Yeah, the Russians Have Carrier-Killing Missiles, but Can They Actually Hit the Ships? (Answer: Yes)
Turns out the Russians did not just build missiles and forgot about targeting
Anti-ship cruise missiles of operational-tactical purpose (RCC OTN) 3M55, 3M45 and 3M70 missile systems “Onyx”, “Granite” and “Volcano” are rightfully considered the pride of the Russian Navy. However, there is an opinion that their outstanding flight range (500–700 km) is not provided by reliable target designation, and therefore is useless in practice.
In other words, it is generally accepted that the means of destruction available to Russia (which the media refer to only as “killer aircraft carriers”) are almost meaningless in modern conditions. And all due to the fact that the Navy does not have the tools necessary to direct long-range missiles. They say that the Tu-95RTs reconnaissance and target designation aircraft and the space group, which solved this problem in Soviet times, are no longer there, and the new system has not been created. This means that in a real confrontation with the US Navy, Russian sailors will shoot missiles at aircraft carriers “with their eyes closed” (without seeing the target). Needless to say, in such circumstances there can be no talk of any successful attacks and aimed hits.
Is it really? Let’s try to figure it out. We leave behind the scenes tge shore-bound A-50 / A-100 radar monitoring and guidance aircraft (RLDN) and sunflower over-the-horizon radars. Let us consider only those means that make it possible to counter in the open ocean the most dangerous surface enemy of the Russian Navy – the American aircraft carrier strike groups (AUG).
At present, a group of spacecraft (SC) of the latest Liana system of space-based space reconnaissance and target designation (ICRC) is being formed in Earth orbit. Despite its chronic understaffing, its predecessor (“Legend”) regularly provided intelligence to the main headquarters of the Navy, the headquarters of the fleets and directly ships carrying anti-ship missiles, for 33 years.
According to open information, the Liana should include two Pion-NKS radar reconnaissance (RLR) spacecraft and two Lotos-S radio-reconnaissance reconnaissance (RTR) spacecraft. Two full-time Lotus are already in their orbits (launched in 2017–2018). The launch of the Peonies should be expected in 2019–2020. Satellites of two different types are necessary for greater reliability of intelligence.
A grouping of four spacecraft operating in sun-synchronous orbits 900 km high can provide a daily (once every 24 hours) overview of any point on the planet if the viewing band of each spacecraft is equal to the orbit interval at the equator with a small (10 percent) overlap of the bands, i.e., about 800 km.
This value and even its doubling (up to 1600 km) can be considered easily achievable taking into account the fact that: 1) the small Russian satellite RDR “Condor” with a mass of 1150 kg has a 1000 km span (500 km each left and right of the flight path); 2) the radar range of the obsolete American spacecraft Lacrosse is estimated at 2 × 1000 = 2000 km; 3) the U.S. Air Force RTR satellite reconnaissance band Ferret already in the 1980s was about 6,000 km. Moreover, taking into account the approximately three-fold superiority of passive (radio) spacecraft overactive (radar) in viewing width, it can be assumed that four Liana satellites can cover a band with a total width of 12800 km (2 × 1600 RLR and 2 × 4800 RTR).
This means that the number of flights of the spacecraft of the new ICRC system over the same point of the World Ocean in one day can reach four, and the time interval between flights – six hours. During this time, the US Navy AUG on the economic course can go only 120 miles (220 km). Theoretically – in any direction, but in wartime – without changing the combat course (for example, approaching the enemy’s naval strike group, the coordinates of which were obtained from their space forces). Thus, six-hour data obsolescence should not critically affect the results of rocket firing of a naval strike group (KMG) of the Russian Navy.
In addition, if necessary, the position of the orbital plane of the spacecraft can be adjusted using low-thrust engines, namely, to shift toward the Earth’s rotation (from west to east). Then, at each new turn, the satellite will catch up with the AUG leaving from under it and, in fact, “hang” over the enemy’s ships (pass over them once every 103 minutes).
It is clear that in the event of a major war, the orbital groups of the warring parties will be quickly destroyed, and the data received from them will become hopelessly out of date in a day.
To restore the performance of space reconnaissance and target designation, backup spacecraft launches will be required. Cosmodromes (priority targets for a nuclear missile strike) can be forgotten here. Intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of putting a payload of about 3300/3800 kg (the mass of the spacecraft US-P / US-A of the Legend system) would be best suited.
Unfortunately, with the least vulnerable (mobile) missile systems (ICBMs) “Topol-M”, “Yars” and “Bulava” the cast weight does not exceed 1200–1400 kg (at “Sineva” 2000/2800 kg). Heavy “Voivode” and “Sarmat” with 10 warheads are the “sacred cows” of the Strategic Missile Forces, the main weapon of retaliation and are unlikely to be used for other purposes. The most suitable candidates for the role of a hot reserve, probably, are Strela rocket launch vehicles (based on the UR-100N UTTKh ICBM) and Dnepr based on the Voivode’s base), but with light Condor type RLRs.
Above the water
It is generally accepted that even in the absence of space target designation, the US Navy’s AOG possesses phenomenal combat capabilities – sometimes we are talking about a defense depth of 1,500 km (this is the opinion of the former commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Komoyedov).
In fact, the Hawkeye E-2C/D carrier-based radar carrier (DRLO), boarding at a “typical” distance of 320 km (200 statutory miles) from an aircraft carrier, is capable of confidence (when operating an airborne radar in active mode) to detect targets such as “missile cruiser pr. 1164” at a range of the radio horizon. In other words, at 410–450 km from the patrol line or at 730–770 km from the center of the warrant of the aircraft carrier group.
