Although the Russian navy continues to rust in port, and the Russian army is in disarray, in certain key areas Russian technology is actually superior to our own. And nowhere is this truer than in the vital area of anti-ship cruise missile technology, where the Russians hold at least a ten-year lead over the US. The second misperception has to do with our complacency in general about missiles-as-weapons probably attributable to the pathetic performance of Saddam Hussein's Scuds during the first Gulf war: a dangerous illusion that I will now attempt to rectify.

Many years ago, Soviet planners gave up trying to match the US Navy ship for ship, gun for gun, and dollar for dollar. The Soviets simply could not compete with the high levels of US spending required to build up and maintain a huge naval armada. They shrewdly adopted an alternative approach based on strategic defense. They searched for weaknesses, and sought relatively inexpensive ways to exploit those weaknesses. The Soviets succeeded: by developing several supersonic anti-ship missiles, one of which, the SS-N-22 Sunburn, has been called "the most lethal missile in the world today."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the old military establishment fell upon hard times. But in the late1990s Moscow awakened to the under-utilized potential of its missile technology to generate desperately needed foreign exchange. A decision was made to resuscitate selected programs, and, very soon, Russian missile technology became a hot export commodity. Today, Russian missiles are a growth industry generating much-needed cash for Russia, with many billions in combined sales to India, China, Viet Nam, Cuba, and also Iran. In the near future this dissemination of advanced technology is likely to present serious challenges to the US. Some have even warned that the US Navy's largest ships, the massive carriers, have now become floating death traps, and should for this reason be mothballed.

The Sunburn missile has never seen use in combat, to my knowledge, which probably explains why its fearsome capabilities are not more widely recognized. Other cruise missiles have been used, of course, on several occasions, and with devastating results. During the Falklands War, French-made Exocet missiles, fired from Argentine fighters, sunk the HMS Sheffield and another ship. And, in 1987, during the Iran-Iraq war, the USS Stark was nearly cut in half by a pair of Exocets while on patrol in the Persian Gulf. On that occasion US Aegis radar picked up the incoming Iraqi fighter (a French-made Mirage), and tracked its approach to within 50 miles. The radar also "saw" the Iraqi plane turn about and return to its base. But radar never detected the pilot launch his weapons. The sea-skimming Exocets came smoking in under radar and were only sighted by human eyes moments before they ripped into the Stark, crippling the ship and killing 37 US sailors.

The 1987 surprise attack on the Stark exemplifies the dangers posed by anti-ship cruise missiles. And the dangers are much more serious in the case of the Sunburn, whose specs leave the sub-sonic Exocet in the dust. Not only is the Sunburn much larger and faster, it has far greater range and a superior guidance system. Those who have witnessed its performance trials invariably come away stunned. According to one report, when the Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani visited Moscow in October 2001 he requested a test firing of the Sunburn, which the Russians were only too happy to arrange. So impressed was Ali Shamkhani that he placed an order for an undisclosed number of the missiles.

The Sunburn can deliver a 200-kiloton nuclear payload, or: a 750-pound conventional warhead, within a range of 100 miles, more than twice the range of the Exocet. The Sunburn combines a Mach 2.1 speed (two times the speed of sound) with a flight pattern that hugs the deck and includes "violent end maneuvers" to elude enemy defenses. The missile was specifically designed to defeat the US Aegis radar defense system. Should a US Navy Phalanx point defense somehow manage to detect an incoming Sunburn missile, the system has only seconds to calculate a fire solution not enough time to take out the intruding missile. The US Phalanx defense employs a six-barreled gun that fires 3,000 depleted-uranium rounds a minute, but the gun must have precise coordinates to destroy an intruder "just in time."

