Monday, 6 November 2017

Cruise Missile - The High Impact Weapon Of War

A Few Words On Ballistic Missiles:

A ballistic missile follows ballistic trajectory destined to deliver one or more warheads to a predetermined target and are guided for a very brief period of time during its flight. Long range ballistic missiles like the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) spends most of its flight out of the earth's atmosphere while the shorter ranged ones stay within the atmosphere all throughout their flight. Ballistic missiles like ICBM have three stages of flight - the powered flight portion, the free flight and the re-entry portion where the missile re-enters the earth's atmosphere. The powered portion of the flight carries the missile out of the atmosphere, then the thrust is curtailed and missile uses the inertia of the powered flight into the the space from the launch site. During the third stage the missile re-enter the atmosphere and is guided mainly by the the seeker and its rocket motor against the gravity to hit the target.

A Few Words On Cruise Missiles:

In contrast cruise missiles are aerodynamically guided in a flight powered by air breathing motors/jet engines and stay within the atmosphere throughout their flight. Originally cruise missiles are far short ranged than ballistic missiles , are far less expensive and can maintain very low flight path to avoid radar detection by taking near tree top flights. Cruise missiles are capable of both subsonic and supersonic flights. Cruise missiles can be supersonic and hypersonic depending on their propulsion system. Nowadays attempt is being made to make cruise missiles that can cover ranges in excess of 3000 kilometers. This article will remain concentrated on effectiveness of subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles.

Cruise missiles are used to destroy high value targets such as command and control units, ships, iron structures like bridges and natural resource accumulators like dams. Since the time of cold war US and Russia the two most heavily nuclear powered nations and the most advanced nations in terms of missile manufacturing capability had been involved in competing each other in developing varied types of missiles and cruise missiles are no exception.

In the context of modern age's highly capable radars which are able to detect ballistic missiles from far off ranges and development of missile defence shields/systems like S400 of Russia and Patriot of US the usage of cruise missiles have gained in importance among nations to maintain stealth and extreme maneuverability all along the flight path before reaching the target which increases the probability of percentage of hit per missile launch on to a target. In this context two prominent missiles that come to mind are Tomahawk cruise missile of US and Kalibr cruise missile of Russia . US has pioneered the development and induction of cruise missile into armed forces. Brahmos cruise missile of India is a very effective cruise missile but its range is currently limited to 290 kilometers which is a major handicap when it comes to striking targets at distances more than 1000 kilometers thus keeping the launch platform and its crews out of the harms way. This discussion will concentrate on the effectiveness on the contemporary cruise missile Tomahawk of US and Kalibr of Russia originally having range of more than 1000 kilometers.

Tomahawk Cruise missile of US is a land attack cruise missile launched from surface ships and submarines. It is subsonic cruise missile all along its flight path. Tomahawk cruise missile is capable of navigation by inertial navigation
system,gps enabled precision strike, flies at very low altitudes, is reprogrammable during flight to change target and is capable of carrying nuclear warhead. Such capabilities of the missile have been developed over progressive improvement designated by Blocks with incremental numbers. The most effective and improved is Block IV which can be launched by submarines , additionally Block IV Tomahawk has a camera with the help of which live images of the flight path is transmitted back to the command posts and has almost every capability mentioned above except nuclear carrying capability , a capability which was exempted from Tomahawk series of missiles latest by 2013. Tomahawk Block IV the most developed version of the missile has a range of 1600 kilometers and has the capability to carry a warhead of 450 kilos. At the moment Tomahawk is mainly a land attack cruise missile with the anti-ship variant being withdrawn from service in 1990s. Tomahawk cruise missile is operated by US and UK.

Kalibr is the Russian cruise missile which is capable of performing varied tasks like anti-ship, land attack and anti-submarine operations. The ship launched Kalibr cruise missile has thrust vectoring capability which is
unheard of in any of the variants of Tomahawk cruise missile. This capability gives this missile the ability to dodge enemy defence systems with great aerodynamic agility. The submarine launched version has conventional booster and the air launched version uses the gravity along with the aerodynamic maneuvering to gain dominance over the anti-missile system of the enemy. The land attack version 3M14T having inertial guidance system carries conventional warhead , has a range of 2500 kilometers . The version capable of delivering a nuclear warhead can travel 2600 kilometers. Although the range of the export versions, which are supposedly derived out of 3M54K (the domestic version of short ranged Russian Kalibr cruise missile) are further dwarfed by MTCR regime , all export versions of this missile are two staged. The majority of the path covered by the missile is subsonic while the terminal phase of the missile has a supersonic boost giving the enemy defence systems least time to detect and engage Kalibr effectively. The anti-ship version of this missile is capable of traveling at a height of 4.6 meters from water level and it maintains supersonic speed with thrust vectoring upto mach 3 at the terminal phase. In contrast to other anti-ship cruise missiles, in addition to the supersonic boost during the terminal phase Kalibr is capable of performing defensive maneuvers at very high angles at that speed with the help of thrust vectoring. The anti-submarine version 91RE1 is a submarine launched anti-submarine cruise missile ranged at 50 kilometers . It is capable of attaining supersonic speeds with a warhead of 76 kilos. Kalibr is operated by six countries namely Russia, India, Algeria, China, Vietnam and Iran.

