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.

Hellfire Longbow at Sea

The US Navy’s LCS ships lack a short range missile. The planned NLOS missile was cancelled. So the Navy is now looking at using a vertical launch system equipped with the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, particularly its Longbow millimeter wavelength radar seeker variant.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCmbK1MM0I4]

In a recent test series performed by the US Navy, eight Army/Lockheed martin AGM-114L ‘Longbow Hellfire’ missiles destroyed seven fast naval craft simulating fast attack craft performing swarm attacks, similar to those practiced by the Iranian navy in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. The test was part of the engineering development test of the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module (SSMM), for use on littoral combat ships (LCS).

The tests, that took place in June 2015 in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Virginia, evaluated the integration of the vertically-launched AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missile system for the SSMM solution. In this application the missile receives initial target data from a surface search radar or an airborne radar on a helicopter, before launch. After launch, it activates the onboard millimeter wave seeker to find the target. The system has an initial range of eight kilometers and features fire-and-forget and multi-mode capability. The multi-purpose warhead ensures effectiveness against various types of attacking craft.

Spike Missile Development

First, there’s real potential for confusion here. The Israelis developed and fielded a family of small guided missiles marketed under the name Spike.

Coincidentally, the subject of this post is an in-house development project for a  small guided missile called Spike. I think I posted about this last year, but I thought I’d share an update.

The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake has a long history of developing aerial weapons for the Navy. Probably its most famous design is the AIM-9 Sidewinder family of missiles. Of course, most weapons design work is actually performed by contract to major defense industry. But China Lake likes to keep its hand in.  After all, how can you ride herd on the contractors if you don’t have a working knowledge of weapon design?

To that end, NAWC decided back in 2001 to design a very small missile. The goal wasn’t explicitly to field a weapons system, but rather to serve as a reality check on the state of the art, and as a learning tool for NAWC engineers to see what the challenges of designing a weapon were.

Buy using existing technology, often commercial off the shelf items, and with a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve, over time, the team developed a missile just over two feet long, and weighing just five pounds.

[scribd id=272892196 key=key-ZzQWMSJqJrKCBvJgUPil mode=scroll]

The first version had fixed fins, which obviously has some limitations. The “Block II” iteration has folding fins, so the round can be launched from a combined storage/launch tube, much like the TOW.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOskwt7M_r4]

Spike isn’t a POR, or Program of Record, so there isn’t really much development money, nor is there a stated requirement for it to fulfill, which would be needed before it could be produced and fielded.

One of the interesting things noted in the presentation above is one of my favorite buzzwords- the 80% solution. If you have a system that solves 80% of your problems (say, machine gun nests ) it’s almost bound to be relatively inexpensive. It’s striving for that last 20% capability that causes costs to skyrocket.

Navy in the news.

First up, earlier in the week, during an exericise, the USS Sullivans launched an SM-2 missile from her Mk41 Vertical Launch system. Almost immediately after clearing the launcher, the missile exploded.

A Raytheon SM-2 Block IIIA guided missile explodes over USS The Sullivans during a training exercise on July 18, 2015. US Navy Photo obtained by USNI News


Given that the missile had no warhead, it’s virtually a certainty that the solid rocket motor failed, and rather spectacularly at that! I’ve never heard of a similar failure of an SM-2. It could be simply due to aging, or a manufacturing defect. One suspects the Navy is going to take a close look at  a lot of other SM-2 Block III missiles.

I have, on the other hand, seen a Royal Navy Sea Dart fail rather spectacularly on launch.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JFDu-2aMfg]


The US Navy is constructing a massive simulation capability at NAS Fallon, home of Naval Strike & Air Warfare Center. But more than being a collection of 80 simulators, it will also be integrating cruiser Combat Information Center sims, and integrating with genuine aircraft conducting real flights.

The Navy has begun to build a next generation training center that will pair up to 80 fighter, reconnaissance aircraft and ship simulators with live fliers in a massive environment that blends the real world with the virtual.

Navy director of air warfare Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told USNI News on July 16 that the Navy is working towards opening an Air Defense Strike Group Facility at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada in January 2016 and upgrading it to an Integrated Training Facility by 2020, which would represent a fundamental leap forward in live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training.

Today, the Navy can conduct live-constructive training, in which a live pilot up in the air reacts to computer-generated scenarios, and virtual-constructive training, in which a person in a simulator reacts to computer-generated scenarios. But connecting a pilot in the air with a pilot in a simulator to operate in the same constructive environment – a full LVC event – is a real technical challenge.