In the passive mode (direction finding), the detection range is approximately doubled, however, the information received loses in reliability. This unreliability can be aggravated by the opposition of the enemy, including limiting the work of electronic equipment on radiation and the distortion of radio portraits of ships.
Theoretically, “Hawkeye” can detect operating RES at a distance of 1200 km from AUG. In this case, after the reconnaissance of the targets by the Growlers (EA-18G), the Harpoons from the Super Hornets (F / A-18E / F) will follow — wave after wave, which will not be easy to repel. At the same time, the aircraft carrier strike group, maneuvering accordingly, may simply not allow the Russian KMG, moving under continuous attacks from carrier-based aircraft, to reduce the distance and get closer to the range of rocket firing.
However, being an excellent means of long-range reconnaissance, Hawkeye also acts as an unmasking sign of the AUG. The radiation of a powerful airborne radar E-2 will be immediately detected by radio-technical means of the KUG of the Russian Navy. After the discovery of the RLDN deck carrier, which is hacking along with tacks of 160 km (100 st. Miles) perpendicular to the course of the aircraft carrier group, it will be possible to determine the bearing on the AOG and the range to it. Further advance of the anti-aircraft ASG in the mode of radar silence (using from time to time only close intra-squad communication) will give her a chance to secretly approach the launch line of the RCC.
Additional capabilities to counter the AUG the Russian Navy will receive after the adoption of the PKR 3M55M (Onyx-M) with a range of 800 km and the completion of the repair of [the Russian carrier] Admiral Kuznetsov.
The Su-33s based on Kuznetsov are, among other things, capable of: 1) performing the functions of a combat air patrol (BVP), barring for two hours at a distance of 250 km from the ship carrier group; 2) using the on-board radar N001 (SUV ” Mech “), detect aircraft carriers at a range of 350 km, fighters – 150 km; 3) attack air targets with R-27P missiles from a distance of 110 km.
The practical application of the Su-33 in the initial phase of an aircraft carrier battle can be represented as follows. Having received a warning about exposure from the Hawkeye side from the L-150 Pastel station, a patrol fighter calls the duty couple for additional reconnaissance and destruction of the RLDN and BVP Hornets aircraft, with subsequent identification of the AUG’s location and course, after which the first of two MiG-29K shock squadrons (accompanied by Su-33) for missile attack.
As regards reconnaissance ships, due to their low combat stability they are of little use for operational target designation in wartime, but are indispensable for compiling a database of radio technical portraits of ships of a potential enemy. Without such portraits, passive reconnaissance is not possible.
The main advantage of submarine forces is secrecy, which makes submarines a priority means of combating AUG. In the event of the outbreak of global hostilities, the task of updating the space target designation data obtained by atomic submarine cruisers (APKR) Projects 949A and 885 deployed in the ocean during the threatened period will require the use of an onboard sonar system.
The detection range of surface ships by modern high-power aircraft in the noise-detecting mode is kept in strict confidence. One can only say that it is not lower than MGK-540 “Slope-3” twice superior of the energy potential of its predecessor (MGK-500 “Ramp” 230 km).
It turns out that even the APKR pr. 949A with the Granit missile launcher can independently detect the enemy’s AOG at a distance commensurate with the firing range of their anti-ship missiles (460 and 500 km, respectively). At the same time, underwater cruisers patrolling at low noise speed (5–10 knots) on the target’s route identified by the ICRC will remain outside the detection and destruction zone of multi-purpose nuclear submarines providing anti-submarine defense of the ASG, being ahead of the order at a distance of about 100 nautical miles (185 km).
The fact that the submarine, forced to move at the same (much more noisy) speed as the aircraft carrier cover behind it (20 knots), will inevitably be the first to think so, and the range of its weapons (torpedoes MK 48) does not exceed 50 km.
A new big war at sea, which must be prepared for in order to avoid it (si vis pacem, para bellum), of course, will not be reduced only to battles between the aircraft carrier and anti-aircraft forces. On all marine theater of operations will be a clash of ship formations that do not have aircraft RLDN. Deck helicopters will have to take on their responsibilities.
Even modernized Ka-27M can detect enemy surface ships at a distance of no more than 250 km, and fighter-type air targets can be detected at 70 km (Ka-27M) and 100-150 km (Ka-31), at an altitude of 3500 m in 200 km from their carriers. This is significantly worse than the capabilities of the Hawkeye. In other words, a sentinel helicopter, barraging at the front line ahead of the KUG course, will only contribute to its earlier detection by the enemy.
Another thing is if the KMG opposes a similar naval grouping of the Navy of the NATO countries, consisting of destroyers and frigates. In this case, the Ka-27M will be able to provide target designation for the firing of anti-ship missiles of the Onyx systems (albeit not at full range), Caliber (anti-ship missile 3M54), Uranus and Mosquito. Instead helicopter deck or in conjunction with (prior to the CO) can be used radar type complexes “Monument” passive detection range with channel surface targets at least 450 – 500 km.
Even the previous generation diesel-electric submarines (Project 636.3) with the Rubikon-M MGK-400M are capable of attacking enemy ships at over-horizon ranges from underwater. The export version of this complex in the noise-detecting mode can detect NKs at a distance of 100 km. Considering that for this fleet this parameter should be noticeably higher (125–150 km), the detection range of the latest Lira SAR (NPL pr. 677) with large-area noise-finding antennas may well reach 250–300 km.
It would be strange if the ammunition (in our case, the missile) was developed on its own, and not in combination with an arms control system that ensures its use at a given range. This article probably has some inaccuracies and even errors caused by a lack of reliable source information. However, the picture as a whole is as follows: an accurate target designation for firing operational-tactical anti-ship missiles of the Russian Navy at the maximum (horizontal) range is possible and is provided in practice.