If you have wondered how the Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missile system that took out the Moskva looks like, wonder no more. pic.twitter.com/YGerY0wk05— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) April 14, 2022
It also shows the need to own mobile and stealth anti-ship equipment in order to avoid their destruction by an adversary. As tension rise all around the globe, land-based coastal defenses are making a major comeback.
Coasts have always been a concern
Coastal artillery deployment occurred simultaneously with the development of cannons and gunpowder, around the 14th century in medieval Europe. Those coastal defense capabilities were particularly effective against the ancient naval threats, and continued to expand as the European navies discovered and occupied new lands across the world.
Italian-inspired coastal fortifications like the Martello Towers, equipped with a cannon and a gun platform that could traverse around a full 360 degrees, spread to the U.S., South Africa or even Australia. Those defense systems were not unique to the West as Imperial China, during the 19th century, also built coastal fortresses like the Taku Forts and the Weiyuan Fort in response to increased concerns about naval threats from western countries – threats that turned out to be well-founded in light of the two opium wars that followed.
Nazi Germany’s Atlantic Wall, running from South-West France to North-East Norway, was the climax of this kind of extensive system made up of coastal defenses and fortifications and which by 144 counted gathered more than 8,000 structures (bunkers or casemates).
But the advent of faster and reinforced battleships equipped with better artillery, as well as (and especially) the spread of military aviation, dealt a fatal blow to static coastal defenses: the Normandy landings was held in one day thanks to shore bombardments carried out weeks before and massive ones just before the D-Day.
Confrontations between Americans and Japanese in the Pacific Ocean followed the same logic as the Japanese forces, which defended the Tarawa atoll with 203mm coastal guns, were defeated by naval and aerial bombings. Air-launched missile development that came after WWII finished making fixed coastal artillery obsolete, as it became more and more vulnerable to adversary strikes.
A resurgence of interest following crucial technological improvements
Ports, naval bases and other strategic infrastructure near the coast, did, however, continue to be shielded from air and naval threats by coastal batteries. But the ongoing development of military ballistic capabilities, the democratization of shipborne missiles, and, above all, the general decrease in tension among the major military powers following the end of the Cold War all contributed to the disinterest in coastal batteries.
Renewed interest in coastal defense was caused by various factors that appeared during recent decades. The first and more important one is the increasing mobility of coastal battery systems, which are usually composed of a Command and Control (C2) vehicle, a mobile sensors unit (radar, EO/IR, AIS), a mobile reloading unit (if needed) and several mobile missile launchers.
These highly mobile systems provide superior tactical mobility, allow operators to get into remote locations and to be transported by air and landing craft easier, as well as to avoid counter-battery fire. It was for this purpose that, in 2016, the Swedish military mounted RBS-15Ms batteries on Scania trucks, to discreetly reactivate coastal defense in the Baltic more than 15 years after it was decommissioned.
MTO 85 (SAAB RBS 15) anti-ship missile system, 1989 pic.twitter.com/zwTGad4NuY— Cold War Finland (@coldwarfinland) October 13, 2022
The same thing in November 2020, when the U.S. Marine Corps successfully combined the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), jointly produced by Norway’s Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace and Raytheon for the American market, with a Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary (ROGUE) Fires – an unmanned missile launcher built on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) chassis – and hit a surface target at sea.
Secondly, the growth of ISR capabilities and joint interoperability have reinforced the value of this kind of system. Combined with air support (aircraft or UAVs) it makes Over-the-horizon (OTH) engagement possible, which was likely the case with the sinking of the Moskva while the vessel was sailing over 100 km off the Ukrainian coast, and whose identification and coordinates were provided by aerial assets, either TB2 drones operated by the Ukrainian Navy or others platforms not yet identified. The native optimized level of integration with C3I and external targeting assets increases firing accuracy and deterrence.