The big benefit is that you can construct very large scale scenarios, and tailor them to any location in the world. That is, it will give a more genuine representation of actual operations that current scenarios.


Not exactly a Navy only story, but Lockheed is looking at ways to use sensors and datalinks to increase real time targeting capability.

A high-flying Lockheed Martin U-2 spy plane has enabled a mission control station to dynamically re-target a simulated Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), using data passed from an F-22 Raptor over the deserts of Southern California in a recent flight trial.

During the tests, targeting data was passed from the F-22 to a ground station via an L-3 Communications modem on the U-2, says Scott Winstead, Lockheed Martin’s head of strategic development for the U-2 programme. This allowed the ground station to re-target the LRASM surrogate, essentially a cruise missile mission systems flown on a business jet.

In addition, the U-2 was able to translate and pass data between the F-22 and a Boeing F-18 Hornet during the series of flights, which took place in June. The tests were designed to evaluate new US Air Force open mission system (OMS) standards using a Skunk Works product called Enterprise OMS.

Javelin vs. T-72

We’ve posted other versions of this video before.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VdRnY-TUb4]

Possibly the greatest weakness of the T-72 series tanks is the storage of its main gun ammunition. The 2A46 125mm smoothbore tank gun uses an autoloader. It fires sabot rounds, High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High Explosive Fragmentation (HEF) rounds. The ammunition is separate loading, with the autoloader first loading the projectile, then a separate propellant charge. The ammunition is held in a horizontal position on a  carousel at the bottom of the turret basket.

The FGM-148 Javelin missile, using a fire and forget imaging infrared seeker, has a two stage tandem HEAT warhead. The first smaller warhead is to detonate any Explosive Reactive Armor, while the second warhead is intended to actually penetrate the main armor.

File:1-20 Javelin missile..PNG

You’ll note that the Javelin flies a lofted trajectory when used in the anti-tank role. Among other benefits, this means it is attacking the top armor of the tank, virtually always the thinnest armor of any tank.

If I had to guess, I’d say the explosive jet from this particular shot actually struck either a HEAT or HEF warhead in the carousel. Virtually any HEAT warhead penetration will usually set off the combustible propellant cartridges in the carousel, causing complete destruction of the T-72, but that usually doesn’t result in the utter devastation seen here.

As a contrast, the M1 series of tanks, while it uses semi-combustible propellant charges for its main gun ammo, places that ammo in the rear of the turret bustle. There are blast resistant doors separating the storage from the inside of the turret. On top of the storage are blow-out panels designed to fail and vent any explosion up and away from the crew in the turret. The vehicle might be destroyed, but the crew would have a good chance of escaping with their lives.

A little more on Offensive Surface Warfare

LT Rusty raised a valid point in the comments on our earlier post.

Only one minor quibble here – Flt IIA Burkes didn’t give up the Harpoon launchers to get the helo hangar. The launchers on a Burke are located at the midships QD, between the fore and aft superstructures, where they would not interfere in any way with the addition of the hangar. The IIA’s also – or at least the early ones – were still wired for Harpoon, and even have the brackets in CIC to install the console. It would be a matter of an afternoon’s work to put Harpoon back onboard.

The reason that it was left off is because the Navy doesn’t (or at least didn’t in 1999-2000) want a BVR SUW capability. The stated reason for this back then was that, based on rules of engagement, we needed to have VID on all tracks before shooting at them in anything other than a RED / FREE environment, and since we were never going to get an ROE like that, what was the point of buying the launchers and the birds for it?

That’s the real challenge in long range missile engagements- targeting.

You’re familiar with the Tomahawk cruise missile, which has been the favored weapon for first day strikes on enemy shore based assets. Originally there were three variants of the Tomahawk. The land attack missile in use today, a nuclear armed land attack variant, and a anti-ship version armed with a 1000 lb warhead.

The Tomahawk Anti Ship Missile, or TASM, used the active radar seeker of a Harpoon missile coupled with recycled 1000lb Bullpup missile warheads. It had a range of about 250 miles.

The radar aboard a ship such as a Burke simply cannot detect a target at that range. Passive sensors, such as Classic Outboard, can, but only with somewhat limited accuracy. The other option for targeting is using offboard sensors, such as the ship’s MH-60 helicopter, P-3 or P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, or any other ships that the shooter is datalinked with.

Further, the TASM flies at a fairly sedate 500 knots or so. That means about a half hour time of flight out to maximum range. The seeker head of a TASM has a limited range. Coupled with aimpoint errors at launch, the target might well be outside the seekers field of view when it reaches the target area. The TASM can conduct a search pattern, however. But the risk is that the missile will acquire and attack neutral third party shipping. Blowing up allied or neutral ships is frowned upon.

