May 31, 2015: Strategy Page
China is making angru noises to the UN, Vietnam and Russia about the little publicized Russian sale of Klub submarine launched cruise missiles to Vietnam. China wasn’t happy about Russia selling Vietnam six Kilo class diesel electric submarines in 2009. Russia and Vietnam were quiet about the sale of 50 Klub missiles but the news eventually got out, in part because 28 of the Klub missiles have already been delivered, along with three of the Kilos. Another two Kilos are being delivered in 2015 and the last one will be completed in 2016 about the same time the rest of the Klub missiles arrive. Vietnam is one the many nations in the region threatened by Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea and given the long (over a thousand years) hostility between China and Vietnam, there is understandable fear that, even in defeat, Vietnam would use Klub missiles for one last attack on China.
The Russian 3M54 (also known as the SS-N-27, Sizzler or Klub) anti-ship missiles can also be aimed at targets on land and that’s what really bothers the Chinese. Klub is now used on Indian, Algerian and Vietnamese subs and is considered very effective. But it was not always that way. India (a major customer for the Klub) has feuded with the Russians in the past because of repeated failures of the Klub during six test firings in 2007. These missile tests were carried out off the Russian coast, using an Indian Kilo class submarine, INS Sindhuvijay. That boat had gone to Russia in 2006 for upgrades. India refused to pay for the upgrades, or take back the sub, until Russia fixed the problems with the missiles (which it eventually did).
Weighing two tons, and fired from a 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tube on a Kilo class sub, the 3M54 has a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead. The anti-ship version has a range of 300 kilometers, but speeds up to 3,000 kilometers an hour during its last minute or so of flight. There are also air launched and ship launched versions. The land attack version does away with the high speed final approach feature and that makes possible a larger 400 kg (880 pound) warhead.
What makes the 3M54 particularly dangerous when attacking ships is that during its final approach, which begins when the missile is about 15 kilometers from its target, the missile speeds up. Up to that point, the missile travels at an altitude of about 30 meters (a hundred feet). This makes the missile more difficult to detect. That plus the high speed final approach means that it covers that last fifteen kilometers in less than twenty seconds. This makes it more difficult for current anti-missile weapons to take it down.
The 3M54 Klub is similar to earlier, Cold War era Russian anti-ship missiles, like the 3M80 ("Sunburn") and P700 ("Shipwreck") which entered service at the end of the Cold War. These missiles are considered "carrier killers," but it's not known how many of them would have to hit a carrier to knock it out of action, much less sink it. Moreover, Russian missiles have little combat experience, and a reputation for erratic performance. Quality control was never a Soviet strength, but the Russians are getting better, at least in the civilian sector. The military manufacturers appear to have been slower to adapt. It is believed that Chinese warships have no effective defense against missile like Klub, which why they are so outspoken about Russia selling them to Vietnam.
The Kilos weigh 2,300 tons (surface displacement), have six torpedo tubes and a crew of 52. They can travel about 700 kilometers under water at a quiet speed of about five kilometers an hour. Top speed underwater is 32 kilometers an hour. Kilos carry 18 torpedoes or Klub anti-ship or cruise missiles (launched underwater from the torpedo tubes.) Kilos can stay at sea 45 days at a time. It can travel at periscope depth (using a snorkel device to bring in air) for 12,000 kilometers at 12 kilometers an hour. The combination of quietness and cruise missiles makes Kilo very dangerous to American carriers. North Korea, China, India, Indonesia, Romania, Algeria, Vietnam and Iran have also bought Kilos. The main reason for purchasing Kilos is that they cost about half what equivalent Western subs go for. Kilos are very similar to the world-standard diesel submarine, the 1800-ton German Type 209.