Kalibr SLCMs in Syrian Theater of Operations (part 1)
(Source: TASS-Defense; published Oct 26, 2016)
The Russian Navy’s Buyan-M class corvette Grad Sviyazhsk, one of the ships that fired Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea against ground targets in Syria, revealing the firepower of Russia’s new surface combatants and submarines. (Russian MoD photo)
MOSCOW --- The experience of the usage of Russia’s Kalibr (NATO reporting name: SS-N-27 Sizzler) sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) in the operation in Syria should be carefully analyzed, according to an Advisor to the Director General of the Krylov State Research Center (Russian acronym: KGNC, Krylovskiy Gosudarstvenniy Nauchniy Centr), Valery Polovinkin.
At present, long-range sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM), for instance, the Russian-originated Kalibr and US-developed Tomahawk have become a significant component of modern war. The media outlets attribute this kind of high-precision weapons huge (but unsubstantiated) capabilities and high combat effectiveness.
The first serially produced Tomahawk SLCM was launched by USS Merrill (DD-976) Spruance-class destroyer in March 1980. The trials of the underwater-launched modification of the missile designated as UGM-109 took place in June 1980.The operational evaluation and test (OE&T) of the Tomahawk took about two years, and the missile was brought into service in 1983. The weapon made its combat debut during the Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. At present, the Tomahawk missile has become a symbol of the distant war concept introduced by the United States.
It is noteworthy that the Western media were issuing raving reports on the tactical effectiveness of the weapon in 1991 (immediately after its massive usage during the Desert Strom operation). However, the official report by the Department of Defense (DoD) on the lessons learnt from the Gulf War published by the Washington Post (WP) and New York Times (NYT) newspapers disappointed many US expert, specialists, and analysts. According to the document, the US surface and underwater combatants launched 288 Tomahawk missiles against land targets. They were said to have hit about 50%, rather than 85% previously reported. Moreover, even these assessments are supposed to be overestimated by several specialists.
While continuing to praise the combat effectiveness of the revolutionary military technologies, the 1,300-page DoD report, published after the articles in the NYT and WP, did not disclose many important details, not giving an actual assessment of their performance in real actions. The drawbacks and deficiencies of many weapons systems used in the Desert Storm operation were classified and their technical specifications were closed for security reasons. Pentagon also declined to comment on the effectiveness of its air and missile attacks, including those using precision-guided munitions.
Four years later, US military experts revealed an apparent discrepancy between the rosy picture of the tactical effectiveness of the promising new-generation combat systems, including the Tomahawk SLCMs. In particular, experts revealed that the combat effectiveness of the then-advanced weapons systems did not prove to be much higher than that of the far cheaper arms, though the former were far more expensive. For instance, the laser-guided smart bombs, which totaled 8% of all bombs dropped in the war, claimed 84% of the money spent on all of the munitions used in the war. Moreover, the combat effect produced by the laser-guided smart bombs used could be easily achieved by other types of munitions that cost to the taxpayer almost thrice as little.
It is noteworthy that the Tomahawk missile has been in the US Navy’s inventory for about 30 years. This fact must be considered in the first place while evaluating its present-day technical sophistication. The missile has been upgraded continuously since its service entry.
The latest version, the RGM/UGM-109E Tactical Tomahawk (Tac Tom) Block 4, was offered by Raytheon to the US Navy as a cheap substitute for the previous-generation variant introduced to the service in 1998. The primary objective of the Tac Tom program was a missile, which production cost would be almost three times lower (USD569,000) than that of the preceding version, the TLAM-C/D Block 3 (USD1.5 million). Almost all the missile’s body, including the air foils, is made of carbon-filled plastic. The number of fins is reduced from four to three. The missile is powered by a cheaper turbofan engine, namely the Williams F415-WR-400/402.
The drawback of the new weapon is its inability to be launched through standard submarine torpedo tubes. Its guidance system has received a new target identification and in-flight re-targeting capabilities. The weapon can be reprogrammed in flight via a UHF satellite channel to any of the 15 preselected backup targets. The Tac Tom can loiter in the target area 400 km away from the launch point for 3 h 30 mi. until the command comes to strike or it can be used in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) role for bombing damage assessment. The US Navy had ordered a total of over 3,000 Tac Toms in 1999-2015.
