OTR-21 Tochka/SS-21 Scarab

So Jason and I discussed this bit of news while recording another podcast. A UAE Patriot battery successfully intercepted an SS-21 Scarab short range ballistic missile fired from Yemen by Houti rebels* at coalition forces in or near Saudi Arabia.

What is the SS-21 Scarab? The Russian designation is OTR-21 Tochka (Point). It’s a solid fuel guided short range missile. Depending on the variant, it has a range of from 40 miles to about 110 miles.  Doctrinally, a Soviet army commander would use these to attack deep behind our lines at key installations, such as supply or fuel depots, airfields, air defense installation, or key command and control nodes. It was, and is, a potent weapon.

Here’s Ukrainian forces launching a pair at Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcA3LtpiQOQ]

Not everything works all the time.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1KQGEuFM0E]

*Which we suspect are really Iranians from the Quds Force or IRGC.

Couple Random Thoughts on Anti-Surface Warfare

We linked to this CIMSEC piece on integrating the P-8A Poseidon with a long range anti-ship missile a couple weeks ago.

Anti-Surface Warfare (variously abbreviated either ASuW or SUW) poses a few challenges. For the most part, it is likely to take place at over the horizon ranges. That is, from a surface ship perspective, the radar horizon, limited by the height of the antenna and the curvature of the earth, is fairly short, say 20~25 miles. Ships certainly can detect threat ships at longer ranges via passive measures such as radar warning receivers, such as the SLQ-32 or the SSQ-108(V) Classic Outboard. Passive sensors alert to the presence of a radiating warship, with some fair indication of bearing (~1 degree of accuracy) and some hint of range, based on signal strength. Cooperation between two receivers can generate a fair fix depending on the baseline and environmental factors. Maybe good enough to shoot, but hardly precision targeting.

A real challenge the US faces, especially in the littorals and the Western Pacific is the density of shipping there means that enemy warships will be intermixed with friendly and neutral merchant shipping, requiring a far more precise location, and positive identification of a potential target. As LT Rusty mentioned in the comments here, the surface Navy’s thinking around the turn of the century was that an actual positive Visual Identification (VID) would be required. The obvious problem with that is, anyone close enough to VID a target is likely to get smoked with a quickness.

There are other means of generating that identification. When you think of a radar return, you generally envision a glowing green blip on a dark radar scope. But most radars today convert the raw video to a graphic symbol. Other radars, however, have modes such as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) or Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar Mode (ISAR) that uses the motion of the radar platform or the motion of the target to artificially act as a much larger antenna. Through advanced signal processing, a three dimensional picture of the target can be derived and displayed, with enough fidelity to make a positive identification.  The P-8A is being equipped with a radar capable of doing this at quite long ranges. Optical sensors capable of extremely fine resolution at long ranges are another option, though whether they are capable of near-real time use is an open question.

Ohio State University Stadium SAR Image

Another problem is SUW is the time of flight for a weapon. During the lag from launch to arrival in the target area, the target itself is moving, and often in an unpredictable manner. The seekers of anti-ship missiles have relatively small fields of view.  A missile might completely fail to acquire a target, or acquire the wrong target, either another ship in an enemy formation, or worse, a completely innocent neutral ship. One of the great shortcomings of our currently fielded Harpoon Block 1C missile is that it is completely fire-and-forget. It goes where it was told before launch, and then starts its own search.  More modern missile (including the Harpoon Block II soon to enter service) can receive updates on the target location during flight, otherwise known as a mid-course update. Of course, that requires the target be carefully tracked by the launch platform or other sensor.


Let’s talk about a missed opportunity.  A few years ago, Raytheon and the Navy had the bright idea to take some of its large inventory of older Standard SM-2 missiles and convert them to a land attack variant, known as SM-4 or LASM (the not terribly original Land Attack Standard Missile). Using a GPS/INS guidance system similar to that on the JDAM precision bomb, the LASM would have been a fairly cheap means of augmenting the striking power of destroyers and cruisers. The program was cancelled before any were fielded to the fleet, apparently for lack of funds, and because the LASM had a rather anemic warhead, one optimized for destroying airplanes, not land targets.

As n0ted in an earlier post, later Burke class destroyers have a limited SUW capability by using their SM-2 missiles against sea targets, rather than their intended air targets. But the semi-active guidance limits them to ships above the radar horizon. A variant of SM-4 with GPS/INS coupled to a anti-radiation seeker derived from the AGM-88 HARM could have given the surface fleet a viable over the horizon ability to at least damage enemy craft, at a relatively low cost.


The Norwegians Konnsberg seems to nicely fit the bill as a replacement for a Harpoon sized missile.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzruKeRKA4c]


For the foreseeable future, the US Navy’s primary anti-ship platforms will likely remain nuclear attack subs and strike fighter aircraft. And that is, to some extent, fine. They both have some advantages over a surface ship in terms of their abilities to engage, and to avoid engagement.

But as the emerging “distributed lethality” school of thought is beginning to recognize, presenting the enemy with multiple dilemmas (to steal a term from the Army’s current operating concept) has the advantage of forcing him to deal with multiple threats simultaneously, which means almost assuredly one threat is not adequately addressed. Giving tactical strike fighters, maritime patrol aircraft, subs, and the surface navy a viable capability to conduct offensive SUW at long range is itself a form of deterrence that minimizes the chance that the US Navy will ever in fact have to conduct such operations.

