Sunday, July 16, 2006

C-802 Missile Likely Shore Launched

Rumors persist that a UAV was used in some capacity to launch the missiles that struck an Israeli missile corvette and sank an Egyptian merchantman last Friday. While there is some possibility that Hezbollah used a UAV for observation and reconnaissance, there is no possibility that the C-802 antiship missile credited as the weapon employed was launched from a UAV.

Here is the entry on the C-802 antiship missile from the International Electronic Countermeasures Handbook, 2004 Edition (published by Horizon House, edited by me):


C-801, C-802 (NATO: CSS-N-4-Sardine)

A medium-range, ship-launched antiship missile, the C-801 first became operational in the mid1980s. It has been fitted to various types of warships, from fast-attack craft to destroyers. It is also available in sub-, air-, and mobile-ground-launched versions...

Guidance is by inertial navigation for the midcourse stage, followed by an active radar seeker for the terminal phase. The target is acquired by a search radar, normally the Type 245 version of the Russian MR-331 Rangout (Square Tie) I-band radar, which has a range of 130 km. The Luhu and Luda III destroyer classes use the Thales E/F-band Sea Tiger as the main search radar...

After launch, the missile climbs to about 50 m, descends to approach the target, and finally descends to about 5 m as the radar seeker locks on to the target until impact and detonation of the semi-armor-piercing warhead. The range of the missile is 42 km.

Iran reportedly produces C-801 missiles carrying the indigenous designation Tondar. The C-802 coastal-defense version, which has a small turbojet engine in place of the original solid rocket engine, has a range of about 120 km.

Warhead: 165-kg semi-armor piercing
Range: 42 km (C-801); 120 km (C-802)
Speed: High subsonic
Length: 581 cm
Body Diameter: 36 cm
Wingspan: 118 cm
Launch Weight: 815 kg (including booster)
Users: China, Iran, Thailand


There is no UAV platform currently deployed that could carry this missile. Note that the launch weight of 815 kg is more than 15 times that of the US Hellfire antitank missile, which is a common UAV-launched missile carried by the largish Predator series, which has a payload of 204 kg. The severe damage inflicted on the Israeli missile corvette and the sinking of the Egyptian merchantman (apparently incidentally) in the same attack indicates that the missiles used were large, antiship types, not antitank missiles.

If Hezbollah -- with Iranian assistance -- employed this missile to attack the Israeli ship, then they fired it from a truck-mounted launcher cued by a coastal radar installation. This is why Israel has stepped up its attacks against coastal radar sites, as any sort of surface-search set would be able to provide data for the initial launch. After launch, the missile takes care of itself with its own inertial guidance system and onboard radar seeker. Since the launchers are mobile, the trucks carrying them could scoot after firing. And we all know how notoriously difficult it can be to locate mobile units, even when you have lots of reconnaissance assets.

Reports on the internet dismissing the possibility that Israel could have been caught off guard by a radar-guided antiship missile fail to take into account the element of surprise. Israeli air and naval units are indeed well supplied with electronic warfare systems that can detect and then counter radar-guided threats. Electronic warfare is an Israeli specialty. However, electronic-warfare suites are not as automatic as commonly supposed. Plus, in a war zone, there are a many signals that have to be analyzed and classified. Moreover, the coastal radars would be able to acquire targetable launch data using a mundane surface-search mode, as might be expected from navigation radars in the vicinity of a port. This would not necessarily arouse the suspicions of a blockading ship that is not alerted to the possibility of an antiship missile attack.

Forewarned is forearmed, and if the Israelis were not expecting to be attacked by an antiship missile, then they could very easily have been taken by surprise. After all, it's happened before. And there is some irony that the class of Israeli ship hit by the missile is the Eliat class (alternate spelling, Eilat).

Remember the Eliat?

We were equipped with a relatively capable and sophisticated ELINT system for its time, the tunable microwave APR-9 receiver of Korean War vintage. Using the system, we had seen an increased level of high PRF radar signals, which usually meant military rather than commercial applications, and increased activity. But the Styx was one of the first of the easy to employ fire-and-forget surface-to-surface missiles and its onboard targeting radar did not turn on until it was in mid-course to its target. That gave us less than a minute and a half to react. We probably had been painted by surveillance radars, but there were so many radars operating in the region of the Suez Canal, we were not aware of any particularly hostile ones.