At present, there are about 3,500 Tomahawks in the US Navy’s inventory, mostly RGM/UGM-109E Block 4s. Today, the 4th-generation Tactical Tomahawk is the main variant in service with the US Navy.
However, the current versions also have several deficiencies and drawbacks, namely, relatively low speed, large scale of the salvo in the target area (therefore, the problem of providing the missiles with collective electronic warfare (EW) coverage), long time required for uploading and updating the flight profile (1-1.5 hours for the missiles with the in-flight reprogramming capability and 10+ hours for those lacking it), which allows their using against stationary targets alone, the range of the conventional cruise missile is shorter than that of the nuclear-armed one (1,600 km and 2,500 km, respectively), inability to strike moving targets (Raytheon is working on affording the Tomahawk’s guidance system the moving target attack capability on its own initiative), inability to deceive enemy’s air defense to deploy decoys.
The modernization of the Tomahawk continues to extend its range, increase the volume of its warhead and improving the missile`s guidance capabilities.
The Tomahawk’s total delivery to the US Navy has exceeded 3,500 missiles, with more than 2,000 of them having been expended in local wars and conflicts over the past three decades. For instance, 288 Tomahawks were fired in Operation Desert Storm (1991), 415 in Operation Desert Fox (1998), 802 during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, 218 in the attack on Yugoslavia, 125 in Afghanistan, and 283 in Libya. Forty-seven missiles were launched against the Islamic State terroristic grouping (forbidden in Russia) in 2014.
Recently, the efforts have been made to integrate the Tomahawk missile with the net-centric command-and-control (C2) system to allow its in-flight retargeting and altering its flight path depending on the tactical situation. Proceeding from the above, one should hardly be in a hurry to compare the US and Russian cruise missiles. The delusion that this kind of contemporary high-precision armament has global capabilities is even more harmful.
Cruise missiles have been typically used in all conflicts to eliminate separate high-value pinpoint targets to disrupt the functioning of installations and systems featuring complex territorial organization. It is important to realize that it is totally impossible to attain strategic objectives using cruise missiles alone, because the number of targets subject to destruction for the above purpose may exceed 1,000 even in developing countries. However, many analysts have attributed overblown capabilities to this essentially tactical-level type of armament.
Cruise missile strikes should be combined with manned aircraft attacks in the first place, with cruise missiles to focus on the peculiar missions in contested areas. Moreover, the strategic objective of defeating enemy’s armed forces and disrupting of its economic or military capabilities by means of mostly conventional cruise missiles is unattainable even in the medium and long term due to a huge expenditure of such weapons in the first place, which is economically inexpedient.
Therefore, cruise missiles have been employed on tactical or local operational-level missions, mostly as part of the first strike against air defenses (surveillance radars, C2 systems, long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems), key governmental facilities, and military HQs. Cruise missiles allow a drastic reduction in (and even prevention of) manned aircraft losses, while suppressing enemy air surveillance and area air defense system opposing the main attack as part of offensive air operations, eliminating C2 systems, and disrupting the resistance.
Considering the aforementioned information, it is worth reemphasizing that even the latest long-range SLCMs carrying the conventional payload are no substitute for other armament, manned aircraft and artillery/rocket artillery, in particular. The purpose of cruise missiles is to deal with heavily air-defended targets and suppression of the enemy’s air defenses and C2 systems in specific areas. This applies to not only long-range cruise missiles, but other weapons systems as well, which have been attributed exclusive capabilities that allegedly can make the rest of the armament redundant.
Russia has used a whole number of new high-tech types of weapons for the first time in the Middle East a quarter of the century after the Desert Storm operation. It is good that the Russia’s military-political leaders were laid-back about the initial phase of the military operation in Syria and, having stated the very fact of Russia’s possession of such weapons and the early positive results produced, told the military and industry to fix the drawbacks revealed by the combat usage of the advanced Russian weaponry.