While the Harpoon has a shorter range (and smaller warhead) than the TASM, many of the same challenges to Over The Horizon (OTH) targeting still apply.

Many modern anti-ship missiles address these challenges through mid-course update. That is, they send updated targeting information to the missile after it has been launched. Any future US Navy long range anti ship missile will definitely have this capability.

What’s interesting about LT Rusty’s mention of the Navy’s assumption that a Visual ID is required before shooting is that it is completely reversed from the assumptions behind the entire architecture of the surface fleet’s assumptions for anti-air warfare. The entire Aegis/Standard Missile program is designed for long range engagements of targets, long, long before any visual ID can be made.

Missile Man

For folks in my age cohort, there has always been the nuclear triad, consisting of manned bombers, submarine launched ballistic missiles, and of course, land based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. But it wasn’t really that long ago that the last two legs of the triad were introduced.

Here’s a pretty interesting look at the first operational ICBM system, the SM-65 Atlas.

Of note, the first operational launch sites were not hardened. Also, before inertial guidance was accurate en0ugh for operational use, the very unwieldy radio command guidance was used.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIwF3h2q84k]

Finally, you’ll notice for the most part the uniforms were simple and functional.  Plain green fatigues (and some of them pretty dang faded) or the simple unadorned khakis. Seems to me the services were quite capable of doing big things back then. Maybe we should go back to dressing that way.


The early days of the Cold War saw the US military establishment obsessed with two major themes in weapons- nuclear weapons, and guided missiles. And an early attempt at combining the two was the now almost forgotten Rascal standoff nuclear missile.

Developed by Bell to deliver a nuclear warhead 100 miles from the launch point, the Rascal was a massive missile. It was also to ambitious for the state of the art, and by the time it entered into production, the decision had been made to abandon it.



Early missile programs went through an array of various schemes of nomenclature, but we’ll stick to the final one, the GAM-63.

Powered by a three chamber liquid fueled rocket, the Rascal would climb from its launch altitude of roughly 40,000 feet to a cruise altitude of about 50,000 feet. Two of the rocket chambers would shut down, and the third would sustain the Rascal at a speed of about 1200 miles per hour. About 20 miles out from the target, the Rascal would nose over into a terminal dive.

The Rascal had a pretty interesting guidance system. It had a radar in its nose. That radar would send video of its radar system via radio to the launching bomber.  Having launched, the bomber would turn away, and a retractable receiver antenna in its aft fuselage would pick up the signal, and display it to the bombardier. The bombardier would would then radio steering commands to the missile. As the missile got closer to the target, the better the radar display was, theoretically improving accuracy throughout the flight.

In practice, the Rascal was a mess. Liquid rockets were still very delicate instuments and had a high failure rate. The complex guidance system was unreliable, and was vulnerable to jamming.

There was also a disagreement over which type bomber should carry Rascal. The Air Force first wanted it for the B-29, then the B-50, then the B-36, and finally, the B-47. Strategic Air Command, who never seemed terribly enthusiastic about a weapon Air Force headquarters insisted on, wanted first to arm the B-50, and then the B-36, but not the B-47.

By the time the missile was almost ready for deployment, the B-52 was in service, along with its own standoff weapon, the jet powered Hound Dog missile (AGM-28) with similar speed, but with a 500 mile range, and a simpler, more accurate inertial navigation system.

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


We’ve all heard of the Hellfire missile, the primary weapon of the AH-64D Apache helicopter. Goodness knows, we’ve showed enough videos here of Hellfires landing on the heads of jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain liked the Hellfire. They have used them for years on their own fleet of Apaches. In fact, they liked it so much, they wanted to adapt it to be used from their fast jet fleet. But Britain also wanted to get away from the Hellfire’s semi-active laser seeker, and instead use a “fire and forget” millimeter-wavelength radar seeker.

Eventually, the redesigned missile, now known as Brimstone (which, yeah, the next logical name after hellfire), entered service in 2005. But it also became apparent that the positive control of a semi-active laser seeker was a handy feature. Accordingly, the Brits cleverly designed a “dual mode” seeker, allowing the shooter to fire in either millimeter-wave mode, or laser mode.  In radar mode, it can be ripple fired to engage multiple targets.  In fact, our Navy is looking closely at Brimstone to counter swarming boat attacks.

The British used Brimstone with good results throughout the campaign in Libya.

H/T to Dave at The Aviationist.