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Jun 14, 2022
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“Vasily Bykov” at Zmeiny was ordered to fight off “Tor-M2” missiles from Ukrainian missiles

In the photo: patrol ship "Vasily Bykov".

In the photo: patrol ship “Vasily Bykov”. (Photo: Alexey Druzhinin/TASS)

A week ago, the lead patrol ship “Vasily Bykov” (project 22160) was seen in the Sevastopol Bay in a very unusual form. On its aft part, on the helipad deck, a 30-ton Tor-M2KM short-range anti-aircraft missile system was piled up and secured with chain braces so as not to fall overboard during a storm.

Outwardly, it is an almost complete analogue of the land version of this Tor-M2 weapon, which is very effective on the ground, designed to protect critical facilities and military groups on the march from attacks by aircraft and helicopters, drones, cruise missiles, adjustable or planning bombs. Internally is still unknown. But there are suspicions that, alas, absolutely necessary changes, if any, are insignificant. The Thor, which has been successfully tested on the land for a long time, will most likely have to be “buffed” right in battle.

In general, we have before us the feverish response of the Black Sea Fleet to the unfortunate fact: today its ship grouping can hardly oppose the very formidable anti-ship cruise missiles of the Naval Strike Missile type (abbreviated NSM) delivered by the Norwegians to Ukraine. According to reports, these are already on combat duty near Odessa. In the zone of their defeat (up to 180 kilometers) and the island of the Snake, and almost the entire northwestern Black Sea almost to the coast of Crimea.

The complexity of the fight against NSM is that, unlike, say, the American “Harpoons”, at the final stage of the ship’s attack, the “Norwegian” itself, made using stealth technologies, flies at a speed of 1200 kilometers per hour and at a height of only 5 meters above the water surface. At the same time (which is even more significant) – it does not have a radar homing head at all. Therefore, it does not emit radio waves at all. This makes it very difficult for the ship’s own early detection by ship’s radars on the marching section at a sufficient distance so that the crew has time to prepare to repel the attack.

NSM guidance is carried out exclusively with the help of a promising multispectral optical-electronic homing head of the IIR (Imaging Infrared) type, operating in the mid-infrared, television and low-level television wavelength ranges. Databases of targets have been pre-entered into her memory. During the attack, the missile itself compares the thermal “portrait” of the enemy with the one that ended up in its electronic memory. And then a 125-kilogram semi-armor-piercing warhead comes into play.

To drown out this process with the help of electronic warfare, if possible, is extremely difficult. How difficult it is to knock the NSM off course using infrared traps and setting up a smoke screen.

All that the Black Sea Fleet has today to counter the threat that has arisen after the loss of the Guards missile cruiser Moskva is only two relatively new frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen (project 11356P Burevestnik). The third one, the Admiral Grigorovich, has been stuck in the Mediterranean since the winter. It is, in principle, possible to return it back through the straits closed by Turkey. However, then the Russian naval grouping in Syria will be critically weakened. And back, in the Mediterranean, the Turks through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, until the end of hostilities in Ukraine, do not release a single Russian warship from Sevastopol.

The main air defense system of our “Petrels” is the Shtil-1 anti-aircraft missile system. Which, in fact, is a ship analogue of the also very reliable land-based air defense system “Buk-M3”.

Relatively recently, a new 9M317MA anti-aircraft missile with active homing heads, modified for the fleet, appeared in the Shtil-1 arsenal. After that, there was no need to illuminate the target by means of the carrier ship in the final leg of the 9M317MA flight. That is, the anti-aircraft firing of the Burevestnik beyond the radio horizon became possible. But the trouble is that just a Norwegian missile attacking at an extremely low altitude is difficult for the crew to detect further than 10-15 kilometers from themselves. And the supersonic NSM will rush such a distance – you won’t have time to blink an eye.

So even the relatively modern “Petrels” near Odessa will now simply not be. What can we say about the other ships of the Black Sea? The same patrolmen, such as “Vasily Bykov”?

From the very beginning, their air defense system was recognized by everyone as the weakest point of this ship, the first of which (just the Vasily Bykov) was put into operation relatively recently – in 2018. From the means of air attack, in addition to the 76-mm automatic gun mount, it was covered only by the Gibka-S turret launcher with self-defense missiles of the Igla type. Their zone of destruction in modern conditions of war at sea is simply negligible – only up to 6 kilometers. In the event of a blow by the destructive Norwegian NSM, this is nothing at all.

Thus, the choice before the Russian command was completely unenviable: either send patrol ships to Serpentine and Odessa almost to certain death. Or even keep them away from those places. And it’s better – so that they don’t leave Sevastopol beyond the line-of-sight range.

And then who should be sent closer to Odessa? One only “Admiral Essen” with “Admiral” Makarov “? Will their crews have enough strength for a long time in a tense situation of real combat operations?