As the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin told military authorities and defense industry leaders during the meeting in Sochi on May 10, the Syrian operation had highlighted a number of issues that had to be analyzed and fixed. In the president’s opinion, this will adjust the military equipment’s further development. At present, the military leadership is scrutinizing the experience gained by the Russian troops from fighting the terrorists in Syria.
The baptism of fire of the 3M-14 Kalibr land-attack SLCMs in the Syrian theater of operations has provided objective data previously unavailable to the Russian defense industry and the military. The data is worth a great deal, because it allows the scrutiny of the performance of the latest high-technological weapons and improvements in their design, hardware and software. It will result in the further modernization and upgrade, Russian defense analysts suppose.
Kalibr SLCMs in Syrian Theater of Operations (part 2)
(Source: TASS-Defense; published Oct 27, 2016)
MOSCOW --- At present, Russia’s military authorities are scrutinizing the experience gained by the troops from fighting the terrorists in Syria. The Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu said during the Military-Political Results Produced by the Armed Forces in Syria and Key Strategic Conclusions military scientific conference that the lessons learnt by the Russian task force in Syria and analysis of the combat, combat support and combat service support problems encountered will strengthen the Armed Forces and allow the developing of new-generation armament.
This is the primary purpose of combat experience. According to the minister, "the analysis will facilitate the devising of proposals for force development, combat capability enhancement and new-generation armament development."
Concluding the conference, the General Staff Chief, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov said that the drawbacks of the modern Russian military hardware should be eliminated by the year-end. "Measures should be taken to resolve the problem before year-end," Gerasimov said.
Therefore, Russia’s political leaders have taken a rather balanced approach to assessing the weapons’ performance and, along with the statement of the graphic demonstration of Russian arms’ high quality and effectiveness in Syria, have ordered the quick removal of the defects of the weapons used in the Syrian theater of operations, as well as the improvements in their characteristics.
Among the sophisticated Russian-made weapons employed in Syria, the keenest interest has been prompted by the Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) launched from surface and underwater platforms against land-based stationary targets.
On October 7, 2015, the Caspian Flotilla’s Project 11661K (Gepard-class) Dagestan missile frigate and Project 21631 (Buyan-M-class) Grad Sviyazhsk, Veliky Ustyug and Uglich missile corvettes sitting in the southwestern corner of the Caspian launched 26 3M-14 (SS-N-27 Sizzler) Kalibr-NK missiles against 11 Islamic State targets more than 1,500 km away in the Syrian provinces of al-Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo. The targets included ammunition and explosives factories, command posts, arms caches, ammo dumps, oil depots and terrorist training bases.
On November 20, 2015, the same four combatants clobbered seven terrorist targets in the provinces of al-Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo with 18 3M-14 Kalibr-NK missiles from the southwestern area of the Caspian.
While submerged in the Mediterranean en route to its home station in Novorossiisk, the Black Sea Fleet’s Project 636.6 (Improved Kilo-class) Rostov-on-Don submarine fired four 3M-14 Kalibr-PL missiles on two terrorist targets in al-Raqqa province in Syria. The targets included a landmine factory and an ammunition dump and oil infrastructure as well.
The Black Sea Fleet’s Project 21631 Serpukhov and Zelyony Dol missile corvettes fired three 3M-14 Kalibr-NK missiles at three targets in the province of Aleppo from the Eastern Mediterranean on August 19. The targets were a command post and a base of the terrorists near Dar Taaza northwest of the city of Aleppo, a mortar bomb factory, and an arms depot in the province of Aleppo.
In all, the three attacks used 51 cruise missiles. For the first time, the Russian Navy employed 3M-14 missiles of the Kalibr system against real targets in a combat action, rather than as part of an exercise. Can one mention the price of the Russian-made Kalibr missiles as opposed to the cost of the targets wiped out, while performing an early, very rough assessment of the weapon’s tactical performance? Most probably, not, because it is pointless.
