Monday, May 25, 2015

If a Target Sinks Before You Strike It, Does It Make a Noise?

*** updated on May 26 to provide additional details of launch location ***

"PM-140" sinking before being used as a CDCM target -- May 22, 2015

On May 16, an area closure in the Sea of Japan was announced for May 20-23 and was designated for missile firings.

HYDROPAC 1618/15

DNC 23, DNC 24.
41-38.5N 132-43.6E, 42-32.0N 132-51.0E,
42-41.0N 133-02.2E, 42-39.4N 133-19.0E,
42-01.3N 134-11.5E, 41-40.0N 133-32.0E.
2. CANCEL THIS MSG 231100Z MAY 15.//

Authority: NAVAREA XI 350/15 161746Z MAY 15.

Date: 161748Z May 15
Cancel: 23110000 May 15

Missile launch area closure -- May 20-23, 2015

Given that the area closure covers land, it was logical to assume it would be used for the launch of a coastal defense cruise missile (CDCM). The range between the two farthest points measures approximately 120 kilometers (65 nautical miles). The last Russian CDCM launch in the Sea of Japan occurred on April 28, when at least one SSC-6 Sennight (Russian: 3K60 Bal) was launched from a position adjacent to the Shepalovo recreational facility - about 21 kilometers (11.5 nautical miles) southeast of Nakhodka. The area closure for the April launch was longer - nearly 170 kilometers (92 nautical miles) between the farthest points - and narrower than this month's area closure.

Pictures posted to the internet on May 26, but dated May 21, show an SSC-6 being deployed to the vicinity of Cape Povorotnyy.

SSC-6 Sennight deployed near Cape Povorotnyy -- May 21, 2015
SSC-6 Sennight deployed near Cape Povorotnyy -- May 21, 2015
Using the towers as visual clues, we can easily find them within the announced area closure and can project the general launch position.

Northernmost portion of SSC-6 Sennight area closure
Cape Povorotnyy radar/communications towers
Cape Povorotnyy radar/communications towers
Cape Povorotnyy radar/communications towers, reoriented towards the sea to match the SSC-6 launcher images above

Cape Povorotnyy has been a popular site for earlier CDCM launches, as these photos from 1992 and 1994 show..

CDCM launch from Cape Povorotnyy -- 1992
CDCM launch from Cape Povorotnyy -- 1994

Despite the differences in size and configuration, it's evident that another CDCM launch was planned. Had another SSC-6 launch occurred, one would have expected naval officials to tout the second successful launch of the missile. Yet there have been no reports from the Russian Navy about any CDCM launch this past week.

The mystery behind the silence may be the premature sinking of the target ship for the exercise, retired Amur-class floating workshop "PM-140".

According to a video uploaded to YouTube on May 23, the target ship sank while being towed by Sorum-class oceangoing tug "MB-37". Subsequent internet chatter indicated the launch of an SSC-6 was scheduled for May 22, but the loss of "PM-140" forced fleet officials to quickly find a replacement target ship and try again on the next day, which, according to one source, most likely occurred.

Since retiring, "PM-140" had served as a target ship during multiple anti-ship cruise missile and artillery events. Since all strikes occurred well above the waterline, the ship was able to be towed back to port and reused during subsequent exercises.

"PM-140" used as target ship during "Vostok-2010" exercise -- June 26, 2010
"PM-140" waiting for its last missile exercise -- April 7, 2015

What was the replacement target? And why hasn't the Pacific Fleet issued a press release about the latest launch of its newest CDCM - if, in fact, there was a launch on May 23?