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Sizzling…

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Via Danger Room, interesting Bloomberg article about the Russian-built Chinese-operated “Sizzler” missile. The Sizzler approaches its target at supersonic speed then arches right before hitting. Apparently, the USN has no defense:

The Navy doesn’t have a test target that can mimic how the Sizzler flies. They haven’t even “picked a contractor to develop the test target,” Capaccio notes. Industry proposals for building the target missile were received in February and a contract valued at about $107 million will be awarded by Oct. 1 for a 54-month development phase and first fielding by 2014.”

The 3M-54 carries either a 200kg or 400kg warhead, and can be fired by submarine from a range of 200km+. That’s almost certainly not enough to kill a US carrier, but it could probably end flight operations. In a wartime scenario, this would have the effect of pushing US carriers farther from Taiwan, and would put a premium on the ability of the USN to identify and destroy Chinese submarines before they can approach. And this latter would be a very difficult job…

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  • jon

    Maybe future Chinese subs. Currently, China doesn’t have that many subs and their technology is about three generations or more behind ours. Those subs are probably findable.
    The missile, however, could be a game changer. An unpredictable trajectory makes it very difficult to try to intercept. The key would be to truly randomize flight path deviations. Any pattern or formula to directional changes could eventually be discerned anticipated.
    Might want to consider counter missiles with fragmentation warheads that will broadcast shrapnel over the area of probable trajectory. The Close In Weapons System (CIWS), or other descendant of the Vulcan cannon, is another candidate. But that can only engage over the final two miles of flight, with a tim on target of under one second.
    Besides, don’t the Chinese already have supersonic, cavitating torpedoes? One of those could wreck your day.

  • Fred Furtiff

    Doesn’t this make aircraft carriers totally extinct?

  • Anderson

    Being a rank amateur on modern navies, I have the uninformed assumption that in any serious war, our capital ships would be sunk in an afternoon of missile attacks.
    Is that wrong? Is our anti-missile stuff good enough that (this new wrinkle aside) we don’t have to worry about what Russia or China could throw at a carrier group?

  • Jon H

    What are the odds of China selling those to Iran?

  • MikeJ

    You know what this means. There is a sub missile gap. We must, MUST spend 3, 4, 5 or more trillion dollars to defeat a weapon that we think may exist.
    Now’s the time to buy that LockMart stock. The pipeline is about to open, releasing a sweet, cool rain of dollars on contractors and golden showers on the taxpayers.

  • Rob

    Anderson,
    If it ever came to shooting, things would get complicated. Presumably the Chinese would put up dozens of cruise missiles, some of which would get lost along the way, some of which would get shot down, and some of which would hit targets other than CVs. The ones that hit carriers almost certainly wouldn’t result in a sinking; those missile won’t sink a big oil tanker, much less a carrier. But they could disrupt flight operations, and create a variety of other problems. Add to that ballistic missile attacks that may or may not have a rough chance of hitting carriers, and we live in interesting times.
    Submarines launching torpedoes pose another threat, but in wartime conditions approaching a US carrier battle group would be a twitchy proposition.

  • MSS

    I thought China was getting better at intellectual property protection. And then they go and name a missile after something as American as a steakhouse.
    (Did anyone else get at the top of this comment form an ad for Anastasia International? Sizzling, indeed…)

  • pookapooka

    Wouldn’t it be a lot easier for the Chinese to call in their American markers? Maybe we could swap them some obsolete carriers and call it even. Throw in Barry Bonds if necessary.

  • Flavor Flavius Julianus

    I fully expect that the next generation of supersonic missiles will be named “the Baconator.”

  • “I thought China was getting better at intellectual property protection. And then they go and name a missile after something as American as a steakhouse.”

  • Oops..!
    “”I thought China was getting better at intellectual property protection. And then they go and name a missile after something as American as a steakhouse.”
    No. NATO codenames for Russian surface to surface missiles always start with “S”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_reporting_name
    I wonder if the Rolling Airframe Missile will be able to handle this new threat. As if the “Sunburn” wasn’t enough of a headache already…

  • R. McDonald

    The sizzler sounds vulnerable to a laser based attack of the sort being tried out on a 747 and a c-130. A carrier or other large ship sounds better than an aircraft to have these lasers on board. difficulty: fog
    It also sounds vulnerable to a souped up Phalanx system and/or a Very Large Array of Inexpensive and Redundant Shotguns (VLAIRS).