The Sunburn's combined supersonic speed and payload size produce tremendous kinetic energy on impact, with devastating consequences for ship and crew. A single one of these missiles can sink a large warship, yet costs considerably less than a fighter jet. Although the Navy has been phasing out the older Phalanx defense system, its replacement, known as the Rolling Action Missile (RAM) has never been tested against the weapon it seems destined to one day face in combat. Implications For US Forces in the Gulf

The US Navy's only plausible defense against a robust weapon like the Sunburn missile is to detect the enemy's approach well ahead of time, whether destroyers, subs, or fighter-bombers, and defeat them before they can get in range and launch their deadly cargo. For this purpose US AWACs radar planes assigned to each naval battle group are kept aloft on a rotating schedule. The planes "see" everything within two hundred miles of the fleet, and are complemented with intelligence from orbiting satellites.

But US naval commanders operating in the Persian Gulf face serious challenges that are unique to the littoral, i.e., coastal, environment. A glance at a map shows why: The Gulf is nothing but a large lake, with one narrow outlet, and most of its northern shore, i.e., Iran, consists of mountainous terrain that affords a commanding tactical advantage over ships operating in Gulf waters. The rugged northern shore makes for easy concealment of coastal defenses, such as mobile missile launchers, and also makes their detection problematic. Although it was not widely reported, the US actually lost the battle of the Scuds in the first Gulf War termed "the great Scud hunt" and for similar reasons.

Saddam Hussein's mobile Scud launchers proved so difficult to detect and destroy over and over again the Iraqis fooled allied reconnaissance with decoys that during the course of Desert Storm the US was unable to confirm even a single kill. This proved such an embarrassment to the Pentagon, afterwards, that the unpleasant stats were buried in official reports. But the blunt fact is that the US failed to stop the Scud attacks. The launches continued until the last few days of the conflict. Luckily, the Scud's inaccuracy made it an almost useless weapon. At one point General Norman Schwarzkopf quipped dismissively to the press that his soldiers had a greater chance of being struck by lightning in Georgia than by a Scud in Kuwait.

But that was then, and it would be a grave error to allow the Scud's ineffectiveness to blur the facts concerning this other missile. The Sunburn's amazing accuracy was demonstrated not long ago in a live test staged at sea by the Chinese and observed by US spy planes. Not only did the Sunburn missile destroy the dummy target ship, it scored a perfect bull's eye, hitting the crosshairs of a large "X" mounted on the ship's bridge. The only word that does it justice, awesome, has become a cliché, hackneyed from hyperbolic excess.

The other, unrelated SS-N-22 was the Raduga P-270 Moskit. It was ramjet-propelled (though launched by a small solid-fuel rocket), armed with a 300-kilogram warhead, and was carried by later-model Sovremenny class destroyers, Tarantul class corvettes, and several smaller warships. This weapon has a top speed of Mach 3 [1], [2], and is considered one of the most lethal anti-ship missiles in the world[1], because when it's launched the target ship has 25 to 30 seconds of response time. It can deliver a warhead of 320 kg. [3]

There is another version of these weapons called ASM-MMS [4] intended to be launched using a Su-33.

Armed with their Russian-supplied cruise missiles, the Iranians will close the lake’s only outlet, the strategic Strait of Hormuz, cutting off the trapped and dying Americans from help and rescue. The US fleet massing in the Indian Ocean will stand by helplessly, unable to enter the Gulf to assist the survivors or bring logistical support to the other US forces on duty in Iraq. Couple this with a major new ground offensive by the Iraqi insurgents, and, quite suddenly, the tables could turn against the Americans in Baghdad. As supplies and ammunition begin to run out, the status of US forces in the region will become precarious. The occupiers will become the besieged…

With enough anti-ship missiles, the Iranians can halt tanker traffic through Hormuz for weeks, even months. With the flow of oil from the Gulf curtailed, the price of a barrel of crude will skyrocket on the world market.

