Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
While the global network and the media “boils” regarding the very first distant campaign of the fully-fledged carrier strike group of the Russian Navy to the coast of Syria in order to conduct combat operations against ISIS, and also cover our military contingent and the armed forces of Syria from possible attacks by the Western coalition air force, there are new intriguing details regarding advanced impact weapons deployed on the basis of the 279th separate naval fighter aviation regiment, which is stationed onboard the heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser “Admiral Kuznetsov”. It is already known that the strike basis of the deck wing will feature the multipurpose MiG-29K/KUB with a rich range of missiles and bomb armaments, and air cover and additional work on ground targets will feature several advanced Su-33, equipped with high-precision SVP-24-33 “Gefest”. At the same time, the armaments of the naval attack helicopters Ka-52K “Katran” until recently, were not disclosed.
But on 26th October, 2016, the Internet version of the famous daily newspaper “Izvestia” revealed some details regarding the systems of missile armament of the prospective “Katran” helicopter. It is reported that the pilots of the helicopters will have at their disposal the anti-tank missile system “Hermes-A” (“Klevok-A”), the radius of which was increased for about a decade by specialists of the Tula JSC “Instrument Design Bureau”, and as a result it reached 34 km (the limited reach of the most long-range modifications is defined as 100 km). It would seem that 34 km is only slightly more than the American tactical missiles JAGM (28 km), based on the anti-tank guided missile “Hellfire”, but the advantage of our missile system is not restricted to range. The design and speed of flight, which is very different for the 2 missiles, is very significant.
The maximum flight speed of JAGM reaches 1530 km/h, the average (on the approach and at dive) is about 950-1100 km/h), and the case diameter is 17.8 cm. Modern radar systems for military air defense can detect the missile at ranges of over 10 km and multi-function radar type 30N6Е/92N6Е at about 25-35 km. Its low speed of flight gives air defences plenty of time for detection, tracking route, capture and interception. “Hermes” has different characteristics.
Bi-caliber two-stage missile system “Hermes-A” is structurally similar to the anti-aircraft guided missile 9М335/57E6. The first (launch) stage is represented by a solid rocket engine that accelerates the missile to a speed of 4680 km/h (notice that this is 3 times faster than “Hellfire”). During the operation of the booster stage, the rocket climbs to a height of 28 km (the altitude range varies depending on the distance from the target), then this stage separates and the combat stage continues to decline to the target. The compact arrow-shaped combat stage, having a diameter of 130 mm and a mass of about 50 kg, has a low rate of deceleration due to excellent aerodynamic and mass characteristics, thanks to which at a range of 34 km the speed of the missile remains in the range of 1.5—2M. To intercept this combat stage is also difficult, like a 152-mm high-explosive artillery shell.
Flight stability of the combat stage is ensured by the honourable lengthening of the case, and also the tail fins of a large area. The missile “Hermes-A” also possesses high maneuvering qualities thanks to the “duck” aerodynamic scheme, where cruciform aerodynamic guidance surfaces are placed before the aerodynamic focus of the rocket (in its nose).
“Hermes”, like its colleague “Pantsir-S1”, has a high performance multi-channel fire control system with at least 4 target channels (the exact data is not disclosed). Like the American multi-purpose tactical missile JAGM, the “Hermes” missile system has increased noise immunity due to the use of the most well-known channels of guidance. For example, after ascent, decline towards the target, and separation begins the initial phase of the flight combat (2nd) stage, which uses inertial guidance with radio correction, in the terminal phase of the flight a combined electro-optical homing head with an infrared and semiactive laser sensor guidance is activated. The onboard digital computer, in case the enemy uses systems of optical-electronic countermeasures against one of the guidance channels (for example, the semi-active laser), can use information simultaneously received from the two sensors of the homing head, and after identification the suppressed channel (in our case a laser) is excluded and the process of guidance is assigned exclusively to an thermo-imaging channel. To counter those systems, which are now possessed by ISIS militants, the dual-channel homing heads of the “Hermes-A” missiles is more than enough. But later, if the conflict is reaches the apogee of political and military instability, and the game will involve regular military units of the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States with a broad means of combating both laser and infrared homing, there will be a need of the modernized “Hermes” system.
