A Weapons Analysis of the Iran-Russia-US strategic triangle

Comment: A large US carrier battle group is currently being assembled close to the Persian Gulf. Herewith a translation of significant portions of a French report on the subject from TBR News.

Current U.S. military moves

1. Two large American Naval task forces are being moved into positions in the Persian Gulf and East Asian theaters.

2. It is planned that these attack groups will be in place within 30 days and, if the American leadership wishes, be prepared to launch air and missile attacks against both Iran and North Korea.

3. Beijing now feels that this build-up of American and other naval strength in proximity to their coast is designed to threaten them but this material, leaked by American intelligence, is false and designed to prevent any preemptive North Korean strike against American military targets in both South Korea, Japan and Okinawa.


6. The Iranians are, by recent report, pushing up their nuclear program (as are the North Koreans) and American intelligence reports (CIA and DIA) show that both countries do possess atomic weaponry and, in at least a limited sense, the capacity to deliver these to regional targets.


11. Preemptive strikes on the part of the United States are a strong probability. The current political situation in the United States is of such a negative nature that any such unilateral actions would have to be justified fully to the American public. The American administration has no respect for the UN and would have no hesitation to launch military strikes, with or without atomic weapons.


21. Currently, all American military and civilian units in the Persian Gulf and the eastern Asian areas (South Korea, Japan and Okinawa) are to be given inoculations against both anthrax and smallpox. It is the belief of U.S. intelligence that these BW weapons are in the hands of both the North Koreans and the Iranians and that immediate vaccination of the abovementioned American personnel is imperative.”

Point and Counterpoint

The show of U.S. Naval force in the Pacific was a dual project. Firstly, it was designed to send a warning to North Korea that the United States could easily move naval units to within easy striking distance of their country and was an attempt to show that the use of land troops (now all in Iraq) was not necessary for an airborne attack on Pyongyang and various atomic sites. The second aspect of this show of force was aimed at the PRC because they have recently acquired a number of missile destroyers of the Sovremenny class. These new vessels are capable of launching the Russian 3M-82 Moskit cruise missiles, intended specifically for use against military vessels. These missiles are the so-called SS-N-22 ‘Sunburn’ missiles that are far superior to any weapon now in the U.S. arsenal and against which the U.S. has no effective defense.

The United States possesses the largest navy in the world and the once effective Soviet Navy is now mostly in mothballs or beyond recall for any kind of effective duty. However, the Russians have realized that the enormous expense of building and maintaining a navy to balance potential enemies can be completely minimized by developing relatively inexpensive weaponry to destroy the large, cumbersome and very expensive ships of other nations. In the Russo-Finnish War, a Finnish soldier with a bottle of gasoline could effectively destroy a Soviet tank and its crew. The same principle applies in this instance.

The Russian SS-N-22.Sunburn, which technical journals and experts have termed the most effective and lethal anti-ship weapon extant., is far cheaper to produce than a fighter plane or a missile destroyer, cruiser or aircraft carrier.

The Russians have sold this Sunburn missile to a number of countries who feel that have reason to anticipate a military threat from the United States and these sales of a highly of advanced anti-ship technology has effectively restored a balance to the military scene. In point of fact, a battery of Sunburn missiles can easily sink the largest U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and, in effect, renders a hitherto invincible weapon virtually useless against an enemy equipped with a weapon against which there is no effective defense.

3M80/Kh-41 MOSKIT [SS-N-22 ‘Sunburn’]

The Moskit is a large supersonic anti-ship missile. Designed by the Raduga Design Bureau, development of the Moskit began in the 1970s. The Moskit entered Soviet military service in the 1980s aboard Sovremennyy-class guided missile destroyers and several classes of fast attack boats. An air-launched version of the Moskit was first displayed in 1992, and Raduga also reportedly began designs for a surface-to-air variant. Neither variant had entered production as of April 2002. The Moskit’s control system is manufactured by NPO Altair. Missile assembly takes place at the Progress plant in Arsenyevo in Primorskiy Kray.

The Moskit is powered by a ramjet engine and has an estimated top speed of Mach 2.5. It has a launch weight of 3,950kg and carries a payload of 300kg. The Moskit has a range of 120km (250km air-launched), but tests of the Moskit using a high trajectory showed the possibility of increasing its range to 300km.

Moskit Missile Characteristics
Length (m) 9.385
Diameter (m) .76
Range (km) 120 ground-launched
Speed (Mach) 2.5
Launch Weight (kg) 3,950
Warhead (kg) 300

The Sunburn missile has never seen use in combat but has been extensively field-tested by the Russians which probably explains why its fearsome capabilities are not more widely recognized. The Russians have been known to leak, via double agents, incorrect technical data to the US Defense Intelligence Agency. Other cruise missiles <>have<> been used, of course, on several occasions, and with devastating results. During the Falklands War, French-made Exocet missiles, fired from Argentine fighters, sunk the HMS Sheffield and another ship. And, in 1987, during the Iran-Iraq war, the USS Stark was nearly cut in half by a pair of Exocets while on patrol in the Persian Gulf. On that occasion US Aegis radar picked up the incoming Iraqi fighter (a French-made Mirage), and tracked its approach to within 50 miles. The radar also “saw” the Iraqi plane turn about and return to its base. But radar never detected the pilot launch his weapons. The sea-skimming Exocets came smoking in under radar and were only sighted by human eyes moments before they ripped into the Stark, crippling the ship and killing 37 US sailors.

Not only is the Sunburn much larger and faster, it has far greater range and a superior guidance system. Those who have witnessed its performance trials invariably come away stunned. According to one report, when the Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani visited Moscow in October 2001 he requested a test firing of the Sunburn, which the Russians were only too happy to arrange. So impressed was Ali Shamkhani that he placed an initial order for six of the missiles.