  • Wouldn’t it be a lot easier for the Chinese to call in their American markers?
    Yes. That would, of course, likely be the precipitating event…

  • Sorry, folks, but the US submarine fleet would locate and destroy the PLA Navy’s subs before any USN carrier groups ever got to the Philippines.

  • lemuel pitkin

    I know nothing about missiles and submarines but…
    With a range of 200 kilometers, why put these things on subs at all? The Taiwan Strait is only ~180 km wide…

  • Rob

    LP,
    Carriers will not be deployed in the Taiwan Strait; it’s way too vulnerable.
    Jude,
    If we have to wait for the US sub force to destroy the PLAN sub force before carriers show up, the war would be lost.

  • The sizzler sounds vulnerable to a laser based attack… difficulty: fog.
    Another difficulty for laser weapons: highly-reflective surfaces. In fact, there’s little reason to believe that directed-energy laser weapons are of much value, except in the wet dreams of the Boeing designers who are working on the Advanced Tactical Laser. Or the script writers at Battlestar Galactica.
    Any conventional conflict with Russia or China would be of very short duration. If one side inflicted serious damage in the first exchanges, the other would quickly resort to tactical nukes. And then the lid comes off completely and you’d have uncontrollable escalation.
    These hypothetical discussions may be harmless on one level, but they feed into the mythology that conventional wars with nuclear powers are winnable.

  • Nomen Nescio

    of course, sooner or later somebody’ll have to answer a key question:
    The 3M-54 carries either a 200kg or 400kg warhead
    how heavy’s the smallest Chinese nuclear warhead?

  • ajay

    Nomen: about 600kg as far as we know
    http://cns.miis.edu/research/china/nuc/nstock.htm
    though it’s possible there are some low-yield tactical ones which are lighter than that.

  • TheDeadlyShoe

    Why don’t we have this missile? It doesn’t sound that complicated.

  • BigHank53

    $107 million to develop a test target that mimics the missile? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just buy the real thing?

  • Simon

    So, it’s a missile that can bend it like beckham?

  • ljd

    Why don’t we have this missile? It doesn’t sound that complicated.

    because

  • ljd

    Whoops, sorry about that. I meant to say:

    Why don’t we have this missile? It doesn’t sound that complicated.

    Short answer: we don’t have missiles like this because we have aircraft carriers.
    The Soviets and then the Russians (who sold some to the Chinese circa 2002) designed missiles like these because they figured they were a cheaper way to counter the US Navy’s aircraft carriers.
    The US Navy thinks carriers are a good solution to most problems. The Russians feel the same way about missiles. After all, the Soviet Union was the only country ever to celebrate Rocket Troops and Artillery Day (November 19th, in case you were wondering).
    The Chinese PLAN currently has 8 Russian-built Kilo-class diesel subs that can fire the 3M-54 missile. Each sub can probably carry 4 missiles.
    That’s a total of 32 missiles, assuming all 8 Kilos can somehow coordinate with each other to accurately locate an American carrier and launch all their missiles simultaneously.
    If the balloon had gone up during the heady later days of the Cold War, an American carrier group in the North Atlantic would have had to fend off multiple raids by regiments of supersonic Soviet bombers, each carrying two very large supersonic anti-ship missiles. That’s 40 to 60 missiles per raid, ideally coordinated with simultaneous attacks from Charlie or Oscar-class nuclear submarines launching 8 Siren or 24 Shipwreck missiles each.
    That means the US Navy has had to consider the threat posed by supersonic anti-ship missiles for the last quarter-century, since the early 1980s or so.
    The bottom line, I think: the Sizzler is a problem for the US Navy, but it’s not really a new problem, and it’s not likely to be the Ultimate Weapon that will make aircraft carriers obsolete.

  • Hob

    Geaghan: I know “Battlestar Galactica” was just a reference to science fiction in general, but in case these things interest you at all, BG is one of the only SF dramas I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have ray-guns of any kind. Their writers and effects people have been pretty careful to stick with plain old bullets and missiles.

  • Rob

    ljd,
    Well put.

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