Obviously, this is the first tactical use of the weapon that is most important for present-day combat operations. At the same time, the cost of the cruise missiles is simply peanuts compared with the cost of a full-scale air operation using dozens or even hundreds of warplanes and combatant ships to suppress enemy’s air defense and jam its air defense radars.
Certainly, in a real war, the choice of weapons implies the assessment of the target’s value in the first place, including that in monetary terms. One can say there are virtually no stationary targets worth the weapons spent on them in the part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State terroristic grouping (forbidden in Russia) and the Russian task force at the Humaymim air base had enough aircraft and a sufficient number of far less expensive bombs that could have done the job with the 0.99 probability.
The imperfect guidance systems were the principal problem for using cruise missiles against land targets since the dawn of the cruise missile era. For this reason, cruise missiles had been used mostly in the anti-ship role for a long time. The radar-based guidance systems had no problem with discerning surface ships against the backdrop of the sea but were no good for dealing with land targets. Huge resources were invested in the developing of the Russian anti-ship missiles, and this resulted in the Granit, Malakhit, Moskit and Oniks. These days, Russia has the best anti-ship cruise missiles. The rest of the armies and navies throughout the world have nothing of the kind.
Official information on the combat performance of the Kalibr SLCM is virtually nonexistent. One can only try and discuss what was behind the decision to conduct four massive Kalibr missile attacks on the targets in the provinces of al-Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo out of the Caspian and Mediterranean seas and how the mission was actually accomplished.
As follows from the statement by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during his December 9, 2015 meeting with the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, the usage of advanced cruise missiles in the Syrian theater of operations was due to the need of testing the advanced weapons "in all of its environments - from the air and from the sea." Both submarine- and ship-based variants of the SLCM were tested. Today, it would not be an overstatement to say that the launch sites had been chosen rather well.
It should be mentioned that in October and November 2015, when the first two Kalibr missile strikes were delivered, the Russian naval force participating in the Syrian operation consisted of 10 ships, of which six were in the Mediterranean and four in the Caspian, with none of those in the Mediterranean carrying the Kalibr-NK land-attack missiles. The opportunity to launch Kalibrs from the Eastern Mediterranean offered itself only in early December with the arrival of the Rostov-on-Don submarine heading for her home station in the Black Sea. The ammunition load of the diesel-electric submarine included four Kalibr-PL missiles.
Then, the Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean was shored up with two guided missile corvettes, namely the Serpukhov and Zelyony Dol, each of which carried a strike missile system with eight Kalibr-NK missiles.
Based on the data in the table on the Kalibr missile employment against the Islamic state (forbidden in Russia) targets in Syria and on the generally known maps, one can presume that the least difficult flight paths to the targets were the flight paths of the Kalibr-PL missile fired from the Eastern Mediterranean on two targets in al-Raqqa province. The target sat 325-350 km away from the coast in the large eastern plateau lacking considerable level differences.
Once the missiles went feet-dry and the first update of their inertial navigation systems (INS) took place, their approach of the targets from the direction of the coast did not call for sophisticated maneuvering, as was the case when other targets in al-Raqqa province were hit out of the Caspian. In the latter case, apparently, the rather difficult mountainous terrain of Iran and Iraq had to be taken into consideration when the missiles’ flight profiles were being worked out. It is Iran’s and Iraq’s airspace that the flight path of the Caspian-launched 44 Kalibr missiles passed through, with the SLCMs having to make turns within the 80-1,300-m altitude bracket.
It is obvious that after the four Kalibr-PL missiles launched by the Rostov-on-Don approached the coast, their optimal flight path toward the targets in the province of al-Raqqa could initially run via the southern part of the coastal plain stretching along the Syrian coastline like a narrow band. The coastal plain and the al-Asi River valley are divided by the Jebel al-Nusayriyah Mountain Range running parallel to the coast from the Turkish border in the north almost to the Lebanese border in the south and being about 65 km wide and about 1,200 m high on the average.
Since there is the Tripoli-Homs Gap near the southern tip of Jebel al-Nusayriyah, it is possible that, having passed by the Russian Navy’s 720th Logistics Base in Tartus, the four missiles could use the gap for entering Syria’s airspace over the eastern plateau and heading for their targets in al-Raqqa province.
