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NATO Surface Ships: Sitting Ducks for Russian Coastal Defense Systems

As NATO ships exercise in the Black Sea so do Russia's coastal batteries around it

Russian Bastion and Bal-E coastal missile defense systems went through an exercise on July 13 to check their combat readiness. The training event took place against the background of NATO Sea Breeze-2017 naval drills (July 10-23) being held in the Black Sea and the comments by experts expressing concern over the vulnerability of the alliance’s surface ships to Russian precision strike systems destined to counter them. USS Carney, USS Hue City and HMS Duncan - the surface assets the US and UK navies are proud of - are among the 30 vessels participating in the Sea Breeze event.

It was rather symbolic that a day after the exercise started the British Telegraph cited the Royal United Services Institute saying that «technological leaps by rivals such as Russia and China have eroded the military dominance once taken for granted by the West». The paper singles out Chinese and Russian long-range missiles «which threaten large land, maritime and air platforms» that Western militaries have become reliant on.

US, UK and French surface ships have become frequent visitors to the Black Sea since 2014 when Crimea became a part of the Russian Federation. These ships are easy targets for Russian coastal missile defense.

The K-300P Bastion-P (SS-C-5 Stooge) is a Russian mobile coastal defence missile system. The prime mission is to engage surface ships including carrier battle groups, surface action groups, and amphibious ready groups.

The weapon used by the Bastion-P is the P-800 Oniks – an over-the-horizon supersonic anti-ship missile with an approximate maximum range of 300 kilometers (162 nmi) utilizing a low-low or hi-low flight trajectory respectively. The speed is Mach 2.5. Guidance system: midcourse inertial guidance, active radar homing-passive radar seeker to guide the weapon with a 200–250 kg (440–550 lb) warhead.

The missile is fired vertically from the launchers using a solid-fuel rocket booster for initial acceleration, then it uses a liquid-fuel ramjet for sustained cruising speed. Upon halting of the truck, the missiles can be readied for firing within five minutes, and both fired in 2-5 second intervals.

The Oniks can fly to an altitude of 14,000 m (46,000 ft) before descending to sea-skimming altitude of 5 m at the final stage, useful up to sea state 7. It uses satellite guidance at the initial flight stage and active radar guidance when approaching a target.

The homing head is modular: antenna, transmitter, receiver, information processor, built-in self-check device. The warhead has onboard two-channel active/passive radar with a complex wide-band coherent signal with a phase-code manipulation in compliance with the random law both during surveillance and tracking in an active operation mode. It re-adjusts frequencies and time parameters. It is highly immune to various active countermeasures that affect the operating range and angle coordinates. Also, it is resistant to passive interference like dipole clouds and angular reflectors.

Until recently, it had been believed to be effective against ships alone. However, the advanced missile system took out several land targets in Syria on November 15, 2016 as part of the surgical strike delivered by the Russian Navy. The Bastion is deployed in the Black Sea (Crimea) as well as the Pacific and Northern Fleets’ areas.

The 3K60 Bal coastal defense system is capable of hitting targets located up to 300 kilometers (162nmi) away, launching a total of 32 missiles with a maximum interval of up to three seconds. It can be combat ready in less than 10 minutes.

Its Kh-35E anti-ship missile is a subsonic weapon featuring a normal aerodynamic configuration with cruciform wings and fins and a semisubmerged air duct intake. The propulsion unit is a turbofan engine. It is designed to attack vessels up to 5,000 tons. Each Bal-E missile system is equipped with 64 missiles. The system can single fire or conduct salvo fires of up to 32 missiles at any one time.

The weapon with fully autonomous after-launch missile guidance, the Kh-35 can be employed in fair and adverse weather conditions at sea states up to 5-6, by day and night, under enemy fire and electronic countermeasures. Its aerodynamic configuration is optimized for high subsonic-speed sea-skimming flight to ensure stealthy characteristics of the missile. The missile has low signatures thanks to its small dimensions, sea-skimming capability and a special guidance algorithm ensuring highly secure operational modes of the active radar seeker.

The Bal-E is deployed in the Black and Caspian seas as well as on the Pacific coast.

It should be noted that the direct distance from Odessa, where NATO ships arrived for the exercise, to the Russian city of Sevastopol is exactly 300 km. The distance from the western edge of the Crimean peninsula to the southern part of Ukraine is even less. It means that the northwestern part of the Black Sea – the area where the NATO exercise is held - is well within the reach of the Russian coastal missile defense systems. With the speed of M 2.5 (1 Мах = 331 m/s), the Oniks will get to the target in 362 seconds or 6 minutes to make futile any attempt to react. If a conflict sparks, dozens of such missiles will be used to strike the NATO surface assets.

It’s not the Black Sea only. All Russian sea and ocean coasts are protected by the Bastion and Bal systems. Perhaps, getting at the round table to talk about the measures to reduce tensions and avoid incidents, provocations and dangerous maneuvering is a wise thing for NATO to do if it does not want to endanger the extremely expensive surface assets.

Source: Strategic Culture Journal

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