Kalibr And Tomahawk A Comparison: 


Comparing the capabilities of two missiles, Tomahawk and Kalibr it seems that Kalibr variety of anti-ship cruise missiles have the added advantage of aerodynamic agility with the capability to travel at supersonic speed at the terminal phase maintaining thrust vectoring to defeat enemy defences with sharp aerodynamic maneuvering and has anti-submarine capability as well. The originally developed domestic versions of land attack Kalibr missiles used by Russia can carry a warhead of 500 kilos and have the advantage of having a range of 2500 kilometers ,a nearly 1000 kilometer advantage of range over Tomahawk cruise missiles of US and are controllable during the flight.

Right from the inception of the cruise missiles the guidance system against land targets was a challenging task that needed to be perfected.
The radar based guidance systems were effective in distinguishing the sea based target than the targets on land. Operationally, it had been reported that Tomahawk had performed poorly during the operation Desert Storm in 1990s. It achieved a target hit of about 50 percent. It was reported that nine US Navy Tomahawk missiles failed to launch from launch tubes and six suffered from problems just after their launch. The report of US DoD after the war refrained from commenting on effectiveness of the missile attacks with the Tomahawk. On 17 December 2009 seeking to destroy an Al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen 41 civilians mostly women and children were killed in a Tomahawk cruise missile attack. On 20 March 2003 a misguided attack with Tomahawk cruise missiles killed 41 innocent civilians in Bagdad. Although this miss hit was blamed on flawed intelligence report about whereabouts of Saddam Hussain and his ministers the accuracy of Tomahawk in this attack is debated. Despite such glaring failures Tomahawk had been used in the past by US to good effect in all the wars starting from the operation Desert Storm and is still used in modern day war scenarios by US to destroy high value targets and soften up enemy positions and its capability. Comparatively, although Russia had been developing Kalibr cruise missile during 1990s, compared to Tomahawk of US whose development started in 1970s, Russia had a much successful launch of the Kalibr cruise missiles which were targeted against ISIL and had found its first use in the Syrian war theatre.

Impact Of Cruise Missile In Modern Day Warfare:

To gauge into the need of modern day precision long range strike weapon like the cruise missile the latest Syrian war theatre needs to be taken into consideration. By 2014 ISIL had captured large parts of Syria and was speculated to have plans to expand into Europe and rest of the world. Non tolerance of US towards terrorists targeting US homeland and US citizen across the world was well known. Russia ,also, had a policy of non-tolerance towards terrorism and that had been demonstrated by death sentencing of a 28-year-old Russian captured during fight with ISIL who ws fighting for ISIL and also death sentencing of 16-year-old Wenzel for the same reason , the execution was delayed till she attended the age of 22. Understandably the fear of spreading of ISIL radicalism back in Russia by these persons that had joined ISIL ranks was enormous and going by the the policy of non-tolerance against terrorism Russia did not want terrorism to spread in Russia as well via these agents and so wanted to stop these people from returning to mainstream of life back in Russia who they fear would possibly spread the idea of terrorism by mixing with the rest. Both Russia and US and other NATO forces were aware of the fact that the spread of ISIL meant a definite threat to their population back home, and so , after World War II this was the first time when the theatre was set for the NATO forces along with Russia to fight a common enemy in ISIL. Although NATO and Russia possesses different views about the outcome of Syrian conflict concerning the present regime of Syria under Mr. Bashar al-Assad there was no doubt in the minds of Mr. Putin and NATO countries along with US that ISIL needed to be extinguished. In order to do that there was a need to destroy the support units of ISIL and thus stifle the advances of ISIL. But ISIL was giving the Russian supported Syrian forces and NATO forces a tough time on the ground in the Syrian war theatre and thus it became inevitable for Russia to use a greater force in the form of greater fire power and destruction from a safe distance. This necessitated the cruise missiles to be put into action to destroy the ground units by means of which ISIL flourished in Syria , rest of Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.