First of all it concerns the integration into the homing heads of active radar module so the homing operates in the millimeter wavelength range, which can provide a high-precision strike even on the radio-contrasting ground targets, which are “dazzled” by all possible methods of optical and thermal distortion — from infrared traps to aerosol screens and infrared illuminators.
During the conversation with the correspondent of “Izvestia”, the editor-in-chief of the website “Militaryrussia” Dmitry Kornev defined the two-stage design of the missile system “Hermes-A” as one of the few drawbacks of the rocket, but found it impossible to fully agree with such a judgment. Yes, the two bi-caliber concept has always been more difficult from a technological point of view (calculating the center of mass and the aerodynamic focus), the weight of these missiles is usually more than single-stage products, but also all the positive traits are evident. So, we have: higher flight speed due to the dispersal by the powerful 1st step; lower speed of delay of “thin” mid-flight (combat) stage that provides high speed overcoming of missile defences of the enemy; smaller radar, infrared, and optical signatures of the compact combat stage.
Targeting for “Hermes-A” will be carried out from the onboard radar station “Arbalet” and the stabilized optical-electronic sighting system GOES-451 of “Katran”, and on the radio channel for the exchange of tactical information with other intelligence units of land, sea and air-basing. Thus, the target coordinates can be received from the optical-electronic intelligence Tu-214Р aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, tactical aircraft, combat ships, and ground infantry units equipped with the appropriate radio-electronic equipment. The Syrian battlefield has the most varied list of external means of targeting. The transfer of targeting from the helicopter Combat Information Control System on the computer system of “Hermes” is carried out via the data bus standard MIL-STD-1553. One of the main elements of the system is the 2-channel module semi-active laser targeting illumination for the “Hermes” missiles of 2 ground targets within a radius of 25 km (depending on meteorological conditions, this distance may be less).
In later versions of “Hermes” there is a possibility of burst firing at once on 12 targets using simultaneously laser and infrared targeting: 2 laser channel plus 10 radio command channels of correction for infrared sensors. It is reported that “Hermes” can destroy targets with a radar cross-section of 0.01 m2, probably, we are talking about future modifications of the missile with an active radar homing head. Besides destroying ground and sea targets, the system can operate on air targets at ranges up to 15 km, while the 100-kilometer range of the infra-red homing head system theoretically provides for the distant interception of enemy aircraft. For such “air-to-air” use, with the possibility of equipping R-77/RVV-SD missiles, the Ka-52K in the near future, instead of “Arbalet”, will have a promising radar with active phased antenna array.
Tactical aviation missiles of “Hermes-A” in the standard version will be delivered to helicopter regiments in dual launchers (on 2 transport-launch containers), assembled in pairs forming a quad launcher module. Each Ka-52K will be able to carry 8 air-to-air missiles, but thanks to the combat load of 2000 kg, after completion of the starting modules, helicopters will be able to carry up to 16 missiles (the arsenal in reality is just huge). “Katran” will operate over the skies of Syria with 8 missiles of the “Hermes-A” system.
Despite the fact that initially “Hermes” was planned as an anti-tank system with extended-range, over the years of testing and modernization it has become a multi-purpose advanced tactical missile system for the destruction of enemy armored vehicles and suppress strongholds, and destroying enemy fortifications at large distances. For this purpose, the 2nd (combat) stage is equipped with a high-power high-explosive fragmentation warhead weighing up to 28 kg, its declared equivalent in armour-penetration reaches 1 meter of steel armor plate. When attacked by such an “ingot” in the upper projection no modern tank simply has a chance. Even if against a modern MBT with a system of active protection and using only one missile of “Hermes-A”, and active protection systems manage to intercept it, the “grad” fragments of the heavy warhead at supersonic speed will unambiguously damage the opto-electronic sighting equipment of the tank, the antenna of active protection system’s radar sensors, and possibly the power unit. This warhead could easily penetrate thick concrete slab structures, in which there could be the enemy’s armored vehicles.