The Sunburn can deliver a 200-kiloton nuclear payload, or: a 750-pound conventional warhead, within a range of 100 miles, more than twice the range of the Exocet. The Sunburn combines a Mach 2.1 speed (two times the speed of sound) with a flight pattern that hugs the deck and includes “violent end maneuvers” to elude enemy defenses. The missile was specifically designed to defeat the US Aegis radar defense system. Should a US Navy Phalanx point defense somehow manage to detect an incoming Sunburn missile, the system has only seconds to calculate a fire solution –– not enough time to take out the intruding missile. The US Phalanx defense employs a six-barreled gun that fires 3,000 depleted-uranium rounds a minute, but the gun must have precise coordinates to destroy an intruder “just in time.”

The Sunburn’s combined supersonic speed and payload size produce tremendous kinetic energy on impact, with devastating consequences for ship and crew. A single one of these missiles can sink a large warship, yet costs considerably less than a fighter jet. Although the Navy has been phasing out the older Phalanx defense system, its replacement, known as the Rolling Action Missile (RAM) has never been tested against the weapon it seems destined to one day face in combat.

The US Navy’s only plausible defense against a robust weapon like the Sunburn missile is to detect the enemy’s approach well ahead of time, whether destroyers, subs, or fighter-bombers, and defeat them before they can get in range and launch their deadly cargo. For this purpose US AWACs radar planes assigned to each naval battle group are kept aloft on a rotating schedule. The planes “see” everything within two hundred miles of the fleet, and are complemented with intelligence from orbiting satellites.

But US naval commanders operating in the Persian Gulf face serious challenges that are unique to the littoral, i.e., coastal, environment. A glance at a map shows why: The Gulf is nothing but a large lake, with one narrow outlet, and most of its northern shore, i.e., Iran, consists of mountainous terrain that affords a commanding tactical advantage over ships operating in Gulf waters. The rugged northern shore makes for easy concealment of coastal defenses, such as mobile missile launchers, and also makes their detection problematic. Although it was not widely reported, the US actually lost the battle of the Scuds in the first Gulf War –– termed “the great Scud hunt” –– and for similar reasons. Saddam Hussein’s mobile Scud launchers proved so difficult to detect and destroy –– over and over again the Iraqis fooled allied reconnaissance with decoys –– that during the course of Desert Storm the US was unable to confirm even a single kill. This proved such an embarrassment to the Pentagon, afterwards, that the unpleasant stats were buried in official reports. But the blunt fact is that the US failed to stop the Scud attacks. The launches continued until the last few days of the conflict. Luckily, the Scud’s inaccuracy made it an almost useless weapon. At one point General Norman Schwarzkopf quipped dismissively to the press that his soldiers had a greater chance of being struck by lightning in Georgia than by a Scud in Kuwait.

In recent years Israel upgraded its air force with a new fleet of long-range F-15 fighter-bombers, and even more recently took delivery of 5,000 bunker-buster bombs from the US –– weapons that many observers think are intended for use against Iran. (cf: see earlier report on this: (5.IX.04)

The arming for war has been matched by threats. Israeli officials have declared repeatedly that they will not allow Iran to develop nuclear power, not even reactors to generate electricity for peaceful use. Their threats are particularly worrisome, because Israel has a long history of preemptive attacks on perceived enemies.

(OK)If the US and Israel attempt to launch a preemptive air strike against Iran as has been formulated and the Iranians, now armed with Russian anti-ship missiles either launch their own preemptive strike or respond immediately to a joint U.S./Isreali strike, all U.S .naval units in the Gulf will be in very close range to the Sunburn missiles as well as the SS-NX-26 Yakhonts missiles (speed: Mach 2.9; range: 180 miles) deployed by the Iranians along the Gulf’s northern shore. There will be no area of the Persian Gulf that will be out of range of either of these missiles.

Anti-ship cruise missiles are not new, Nor have they yet determined the outcome in a conflict. But this is probably only because these weapons have never been deployed in sufficient numbers. At the time of the Falklands war the Argentine air force possessed only five Exocets, yet managed to sink two ships. With enough of them, the Argentineans might have sunk the entire British fleet, and won the war. Although we’ve never seen a massed attack of cruise missiles, this is exactly what the US Navy could face in the next war in the Gulf. Try and imagine it if you can: barrage after barrage of Exocet-class missiles, which the Iranians are known to possess in the hundreds, as well as the unstoppable Sunburn and Yakhonts: how many of the Russian anti-ship missiles has Putin already supplied to Iran? And: How many more are currently in the pipeline? In 2001 Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that Iran was attempting to acquire anti-ship missiles from Russia. Ominously, the same report also mentioned that the more advanced Yakhonts missile was “optimized for attacks against carrier task forces.” Apparently its guidance system is “able to distinguish an aircraft carrier from its escorts.” The numbers were not disclosed…

Armed with their Russian-supplied cruise missiles, the Iranians will close the lake’s only outlet, the strategic Strait of Hormuz, cutting off the trapped and dying Americans from help and rescue. The US fleet massing in the Indian Ocean will stand by helplessly, unable to enter the Gulf to assist the survivors or bring logistical support to the other US forces on duty in Iraq. Couple this with a major new ground offensive by the Iraqi insurgents, and, quite suddenly, the tables could turn against the Americans in Baghdad. As supplies and ammunition begin to run out, the status of US forces in the region will become precarious. The occupiers will become the besieged…

With enough anti-ship missiles, the Iranians can halt tanker traffic through Hormuz for weeks, even months. With the flow of oil from the Gulf curtailed, the price of a barrel of crude will skyrocket on the world market.