With regard to the deterrent features of the system, it works to offset a weak or unbalanced military situation. The hit, on July 14, 2006, of the Israeli corvette INS Hanit by one anti-ship cruise missile C-802/Noor fired by Hezbollah operators from Beirut and through mobile missile battery, is a good example. In the manner of beach minefields, coastal batteries could deter an opponent to take the offensive through coast intervention or invasion. Stealthier than previously, and covering a significant part of territory with minimal logistical footprint (a single Russian K-300P Bastion-P system can cover a 50km coastline or an area of 500 square km, and destroy sea targets at a distance of 350km, for instance), coastal batteries are a major component of A2/AD strategies, along with surface-to-air systems.
Legacy manufacturers joined by regional newcomers
Defense manufacturers duly noted the resurgence of interest for coastal defense and have been modernizing their offers for the last decades. Various systems are available on the market, among which:
The Boeing Harpoon Coastal Defense System (HCDS) is the land-based version of the Block II Harpoon anti-ship and land-attack missile. The HCDS consists of RGM-84L-4 Block II surface-launched Harpoon missiles with a maximum range of 120 km and a 500-pound warhead, radar trucks, and support and test equipment. Preoccupied about its contentious situation with China, Taiwan recently ordered several: a $2.4bn order on October 2020 for 100 HCDSs including 400 RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II, 4 RTM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Exercise Missiles, 411 containers, 25 radar trucks, spare parts, and support and test equipment, followed by another, worth $498.3 million in March for additional 100 HCDSs and 25 radar units.
Also, despite concerns within the Biden administration that some longer-range U.S. weapons could be used to strike targets inside Russia, the U.S. DoD sent to Ukraine 2 Vehicle-Mounted Harpoon Launchers last June.
France-based MBDA makes two families of anti-ship missiles: Exocet and Marte families. The Exocet MM40 Block 3 (200km class operational range at very low altitude against all classes of warship) and the Marte ER (ranges over 100km) are two of the most representative components, and both can be fitted to ships or aircraft. Regarding mobile coastal batteries, MBDA produces the MARTE Mobile Coastal Defense System (Marte MCDS) which enables to cover large section of territory and hit target up to 100 km from shore if using the Marte Extended-Range (ER) missile.
In 2016, MBDA signed a contract for the supply of a coastal defense system for the Qatari Emiri Naval Forces (QENF), which will deploy both Exocet MM40 Block 3 and Marte ER and it will be able to work in autonomous mode with its own radar. It the first time MBDA has being awarded such type of contract after nearly 20 years.
Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is the successor to the AGM-119 Penguin and has been marketed since 2007 and having a range of more than 185km. It is designed for both shallow water and blue water. Unlike its predecessor, the NSM can be launched from land vehicles and coastal batteries in the framework of the NSM Coastal Defense System.
It encountered great success in the west as the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy (through the NMESIS program) operate it, along with Norway and Poland. Australia, Canada, Germany, Romania have also opted for the system, and just last month the NSM was chosen by the Spanish Navy to replace its Harpoons, while Latvia's Ministry of Defense opened early negotiations with the US to purchase the system for coastal defense purposes. Germany, the UK, Indonesia, India, the Netherlands, as well as Ukraine are listed as potential future operators.
The Soviet Union developed several anti-ship and/or anti-aircraft mobile coastal defense systems, like the SPU-35V Redut, a large military self-propelled artillery truck ZIL-135 able to launch a P-5 "Pyatyorka" anti-ship missiles and which entered service in 1959, or the 4K51 Rubezh produced during the 70’s and combining a subsonic P-15 Termit anti-ship missile with a MAZ-543 truck.
Two modernized Russian systems appeared in the 2000s and the 2010s: the 3K60 Bal coastal defense system, which is able to launch Kh-35 missiles (similar performance to that of the French Exocet and Franco-Italian OTOMAT) from a MZKT-7930 truck and was adopted in 2004 as a successor both to the Redut and Rubezh systems. The second is the K-300P Bastion-P, the most modern Russian mobile system which aims to engage full carrier battle groups using P-800 Oniks missiles, which have a range of 300km and cruise at Mach 2.5, mounted on a MZKT-7930 truck and going along with a C2 vehicle and several reloading units.
Both systems can be combined with Monolit-BR system that provides OTH tracking of surface vessels and low-flying aircraft and consists of two radar vehicles using passive and active tracking methods to limit its radar signature.
