A Tale of Deception and Two Containers

Club K Missile System

As any reader of Think Defence will know, I am constantly on the look out for container related stories, but hadn’t seen anything interesting enough to write about for a while. Then, like buses, two came along at once.

The Club-K

The Club-K anti ship missile system has been in and out of the news for over a year and was accompanied by a slick marketing video to shake the panic tree.

Putting anti ship missiles inside ISO containers does not suddenly solve the other problems of target acquisition and avoidance of offensive and self defence systems from the opposing side but, it puts an interesting slant on negating the overwhelming ISTAR advantages of Western forces and when viewed in likely scenarios where rules of engagement mean target identification is paramount, is potentially very effective at denying access to shipping, or increasing the effort and risk needed to assure that access.

At the recent Technology in Machine-Building 2012 exhibition,  Morinformsistema-Agat, showed another version of the Club-K using a smaller missile, the Kh-35UE cruise missile (NATO SS-N-25 Switchblade) which is equipped with a more advanced seeker, in a 20 foot ISO container.

Club K Missile System - Kh-35UE cruise missile
Club K Missile System – Kh-35UE cruise missiles

The system revealed last year at the MAKS Moscow air show showed four supersonic 3M54TE missiles in a 40′ ISO container.

Club K Missile System - 3M54TE missiles
Club K Missile System – 3M54TE missiles

RIA Novosti reported that although the system is not in service with the Russian armed forces a company representative said;

However, we are in active talks with foreign clients from the Asia-Pacific region

Some might see this as a gimmick and focus on the ability to put these on a ship but I think that misses the point, failing to appreciate how this packaging, for that is all it is, could provide a headache for any forces attacking a nation thus equipped.

One of the huge advantages Western forces enjoy over contemporary enemies is that of ISTAR. Libya was a stark illustration of this, any conventional forces were rapidly located, identified, classified and where necessary, destroyed by a combination of means.

Once found, a missile launcher/erector looks exactly like what it actually is, there is no ambiguity about working out what something like this is…

Shore Based Anti Ship Missile
Shore Based Anti Ship Missile

or this

SSN25 BASTION Missile System Brochure Page 1 BASTION Missile System Brochure Page 2

Our systems are programmed to recognise the distinctive shapes and signatures.

Put them inside the ubiquitous ISO container however, and things get complicated.

In a crowded, complex, congested and contested area of operations how would we first identify one of these?

Typical container and truck
Typical container and truck

In an area like this…

Containers in a city
Containers in a city

Identify it for what it actually is and then attack it.

The art of simple physical equipment deception has pretty much been abandoned by Western forces since WWII

Inflatable Sherman Decoy
Inflatable Sherman Decoy
Inflatable Spitfire Decoy
Inflatable Spitfire Decoy

But those facing us certainly haven’t.

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Every single one of these images is an inflatable decoy and it is not just the visual signature they concentrate on, thermal and even radar emitters are used to make forces with advanced ISTAR systems think they are the real thing. If we concentrate our high technology multi spectral sensors on these I am pretty sure we could tell the difference but they are cheap, easy to mass produce, deploy and move.

Let’s not forget, in Bosnia and Kosovo we spent million of pounds expending air delivered precision munitions on microwave ovens and wood burning stoves.

If there was any doubt and just to be on the safe side we might give genersously provide each one with a Brimstone, Paveway, Storm Shadow or Tomahawk but think about the economics. Libya exposed just how low our stocks of precision munitions are and if a wily enemy has a couple of hundred of these decoys for every half dozen real ones it does not take a genious to figure out that we may well run out and they might get lucky.

Putting missiles in containers is the latest line in low tech military deception and although not a wonder weapon I think it is smarter than many people give it credit for.

Didn’t I say there were two stories, oh yes…

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