As far as the attack of three targets in Aleppo province by means of the three Kalibr-NKs out of the Eastern Mediterranean is concerned, the weapons’ flight path could be between the Turkish border and the northern part of Jebel al-Nusayriyah after they had crossed the coastline.
Since advanced weapons systems developed by the Russian defense industry in recent years are being tested during the Syrian operation, it is possible that the S-400 Triumph (SA-21 Growler) long-range air defense system (ADS) and Pantsyr-S (SA-22 Greyhound) self-propelled anti-air gun-missile (SPAAGM) system deployed at the Humaymim air base could be tested by means of the Kalibr-NK and Kalibr-PL SLCM launches from the Eastern Mediterranean.
The assumption may be substantiated by the ongoing deployment of Triumph and Pantsyr-S systems in Russia’s North to provide air defense coverage for the Northern Fleet’s bases and the areas where US cruise missiles launched from the direction of the Arctic Ocean may fly.
S-400 and Pantsyr-S systems have been deployed to the Russian Far East as well, including the Kamchatka Peninsula, where there is a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine base - a potential target for a US cruise missile strike from the direction of the Pacific. It is these air threats of the notional adversary that the latest Russian air defense assets are designed to counter.
Kalibr SLCMs In Syrian Theater of Operations (Part 3)
(Source: TASS-Defense; published Oct 28, 2016)
MOSCOW --- Most likely, the Eastern Mediterranean launches of the Kalibr missiles were planned to simulate a combat situation, in which the S-400 (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) long-range air defense systems (ADS) and Pantsyr-S (SA-22 Greyhound) self-propelled anti-air gun-missile (SPAAGM) platforms deployed at the Humaymim airbase would have to repel a mass attack of cruise missiles approaching the coastline from the sea at an altitude of about 20 m.
Since the targets used at missile ranges during tests create allowances for this and that, reducing the reliability of test results at times, the live Kalibr launches off the coast of Syria at preselected targets actually simulated for the Russian air defense assets at the Humaymim airbase the real situation in the part of the world, where they have never been used before. It is a possibility that the Russian commanders seized the opportunity to test their new-generation air defense weapons systems.
After the launch of the Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) from the Mediterranean, their flight path followed through the area of responsibility of the S-400 ADS that was to acquire, identify, lock on and track them. To cap it all, the small-size targets posed by the Kalibrs were to be detected while approaching from the direction of the sea, i.e. head on, when their signature (the radar cross-section) is minimal. The sea skimming by the missiles further hampers their detection by radar due to natural interference and echoes from the sea surface.
It is possible that the Black Sea Fleet’s Moskva missile cruiser equipped with the S-300FM Fort (SA-N-20 Gargoyle) naval-based ADS took part in the gaging of the air defense weapons’ massive SLCM attack repelling capability in December 2015. Following the incident with the Russian Sukhoi Su-24M (Fencer-D) frontline bomber, the cruiser went on station off the coast of Latakia province on November 25, 2015 and has provided air defense for the Russian force in Syria and for the Humaymim airbase together with the S-400 system.
In addition, countering sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles (ASM) remains relevant to the Russian Navy - one of the priorities for defending both individual surface ships and naval task forces. Moreover, all large surface combatants are designed to provide air and missile defense in the first place, thus, essentially, themselves being a reliable defense for the coastal infrastructure.
Scrutinizing the first two massive Kalibr-NK strikes, it is possible that each missile pack had a flight path of its own due to numerous targets (11 and seven respectively) and the feature-rich mountainous terrain between the Caspian, on the one hand, and Syria’s provinces of al-Raqqa, Aleppo and Idlib, on the other. Presumably, the military planners had certain optimal missile flight path modeling capabilities and can use the data acquired from relevant equipment to compare the effectiveness of the SLCMs’ guidance system over terrain of various types.