US had been carrying out attacks with Tomahawk missiles since September 2014 on ISIL targets but failed to have desired effect of devastation that could deal a lethal blow to the operations of ISIL in Syria. Russia after intervening in support of Mr. Bashar al-Assad in Syria had taken into account the ground realities suffered until then by the NATO and Syrian forces fighting ISIL. Even then a Russian Mi8 helicopter was destroyed killing all its crews when it was returning after delivering humanitarian aide in Allepo. On 7 October 2015, one year since US had initiated the launch of Tomahawk missiles on ISIL targets , warships from Russian Caspian fleet fired 26 missiles targeting 11 sites on ISIL captured Syria . The missiles were launched by Russian Gepard class frigate Dagestan and three small Buyan class corvettes. Targets were located in Al-Raqqah, Aleppo, and Idlib at a distance of 1500 kilometers from the Caspian fleet and Kalibr missiles
were destined for command centers, ammunition warehouses, weapons factories, weapons storages, fuel depots and terrorist camps in these areas.

On 20 November 2015 the Caspian fleet of Russia relaunched another wave of Kalibr cruise missile attack consisting of 18 Kalibr missiles targeting seven ISIL targets in the same region. On 8 December 2015 Russian submarine Rostov-on-Don made underwater launch of four Kalibr missiles targeting a mine factory and one ammunition warehouse from Mediterranean sea.

Though US claimed that 4 of the 26 missiles launched on 7 October 2015 failed to reach target and fell on Iranian territory , the claim was refuted by Iran. Russia claimed that all the missiles hit the target. Since then accuracy of Kalibr cruise missiles launched by Russia on ISIL targets have gone unchallenged. It was estimated that the attack on ISIL targets with Kalibr cruise missiles had a major impact on material support and effective war fighting manpower of ISIL and was very effective in denting the morale of ISIL . On 15 November 2015 just over one month after the first wave of attack by Kalibr cruise missiles it was reported that Kweyris military airport was relieved off ISIL control. The airbase had been under ISIL control since April 2013 and several attempts to recapture it from ISIL had failed before the attack with Kalibr cruise missile on ISIL support bases. This eventually was the first major breakthrough which paved the path for several other success against ISIL . Some more attacks with kalibr cruise missiles on ISIL bases had followed shortly after relieving of Kweyris military airport from ISIL. It seems that even with a head start of several years on technologies related to cruise missile Tomahawk cruise missiles of US somehow failed to make a major impact against ISIL in the Syrian war theatre . But Russian Kalibr cruise missiles gave a devastating blow to make ISIL weak and paved the way for liberation of areas in Syria under the control of ISIL .

Another stark event involving Tomahawk cruise missiles was the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Syrian targets as a protest and punishment against Syrian regime's use of chemical weapon on its own civilians. In the Syrian war theatre Russia had placed S300 and S400 systems protecting the Russian assets around Khmeimem air port and the coastal region of Syria. It was reported by Russian MoD that only 23 missiles out of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by US reached their target over Syria thus severely diminishing the impact of the launch of the wave of 59 cruise missiles. Although US contested this claim of Russian MoD , damage estimation done by Russian defence on the ground and aerial pictures made available in general described far lesser amount of impact of the cruise missiles on Syrian targets compared to the 59 cruise missiles launched by US. The circumstantial evidence indicated the Tomahawk cruise missiles to have been intercepted by the S400 and S300 systems in place which might have been in auto mode and the intercepting missiles might have launched and intercepted the Tomahawk cruise missiles as they were in Syrian airspace. These Tomahawk cruise missiles were definitely the latest Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles. Despite being the latest evolution of Tomahawk series of cruise missiles these missiles were either intercepted by the S400 and S300 missile defence systems of Russia in place or the Tomahawk missiles lacked significant capability to cause any serious damage that could have a telling impact on the Assad regime. Launch of a wave of 59 missiles within a very short span of time should have caused significant damage to the morale to Assad regime , but US failed to achieve that aim with this attack of Tomahawk cruise missiles.


From the above analysis it is clear that effective cruise missile attack from a very long range can play a very significant role in destroying enemy high value assets and area of stronghold, but, the technology needs to be perfected in order to have the desired outcome. The outcome will be invariably aimed to soften up or annihilate the enemy to the point where it will give a telling psychological blow and turn the course of the war in ones favour. So in future while making long ranged subsonic cruise missiles like Nirbhay or importing cruise missiles of foreign origin , India should give top priority to the missile's capability of destruction, agility,terminal velocity, range and accuracy and its ability to operate in EW intense environments.

Written By Debojyoti Kumar

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