China publicly unveiled in 2019 the YJ-12B, a ground-launched version of the naval YJ-12 anti-ship missile carried by its warships. With an estimated range of more than 400km, it is transported on a Wanshan WS2600 truck. The CM-302 is the export version of the YJ-12 (280km range and Mach 1.5/2) and has already attracted orders from Pakistan and Algeria. Beijing has produced anti-ship missiles for a long time with models like the YJ-62/C-602, the YJ-7/C-701 or the YJ-8/C801 whose can be used in coastal battery configuration based on a transporter-erector-launcher (TEL).
China also relies on medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles like the DF-21D (another improvement of the original DF-21 from the 80s), the first dedicated anti-ship ballistic missile in the world intended to engage large surface ships with its 2,000km range, and the DF-26 with 3,000-4,000 km range which has an anti-ship variant with conventional warhead also intended to attack ships at sea such as aircraft carriers or destroyers.
Newcomers joint the party
Newcomers in the defense business are ramping up on mobile missile battery for internal use and/or export, among which:
India and Russia jointly developed the BrahMos supersonic missile through BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russian NPO Mashinostroyenia. In service since 2005, the supersonic BrahMos missile is based on the P-800 Oniks and can be launched from various platforms like ships, submarine, aircraft and, of course, coastal batteries.
A hypersonic version of the missile, the BrahMos II, is under development and expected to be ready for testing by 2024. With a range of 650km (290km when fired from ground batteries) and a cruise speed of Mach 3.5, the BrahMos is a success in the export market. In December 2021, the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) signed a $375 million contract for three mobile batteries, logistics and training. The Shore-Based Anti-Ship Missile (SBASM) Battalion of the Philippine Marine Corps' Coastal Defense Regiment will use the system for islands defense in a context of rising tension with China around Philippine island of Palawan and dispute territories like the Whitsun/Julian Felipe Reef. The procurement of such systems can be seen as Manila's attempt at tilting the balance of forces in its favor by acquiring A2/AD weapons that can be rapidly deployed at various locations along the Philippine coast. Despite the western sanctions against Russian exports, the deal is not in jeopardy, conversely to the purchase of 16 MI-17 helicopters the DND had to scrap with Russia for this reason.
Turkey recently entered the game when, on July 02, it tested for the first time the coastal defense version of the Roketsan’s ATMACA anti-ship missile, the KARA. The shore launched version of the ATMACA was mounted on a wheeled launch vehicle, a Russian KamAZ 88, and used Imaging Infrared Seeker (IIR) instead of Radio Frequency for guidance as IIR-guided missiles are perfect for the coastal seas like the Aegean and can engage ships even near reefs/islands thanks to their image processing function.
The ATMACA is able to threaten targets outside of the line of sight thanks to its 220km range. Through these developments Turkey aims to replace the Harpoon missiles in their inventory and it may become another export success like the TB2 Bayraktar combat drone.
Iran has improved its coastal defense capabilities both through imports and internal developments and modifications, in order to reinforce its A2/AD capabilities throughout the Gulf and into the Gulf of Oman.
Teheran has various Chinese-derived anti-ship missiles and can reach any part of the Gulf of Oman: the Karus with 40km range (derived from the Chinese C-801), the Noor with 120km range, and the Ghader with 200km range (both modified versions of Chinese C-802). The missiles are mounted on mobile trucks and offer an element of surprise as they are difficult to detect and neutralize. More recently, the Iranian forces disclosed the CM-300 system made up with a mobile launch truck, a launch container, a radar and command vehicle and a power supply. The latter would be “ready for export.”
Finally, the Pakistan Navy (PN) conducted a test-firing of its Zarb land-based anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) system during a training exercise back in November 2019, according to media reports at the time, but it is unlikely to attract export orders.
Interestingly, the war in Ukraine has also shown new ways of coastal warfare. According to European website Bruxelles2, quoting anonymous but reliable sources, reported that a French gun CAESAR mounted on a barge was effectively used in the recapture by the Ukrainians of the Snake Island, something even OEM Nexter never tested. That said, Janes reports that as soon as 2019, the Qatari were already using PzH 2000 in exercise to “hit” naval targets at their maximum range”…
Coastal defense apparently means creativity…