Of course, an urgent transfer from the Baltic to the Black Sea of ​​at least a couple of multi-purpose corvettes of Project 20380 of the Guardian type would be a very good option. Each of them is equipped with a Redut ship air defense system. Which in many respects is even better than Calm-1. But how to make such a transfer?

Turkey, as already mentioned, closed the straits not only for us. For any warships. If anyone is promised to be let through to Sevastopol, then only the Black Sea crews and only back to their native pier. This option definitely does not apply to the Baltics.

Send corvettes along the internal Russian route Lake Onega – Lake Ladoga – Volga – Volga-Don Canal – Don – Sea of ​​\u200b\u200bAzov – Black Sea? So, due to the critical shallowing of the Don in the fall of 2016, in this way, only in the opposite direction, even the much more modest-sized small missile ships Serpukhov and Zeleny Dol could not slip from Sevastopol to Baltiysk. They, once created for the rivers and the shallow Caspian, had to be driven around Europe through the stormy Atlantic with considerable fear.

As it turned out, they could not overcome the Don with a draft of only 2.8 meters. What can we say about corvettes, which need depths of at least 4 meters for swimming?

So the option with project 20380 corvettes also disappears. This is probably why there was a need for an urgent installation on Vasily Bykov of the Tor-M2KM air defense system. It arose, of course, not at all out of the blue.

Work in this direction began long before the “special operation Z”. In August 2015, the land version of the Tor air defense system from the coastline for the first time performed research firing at a low-flying target above the sea surface. The degree of influence of sea waves on the detection and tracking of the target, as well as on the guidance of an anti-aircraft guided missile, was determined.

In October 2016, the first naval version of the Tor in a container version (the same Tor-M2KM air defense system) was installed in Sevastopol on the helipad of the Admiral Grigorovich frigate. The target environment was created by two single targets. The first imitated an enemy aircraft attacking our ship, following at a speed of 7-8 knots, from a height of 1 thousand meters. The target was hit at a distance of 8 kilometers.

The second goal was more difficult. It had flight characteristics similar to the Harpoon low-flying anti-ship missile. But she was also reliably taken for auto-escort and hit in a timely manner.

In general, the first results are encouraging. Although it simply could not do without problems. It does not happen without them at the initial stages of creating modern missile weapons.

Nevertheless, although no more test firing of the Tor-M2KM from ships was reported, now we are forced not only to put the complex, which is hardly fully brought to mind, on the Vasily Bykov. It is possible that the crew will have to prove the viability of the latest weapons in a real battle. Which is actually very risky. But the fleet has no other choice.

At the same time, experts already see a number of problems with this air defense system. Firstly, as already mentioned, the complex is simply craned very quickly (which is just great!) On the deck, fixed on it with chains and is absolutely autonomous from the equipment of the ship itself. You say it’s an achievement? It is unlikely.

That is, the Tor-M2KM air defense system has not yet been integrated into Vasily Bykov’s own infrastructure. Therefore, the complex is capable of detecting the enemy only with its own radar facilities, the technical capabilities of which are inferior to those of the navy. First of all, the Pozitiv-ME1 active phased array radar with an instrumental detection range of a large target of up to 250 kilometers, and a fighter-type target of up to 110 kilometers. The maximum effective range of the station for detecting small air targets on the Tor-M2KM air defense system is only 32 kilometers. As they say: feel the difference!

Exactly the same – autonomously! – target designation and guidance of anti-aircraft missiles at the attacking enemy is carried out. Without the help of the combat information control system of the patrol ship.

Of the problems that arise, one can also note the complete impossibility of using the standard Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopter from the deck of the Vasily Bykov in such a campaign (as an option, the reconnaissance and attack Ka-52K Katran or 2-4 strike drones). For them, even a hangar is provided on the ships of project 22160. Only now they have nowhere to take off. Since the entire take-off deck is now occupied by a bulky anti-aircraft module.

Probably, these are “childhood diseases” of the growth of new weapons. And someday they will be eliminated by Russian designers. But it is possible that Vasily Bykov will have to fight with enemy anti-ship missiles right tomorrow. And that’s very worrisome.

Meanwhile, as reported by the TASS agency, the leadership of the Russian Navy has already decided, following the Vasily Bykov, to equip all other Black Sea patrol ships with the Tor-M2KM complexes. Namely – “Dmitry Rogachev”, “Pavel Derzhavin” and “Sergey Kotov”. The fifth corvette of this series, Viktor the Great, will enter the fleet in December of this year with the Tor-M2KM air defense system installed at the plant.

And now – attention! The sixth and last ship of this project, Nikolai Sipyagin, is planned to be transferred to the fleet at the end of next year with a new version of the ship-based air defense system. Perhaps – with spaced combat posts of the calculation and radar facilities, “tied” into a single structure with its own radar and information systems of the ship.

If such a weapon appears in the fleet in a year and a half, then a new air defense system is almost created or literally at the exit. And then our guess that today “Tor-M2KM” is just a forced and “fire” version, adopted by the Russian Navy not from a good life, is absolutely correct.

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