The NATO designation SS-N-22 ‘Sunburn’ is believed to be designated P270 Moskit, the air-breathing variant of the naval missile 3M80 (the designation 3M80 apparently referring to the Mach 3 speed of 1980 weapons). It may have been designed originally to enhance the effectiveness of Missile Cutter Brigades (that is, units of missile-equipped FACs) and Destroyer Brigades hitherto dependent upon the Malachit or SS-N-9 ‘Siren’. It is used on "Sovremennyy" destroyers (eight missiles on each) and on "Tarantul [Tarantula] III patrol ships (four missiles on each). A high supersonic speed was specified to reduce the target’s time to deploy self-defense weapons, indeed the weapon was designed specifically to strike ships with the Aegis command and weapon control system and the SM-2 surface-to-air missile.

The Moskit (3M80) is a ramjet-powered missile with a slim forward body and ovoid nose, and a fatter rear half with four divided air intakes. There are four clipped delta platform wings and four smaller tail surfaces of similar shape organized in cruciform configuration around the fuselage. All the wings and tail surfaces are folded when the missile is in the launcher. Internally the radar seeker is in the nose with the guidance system, batteries and radio altimeter in the remainder of the front compartment, and the 300 kg semi-armor-piercing warhead immediately behind. A fuel tank, presumably with a kerosene-type fuel, occupies the area to the leading edges of the wing and the area almost to the rear edges is occupied by the ramjet. Much of the rear of the missile is occupied by a solid propellant booster through which runs the ramjet nozzle. Actuators are to be found below the tail surfaces.

Fuselage - body of revolution with the ogival form of nose section and the X-shaped wing arrangement and tail assembly. Wing and tail assembly folding, made from the material OTYA and OTYA-Y, longerons - from VKL -3. Four off-axis inlets and air ducts are located on the housing. Front fairing with the radio-transparent spinner (three-layered fairing from the fiberglass fabric scan -3 on the connecting material K -9-70). Skin and intermediate collection it is made from VT -5, tank compartment - made of the stainless steel, longerons - from VKL -3, fairing - from the fiberglass fabric T -10 on connecting K -9-70. Air ducts of welded construction - from the material OTYA-Y, OTYA.

The 3M82 "Mosquito" missiles have the fastest flying speed among all antiship missiles in today's world. It reaches Mach 3 at a high altitude and its maximum low-altitude speed is M2.2, triple the speed of the American Harpoon. The missile takes only 2 minutes to cover its full range and manufacturers state that 1-2 missiles could incapacitate a destroyer while 1-5 missiles could sink a 20000 ton merchantman. An extended range missile, 9M80E is now available.

When slower missiles, like the French Exocet are used, the maximum theoretical response time for the defending ship is 150-120 seconds. This provides time to launch countermeasures and employ jamming before deploying "hard" defense tactics such as launching missiles and using quick-firing artillery. But the 3M82 "Mosquito" missiles are extremely fast and give the defending side a maximum theoretical response time of merely 25-30 seconds, rendering it extremely difficult employ jamming and countermeasures, let alone fire missiles and quick-firing artillery.

Dated 26/8/2006
Iran is said to have successfully tested an upgraded, indegenious, guided surface-to-sea missile, media reports confirmed on Saturday. The missile was tested at the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman during the 'Blow of Zolfaqar' military exercises which began last Saturday. Wargames spokesman Habib Sayari told reporters that the missile accurately hit its pre-determined targets. Sayari said that the missile has a suitable range, high shooting power and precision.

He added that the successful testing of the missile showed the strength, innovativeness, scientific and technical expertise of the country's defense forces and equipment as well as the potential and specialized skill of its experts. Analysts however suspect this missile is based on the Russian SS-N-22 Sunburn missile that Iran is said to have acquired via China in 2004. The Sunburn missile is a Russian missile of the Soviet era and can carry a warhead of upto 300kg and is said to have a range of 100km-120kms.

Russian "Sunburn" anti-ship missle threat neutralized...
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2003 10:20:55 PM by 1stFreedom

This is the headline that should have been....Instead, the headlines stated that Raytheon rolled out the SeaRAM anti-ship missle defense system.

