Thursday, October 8, 2015

Combat-Proven: Russia’s SS-N-30 (3M14) Land-Attack Cruise Missile

"Dagestan" frigate launches multiple land-attack cruise missiles against Syrian targets -- October 2015
(courtesy: RF Ministry of Defense)
According to Russian Ministry of Defense reporting, during the nighttime hours between October 6 and October 7, Russian Navy ships positioned in the southwestern Caspian Sea launched 26 long-range land-attack cruise missiles (LACM) against 11 reported Islamic State (ISIL) targets in the Syrian provinces of Al-Raqqah, Aleppo, and Idlib. The targets were characterized as “factories for manufacturing [artillery] shells and explosives, command posts, storage facilities for munitions, armaments, and petroleum-oil-lubricants (POL), as well as terrorist training camps.”

The launch platforms were identified as Gepard-class guided missile frigate “Dagestan” and Sviyazhsk-class guide missile patrol ships “Grad Sviyazhsk”, “Uglich”, and “Velikiy Ustyug”. This constitutes the entire inventory of LACM-armed ships in the Caspian Flotilla. Not mentioned in any of yesterday's reporting was the departure of Astrakhan-class patrol combatant "Makhachkala" (not LACM-armed) and Finik-class hydrographic vessel "Anatoliy Guzhvin", which departed port a few days ago to conduct "scheduled combat service missions." It is possible that these two ships provided some level of support for the strike operation.

Defense minister Sergey Shoygu briefs President Putin on Russian military actions in Syria -- October 7, 2015
(credit: RF Presidential Public Affairs)
The announcement coincided with a meeting between defense minister Sergey Shoygu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Shoygu provided an update on Russian military actions in Syria to support the Syrian government.

Simulation of missile flight route over northern Syria
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)
The computer-generated simulation of the flight route indicates the missiles flew within a dozen or so miles of the southern Turkish border, but within Syrian airspace. It is important to note that the appearance of a TU-160 Blackjack bomber icon at the beginning of the simulation (00:57-00:59) may indicate this was simply a simulation used for mission planning purposes only and not the actual approved mission profile (the MOD made no mention of a TU-160 flying over the Caspian Sea).

Simulation of missile flight route over northern Syria
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)
Key: ЗПБВ [factories for manufacturing munitions and armaments]; КП [command post]
НВФ [illegal armed formation (group)]; СклБВ [storage facilities for munitions and armaments]
The MOD video also shows that all of the missiles were launched with an interval between launches of less than five seconds, as well as "Dagestan" conducting a five-missile salvo launch. A video uploaded to Twitter reportedly shows two of the missiles in flight. Another video uploaded to YouTube reportedly shows damage caused by one of the missiles striking a target near Aleppo.

General-Colonels Andrey Kartapolov (l) and Viktor Bondarev (r) brief reporters -- October 7, 2015
(credit: RF Ministry of Defense)

Yesterday afternoon, General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov (Chief, Main Operational Directorate – Russian Federal General Staff) confirmed the details of the LACM strikes. He also stated that intelligence information received from Iran, Iraq, and Syria is being used to target strike locations.

«Все объекты для поражения нами тщательно изучаются, при этом используются данные космической и радиоэлектронной разведки, съёмки с беспилотных летательных аппаратов, информация, полученная по данным радиоперехвата. Мы также используем данные сирийской, иранской и иракской разведок, в том числе из агентурных источников» , — подчеркнул Андрей Картаполов в беседе с журналистами.

“All strike locations are carefully studied; additionally, data from space and radio-electronic reconnaissance, footage from unmanned aerial vehicles, and information received through communications intercepts, are used. We also use data from Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi intelligence, to include from their human sources,” Andrey Kartapolov emphasized in his discussion with reporters.

Indeed, the four nations have established a joint information center in Baghdad for coordinating actions in the fight against ISIL. As the video released by the RF MOD indicates, the missiles flew through Iranian and Iraqi airspace, something that certainly would have been coordinated via the Baghdad center.

If one assumes that a new long-range land-attack cruise missile is an expensive commodity, why would you employ it if there was a cheaper way of striking a target? The Russian defense ministry has been touting the successes that its Syria-deployed air assets have achieved since strikes first began last week. As long as Russian aircraft have unfettered access to the targets from the air, they can use much cheaper ordnance than the SS-N-30.

According to one source, India paid USD 6.5 million per unit for the export version of the missile, but that sounds exceedingly high: a single U.S. Tomahawk LACM only cost USD 1.59 million in FY2014. Despite the possibly overstated cost in the report, it is logical to assume that missiles cost more than air-delivered bombs in Russia, as they would anywhere else.

An analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington says the LACM strike “was specifically done to show bravado... it’s chest-thumping.” Well, that’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum, some analysts assert that Russia is using this opportunity to prove its latest military weaponry can be employed to solve modern day missions. And still others state that nearly all of the aircraft currently deployed to Syria would be needed to achieve the same level of damage that the 26-missile strike achieved, and that the departure of this large number of aircraft at nearly the same time would have tipped off someone about the operation. Somewhere in the middle is the oft-used “strategic messaging” explanation. And way off in left field is Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin's explanation:

"A gift for ISIL for digging graves"
(credit: Dmitriy Rogozin/Twitter)
Of course, some would argue that the SS-N-30 LACM strike was well-timed to serve as a gift, of sorts, to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who celebrated his 63rd birthday on October 7.

Wouldn’t it have been simpler and cheaper to give him a new pony?