The P-270 Moskit missile is nicknamed the ‘Mosquito’ because it is the fastest anti-ship missile in the world, travelling almost triple the speed of the Harpoon missile.
This terrifying armament was developed during the Cold War by Russia as an effective tool against the naval units of NATO and NATO-aligned countries as well as an instrument of defense against invasions of the Russian motherland. Today it remains a staple of Russia’s military arsenal and is notoriously difficult for ships to dodge or destroy.
Background and Development
The Moskit program started development in the second half of the 1970s at the Raduga Design Bureau, and was led by chief engineer I.S. Seleznev and S. Klimov, who made the missile control system on behalf of the State Scientific and Production Association (ALTAIR).
They were tasked with creating a replacement for the aging P-15 missile that would have improved penetrative capabilities and a greater range.
In the West, the missile was designated as the SS-N-22 ‘Sunburn’, and it was also referred to in Russian sources as the P-270 system.
It assimilated over 30 scientific innovations into its blueprints, such as a direct flow propulsion rocket engine combined with a starting engine invented by M.M Bondaryuk. Moreover, a flying laboratory situated on a BE-12 was used to research the missile control system.
The program started in 1973, and by 1981 its first iteration, called the 3M80 was accepted for deployment by the Soviet armed forces. By 1984, a second prototype, the 3M80M/P-80-M was also made ready for active service.
These first two editions were also known as the P-100, and were different to the final P-270 in that they were launched from more rudimentary Sovremenny-class destroyer ships. In addition, they were inferior to the more updated model, having a maximum range of 90 to 100 km instead of 140 to 160 km.
The final version of the missile was named the 3M82/Moskit-M/P-270, and it was fired from K-T-190M launchers installed aboard Sovremenny, Udaloy II, Tarantul III, and Bora/Dergach class ships possessed by the Russian Navy.
The large size of the missile gives it a slight disadvantage in that it cannot be universally housed on all ships as is the case with the Eastern Harpoon or Exocet missile.
An air-launched version of the missile called the ASM-MM3 or Kh-4 was revealed for the first time in 1992 and has been specifically configured to be fired from under the body of a Su-33 carrier-based fighter aircraft.
A land-based version, discharged from trucks, and even an underwater version ejected from submarines have also been reported, but because it is an active military weapon still shrouded in secrecy, the full range of variations remains unknown.
The P-270 Moskit is a medium-range high-supersonic anti-ship missile with a length of 9.72 meters, conventionally designed like others of its ilk with an X-shaped design scheme allowing for optimal aerodynamics.
It has a slim forward body, an ovoid nose, and a thick rear fitted with 4 divided air intakes. It possesses four clipped delta-platform wings with a wingspan of 2.1 meters and similarly, designed tail surfaces, the latter of which are arranged in a cruciform shape around the fuselage.
Actuators are found below the tail surfaces and when placed inside the K-T-190M launcher, both the wing and the tail surfaces are folded. The air inlets, wings, and body are all made out of titanium in order to counteract the heat of the air friction produced when an object travels at high velocities in dense air at low altitudes.
This 3960 kg rocket is propelled by a ramjet engine with a liquid sustainer in combination with a solid rocket booster, located in the ramjet combustion chamber, activated in the first four seconds of flight to attain initial acceleration.
Its fuel receptacles take kerosene and are located at the leading edges of the wing, while the ramjet occupies the rear edges.
In its less camouflaged high-altitude configuration, the P-270 flies at a speed of Mach 2.6, or 2800 km/h, and has a range of 160 km. In its low-altitude configuration, which sacrifices distance and speed to stealthily skim the surface of the sea flying under the radar, it travels at Mach 1.5, or 1800 km/h, and has a reduced range of 120 km.
When the missile is launched it is initially guided by an inertial system before switching to a radar guidance system situated in the nose cone compartment, which also houses the battery and radio altimeter.
Operating in the frequency ranges of D to F, it enables the projectile to switch from actively searching to passively tracking an enemy’s radar while also allowing the operator to send ECM jamming signals.
The missile is so fast that within 10 km it would take less than 20 seconds to reach the target, and within 2 minutes it can travel its maximum range. If activated in stealth mode, the rocket is propelled into the air before gradually decreasing its altitude to around 20 meters. As it approaches its mark, the rocket decreases to just 7 meters above the waves.
Warships will typically pick it up on radar when it moves over the horizon and is 28 to 45 km away, leaving them with only 25 to 60 seconds to react.
In contrast, the Exocet has a maximum response time of 120 to 150 seconds to either disable the missile mid-air with ECM jamming or to directly destroy it in the sky through quick-fire artillery strikes.
The P-270 is made even more lethal by the fact that in passive radar mode, it can detect active jamming sources and use them to further home onto a target, making enemy ECM countermeasures not only ineffective but a surefire way to further expose their position.
It is also completely resistant to nuclear explosions, making it extremely hard to break up through conventional means.
To add to this, it has a fire-control system that updates the radar locations of targets as it flies toward them.
This information is relayed to the missile from a variety of sources including via the Ka-25Ts airborne helicopter, the Tu-95RT maritime patrol aircraft, and even the Legenda nuclear-powered reconnaissance satellite system.
Once a target has been more firmly pinned down, the system permits a 4-missile battery to be fired off with 5-second intervals between each shot.
The warhead that the P-270 carries weighs 300 kilograms, half of which is made up of a powerful explosive, and utilizes a delayed impact fuse. The force of the P-270, which pierces ship armour before detonating inside, can be increased more by the kinetic energy of the missile and also by any unused fuel.
The sheer power of the explosion makes even one direct hit incredibly effective against even the largest of ships, although multiple strikes would be needed to sink it entirely.
In the event of a misfire, the P-270 is also able to perform an evasive manoeuvre in its final phase, reducing its range and terminal velocity for a lessened impact.
The P-270 was manufactured to destroy battleships and transport vessels, specifically, those owned by NATO patrolling the Baltic and Black Seas and those of NATO-aligned countries such as Japan and South Korea which monitor the Pacific Sea.
For these types of targets, the P-270s were to be launched by Soviet vessels to attack groups of 2 to 4 ships with a flurry of 2 to 4 projectiles in hit-and-run style.
They were also to be employed against NATO amphibious naval groups, or task forces that consisted of battleships as well as ground forces. Here the Soviets would increase the battery to 8 to 16 missiles per target, using computerized systems to ensure that all the Mosquitos hit at the same time for devastating effect.
During the Cold War, the P-270 would become the first-choice option for the Kremlin’s defence of Russia’s Northern Area or ‘Bastion,’ located in its northern Arctic region, against incursions from US submarines and carriers.
They would also assist in Soviet amphibious operations and disturb trans-Atlantic trade routes and maritime sea communications between the US and Europe if necessary.
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Between 1980 and 1999, a period of economic decline in which it was hard for even the Soviets to fulfil their quotas of the missiles, 18 of them were constructed for the Russian Navy. Domestic production delays and a lack of funding also meant that the P-270 Moskit was not widely exported.
One of their only customers was China, who bought the 3M80E and 3M80MVE Moskits alongside launchers installed aboard two Sovremenny destroyers between 2000 and 2001. Furthermore, the Indian Navy has also reportedly purchased several units. Apart from this, no other country has officially bought the P-270s, making it nearly exclusive to the Russian military.