It should be mentioned that 51 Kalibrs were launched from the vertical launch systems (VLS) of the surface combatants and the torpedo tubes of the submarine were smooth. This is a compelling evidence of a certain sophistication and reliability of our weapons. For comparison purposes, during the Desert Storm operation in 1991, nine US Navy Tomahawk missiles failed to launch due to malfunction and six malfunctioned right after they had left their VLS.
Because late 2015 saw the baptism of fire of the Russian SLCMs in Syria, it is worth reminding about the problems revealed by the Tomahawk’s operational debut in Iraq in 1991.
In particular, experts noted the long time it took to download the mission profiles to the missiles, fitted with the terrain contour matching guidance system, using digital terrain relief maps for mid-course guidance, and the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator electro-optical guidance system, using digital target area maps for terminal guidance, even when relevant imagery was available. Sometimes, featureless flat terrain or terrain facilitating the camouflaging of the targets would make the US mission planners to select the same approach routes to the targets.
Since Iraq had air defense weapons, the latter would take out some of the incoming missiles, thus reducing the number of those that made it to the targets. It is quite natural that the deficiency has been fixed as well as possible and the technology of preparing mission profiles for various corners of the world has been drastically improved over the long time the Tomahawk has been in service with the US Navy.
As for the Kalibr SLCM, the devising of mission profiles for the type to fly in the Middle East has come to the Russian troops as their first and, naturally, rather valuable experience. Compared with the terrain of Iran and Iraq, through which airspace the Kalibr missiles flew during the first two strikes from the Caspian, Syria’s terrain is smoother, especially in the large eastern plateau where the targets were.
According to Tactical Missiles Corporation`s (Russian acronym: KTRV, Korporatsiya Takticheskoye Raketnoye Vooruzhenie) Director General, Boris Obnosov, the lessons learn from the Syrian operation shall be taken into account in the development of advanced weapons. "It is a new data asset that we have obtained. Exercises and tests are one thing, but the real-life employment is quite different - the use in a theater of operations very different to our missile ranges. It has an utterly different ambient temperature, surface and humidity. At certain time of the day, there is a haze in the lower atmosphere. Clearly, this takes its toll on the guidance gear, namely, the laser illumination of the targets," the director stressed.
The baptism of fire of the 3M-14 Kalibr SLCM in the Syrian theater of operations has provided objective data previously unavailable to the Russian defense industry and the military. The data is worth a great deal, because it allows the scrutinizing of the performance of the latest high-tech weapons and improvements in their design, hardware and software.
Russian defense analysts suppose that the usage of the Kalibr missiles during the operation in Syria will drastically increase the export potential of the weapon. According to the open sources, the Almaz-Antey Concern offers two modifications of the Kalibr ASMs to potential foreign customers, namely, 3M-54E and 3M-54E1 (E stands for Export-oriented, Eksportny). The 3M-54E anti-ship missile has a length of 8.22 m, a diameter of 533 mm, a full weight of 1,951 kg, a warhead of 200 kg, a firing range of 220 km, a cruise speed of Mach 0.8, a speed near target of Mach 2.9, and a trajectory of 10-20 m. The 3M-54E1 ASM has a length of 6.2 m, a diameter of 533 mm, a full weight of 1,570 kg, a warhead of 450 kg, a firing range of 300 km, a cruise speed of Mach 0.6-0.8, and a trajectory of 20 m.
The 3M-14E land-attack missile has a length of 6.2 m, a diameter of 533 mm, a full weight of 1,770 kg, a warhead of 450 kg, a firing range of 300 km, a cruise speed of Mach 0.8, and a trajectory of 20-150 m.
The PT91E anti-submarine warfare (ASW) torpedo has a length of 7.65 m, a diameter of 533 mm, a full weight of 2,100 kg, a firing range of 50 km, and a speed of Mach 2.5.
The PT91E2 ASW torpedo has a length of 6.2 m, a diameter of 533 mm, a full weight of 1,200 kg, a firing range of 40 km, and a speed of Mach 2.
According to Russian and several foreign analysts, the Kalibr land-attack and anti-ship missiles, as well as ASW torpedoes are among the most effective high-precision munitions in the world.