The transfer to the Syrian theater of “Katran”, armed with “Hermes”, will provide much better safety of the pilots of the Ka-52K than when using the 9к121 anti-tank system “Vikhr”. So, with the latter, to ensure hitting the target it is necessary to approach the enemy positions at a distance of 8-10 km, where the crew of the rotorcraft assault machine finds themselves in the radius of action of military surface-to-air, and can be fired at by anti-aircraft guided MANPADS of the enemy, which can be scattered in the range of 4 — 7 km from the defended object. The “Hermes” system can completely unexpectedly hit armored vehicles and fortifications of the so-called “moderates” and ISIS from over-the-horizon distances, using the targeting of external reconnaissance. The threat to the life of the pilots in this case is minimal.
The christening in combat of the tactical missile system “Hermes-A” in Syria is planned not only for the sake of testing regimes and performance of advanced strike tools of the Navy and airforce of Russia against a rather experienced enemy in the face of ISIS and other militias, but also to demonstrate its capabilities to potential customers in Asia and the Middle East, which in the near future will lead to a growth in the competitiveness of “Hermes”.
One of the first places among such buyers today is Egypt. For the air force of this state 50 attack Ka-52 “alligator” helicopters were purchased, intended to counter possible terrorist activities of ISIS and other organizations on the territory of their own state, and perform strike operations in the States of North Africa (for example, Libya), where terrorist enclaves managed to raise its head almost to the level of the armed forces of these countries. Also, the Navy of Egypt are preparing for the implementation of a contract for the purchase of Ka-52 “Katran” for use with the purchased French landing ships helicopter carriers of the Mistral class, after which the Egyptian Navy will be able to perform distant campaigns, and participate in favorable military operations of the “Arabian coalition” within Western Asia and the Eastern coast of the African continent. For the Ka-52 and Ka-52K, the tactical/anti-tank missile system “Hermes-A”, in view of upgrades to the defenses of a potential enemy, is of paramount importance, which the 10-kilometer “Vikha” can’t match.
Experts and fans prefer to compare “Hermes” with other similar systems according to some performance characteristics of the system. As was stated by the chief editor of the magazine “Arsenal Otechestva” Victor Murakhovsky, long-range anti-tank missile system “Spike-NLOS” (“Tamuz”), created by the Israeli company Rafael, is the only analog to our “Hermes-A” with worthy performance characteristics. The Israeli product from the late 70’s is based on the experience of the use of anti-tank weapons gained in the Six Day war and the Yom Kippur war. And therefore the “Spike-NLOS” missile received a “long-running” solid rocket engine, allowing it to strike armored vehicles, bunkers, and pillboxes of the enemy at ranges up to 25 kilometers and more. The combined two-channel Electro-optical/IR high-resolution homing of this system, and also the disturbance-free radio telemetry channel allows the operator in the command and control points on the multi-functional display to accurately view the territory over which the trajectory of “Spike-NLOS” passes, to detect other targets and, where possible, make a redirection to something higher priority. Thus, the Israeli complex is also a good reconnaissance combat drone, capable of carrying out optical-electronic reconnaissance.
“Spike-NLOS” has three guided flight profiles: “low-altitude” (with terrain following), which is often used in dense clouds; “medium altitude”; and “optimal”, being the highest. “Optimal” mode is used for the review of large surface areas before approaching the battle field, as well as hitting the most vulnerable in the upper projection armoured combat vehicles. But despite all these qualities, the Israeli system is considerably inferior to the “Hermes-A” system for flight speed, which ranges from 475 to 700 km/h. To intercept such a target with the help of modern means of air defense will not be difficult.
The uniqueness of “Hermes-A”, land and naval versions of which will appear also later in the army of Russia, does not cause us any doubt. After equipping a more powerful solid-fuel first stage, the range of Russian tactical missiles could reach about 100 km: conceived as a conventional long-range anti-tank system, “Hermes” will turn into one of the most advanced and compact means of air attack since the beginning of the new century. We will see in the coming weeks the success of the first combat operations in direct support of the Syrian government troops conducted by our “Katran” with the new system onboard for the liberation of Syrian land.
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