Rubber Ducky, you’re the one…

Looking at the vast expense of radars and missiles and even guns that equip naval ships for protection against anti-ship missiles, you might be forgiven for not realizing that only a handful of ASMs have ever even been engaged by shipboard missiles, and that by far, the most effective means of missile defense at sea has historically been passive defensive measures such as chaff.

One deception measure is the “rubber ducky.”

Given the choice of two radar returns, generally the seeker logic of an anti-ship missile will chose the larger of the two. Now, here’s the secret- the size of a radar return has no real correlation to the size of the object reflecting the radar energy. The amount of radar return generated is far more a function of the shape of the object. And so, the SLQ-49 Rubber Ducky allows a surface ship to quickly send overboard a pair of inflatable radar reflective floats that are tethered together.


The system is entirely passive. Which makes it cheap, very reliable.

Inside the little floaty thingies, by choice of shaping, materials, and careful calculation of anticipated wavelength of the seekers (and making length of reflective surfaces a multiple (or fraction) of that wavelength, the RF energy reflected can be much greater than the mere size of the floats would lead you to suspect.

The SLQ-49 was fielded in 1985, which means it was in development for some time before. You know what else was developed and fielded at roughly the same time frame? The F-117 stealth fighter. But instead of using shaping, materials and facets to reduce the radar signature, the Rubber Ducky embraced a sort of stealth in reverse.

Ballistic Missile Defense in Europe

The US policy of extending Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities to our European allies originally envisioned building installations in Poland based on our own GMD program as installed in Alaska. Political factors, far more than technical or tactical ones, caused that plan to be scrapped.  US Aegis BMD capable Aegis cruisers and destroyers will be forward deployed to Europe to provide BDM. Significant questions of cost and capability also lead to a decision to forego using the GMD program and instead to install a land based version of the US Navy’s Aegis system in Romania and Poland.

The U.S. and NATO have begun construction on the first deployed Aegis Ashore installation in Deveselu, Romania as part of a wider ballistic missile defense (BMD) strategy on Monday, according to several press reports.

“The facility here in Deveselu will be a crucial component in building up NATO’s overall ballistic missile defense system,” NATO deputy secretary-general Alexander Vershbow said.”By the end of 2015 this base will be operational and integrated into the overall NATO system.”


Aegis BMD had a bit of stunning publicity back in 2008 when the USS Lake Erie used her Aegis system to knock down a dying satellite.

Aegis, named for the shield of Athena and Zeus, is an integrated shipboard air defense system in service from the early 1980s.  The term Aegis more properly refers to the computers and software that make up the combat system, but is colloquially used to refer to the entire hardware suite of combat system, radar, launcher, and associated equipment.

The radar itself, the SPY-1, is a passively scanned phased array. The launcher, the Mk41 Vertical Launch system, can be loaded with any of a number of types of missiles. Aboard ship, it carries several versions of the SM-2 and SM-3 Standard Missile family to intercept aircraft and missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, the Vertical Launch ASROC anti-submarine rocket, and increasingly, the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile short-range air defense missile. I think we can safely presume the shore based installation will only carry Standard Missile family members.

The SPY-1 radar was developed with open ocean air defense as its priority, and has struggled with tracking targets over land. But because ballistic missile trajectories are so far above the horizon, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Aegis Ashore is a great example of leveraging existing technologies for a low risk, low costs solution to a problem. With over thirty years of use, the basic components are well tested. The systems are already in production for shipboard use, and adapting them to shore use is a far easier task than adapting a shore based system for shipboard use.

Indeed, before the Navy even fielded its first operational Aegis system, it build a shore based system for testing and integration.


Shore basing the Aegis system is also quite a bit cheaper than providing the same capability via a forward deployed ship. Lower operating and manning costs, and simplified logistics drive down costs.

Aegis and the SM missile family have a good track record of success in testing against short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles. Full capability against ICBMs has yet to be demonstrated, but as capability grows, updating the ashore installations will be relatively simple.

Missile Defense- Tit for Tat

So, the other day, the US tested its Ground Based Mid-Course Defense (GMD) interceptor by a launch to validate an upgraded Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV).

What an amazing coincidence then that China tested their own GMD system!

From the very day Ronald Reagan announced the goal of ballistic missile defense, critics have announced that not only would it not work, it could never be made to work. This despite the fact that an ICBM target had been intercepted 20 years before Reagan’s announcement. And if it will not and cannot be made to work, why is it China and Russia continue to develop their own anti-missile systems?

Via War News Updates

Missile Defense Fallout | Washington Free Beacon

A hat-tip to Cuffy for the link to this article:

Missile Defense Fallout | Washington Free Beacon.

A lot here to mull over – a 3-star general yelling and screaming, intimidating subordinates and creating a toxic workplace.  Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly “said the witnesses’ testimony was based on ‘extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents.’ ”  Um, there were 37 witnesses who testified in the investigation, including 24 current or former senior Missile Defense Agency officials.  That’s not just a couple of people you can’t get along with.

An anonymous source quoted in the article mentions problems with current missile defense systems.

The official also raised questions about the integrity of missile defense flight tests that MDA had classified as successes.
“Many flight tests fail to achieve intercept, however, Lt. Gen. O’Reilly will report that the target was ‘successfully engaged and all test criteria have been met,’ or ‘all components performed as designed,’” the official said.

The third area of concern is regarding Lt. Gen. O’Reilly’s replacement, Rear Adm. James D. Syring. Three-star to one-star? Hopefully Syring will get another star, but is this a downgrade for MDA?

Your thoughts?