What is significant about this anti-missile defense system is that it can defeat the Mach 2.5 Russian "Sunburn" anti-ship missle. Until the rollout of the SeaRAM, the Russians have enjoyed a very dangerous advantage in anti-ship missile technology. In order to destablize the power of the United States, the Russians have been selling the Sunburn missles to China. The Russians have refused to sell them to the West, and despite the best efforts of it's spies, the west has very little information on them. (Thanks Klinton for passing up the deal when they were offered!)

Yakhont is an operational and tactical missile. It is designed for hitting complex targets. The new Russian missile can be used against both a single medium ship of the destroyer type and against an aircraft-carrier force.

The Yakhont designers wanted not just to develop high combat qualities but also to make its use and maintenance as cheap as possible. Its original airframe allowed them to increase its aerodynamic properties and diminish its diameter.

he original requirement for this missile is somewhat obscure and development has been protracted and indeterminate.It appears that protracted development of another missile, SS-N-22 Moskit (Sunburn), led the Chelomei OKB organisation to propose an alternative supersonic missile. The influence of the company was such that it was allowed to begin design work in 1983 with official approval for development finally being given in 1985, but only under low priority, as the SS-N-22 was the favoured design. The aim, it has been said, was to provide a lighter weight, more compact follow-on system to the SS-N-9, SS-N-19 and SS-N-22 surface-to-surface missile systems, although this is disputed by Russian sources. Subsequent development has been further complicated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and limited financial support. As a result, the project has been developed largely as a private venture, by the NPO Mashinostroenia (formerly the Chelomei OKB) for the export market, as the Russian Navy has no requirement for this system.The family of systems (air, surface ship, submarine launched and coastal defence) was given the designation 3M55 Oniks (Onyx) which has the NATO designation SS-NX-26. The Russians have subsequently changed their designation to Yakhont - Gem.By March 1997, around 25 ballistic firing trials had been conducted with the 'Nanuchka IV' corvette trials ship Nakat being used for guided firing trials. By 1997 it was claimed that 10 such trials had been conducted.

Vice Chairman of Russia's State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovsky has urged the fast delivery of the magnificent S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran.

Speaking at the open session of Russia's State Duma on Wednesday, Zhirinovsky stated, "S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems should be delivered as soon as possible to enable Iran to defend its airspace."

The S-400 is a new generation of anti-aircraft/anti-missile weapon system developed by the Russian Almaz Central Design Bureau.

The S-400 is capable of detecting and destroying targets out to a range of 400km (250 miles), such as aircrafts, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, including those with a range of 3,500 km.

Sources confirm that the S-400 is capable of detecting and destroying aircraft made with low observable materials such as the American 'stealth' aircraft.

Russia provided Belarus with the same system a short time ago.

The S-400 is so sophisticated and powerful that it can change the military balance of a region since it is capable of hitting targets previously considered untouchable.

The anti missile system has the incredible speed of 4.8 km per second which is faster than a bullet leaving a Kalashnikov machine gun.§ionid=351020602

Called the SSN-X-26 Yakhont, the supersonic cruise missile can be launched from the coast and hit sea-borne targets up to 300 kilometers away. The missile carries a 200-kilogram warhead and flies a meter-and-a-half above sea level, making it extremely difficult to intercept. Its closest Western counterpart is the US-made Tomahawk and Harpoon.

The missile homes in on its target using an advanced radar guidance system that is said to make it resistant to electronic jamming.

The Yakhont is an operational and tactical missile and can be used against both a medium-sized destroyer and an aircraft carrier. It would pose a serious threat to the Israel Navy, according to defense officials.

"This is certainly a threat to the Navy," one defense official said. "There is a real fear that if this missile is in Iran it will also be in Syria and Lebanon."


  1. preparednesspro on April 24, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    It's incredible the type of sophisticated weaponry that is at the fingertips of the nations of the world. We truly need to put our houses in order and mentally prepare for such attacks on our nation.

  2. Yophat on June 6, 2009 at 6:24 PM

    I'm afraid the greatest attacks on our nation are currently taking place in the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the government we have placed our trust in...