September 15, 2021

Missile Defense Tests Part 2

Last year, I ran some tests using Command: Modern Operations to look at how the balance between ships and anti-ship missiles has changed over the years. However, I did so in a rather limited way, comparing US missile cruisers and destroyers against the SS-N-2/P-15 Styx missile. While this gave some interesting and useful information, I decided to broaden my scope, looking at both other missiles and other types of ship. I kept the basic setup from the first test, with a single ship off the coast of California, with 16 missiles fired at it. The defending ship would be the vessel most evenly matched against the missile attack in the first test, the 1991 (NTU) version of CGN-36, USS California.

To start, I re-ran my original experiment, with California facing down 16 SS-N-2/P-15 Styx missiles, fired from a bunker ashore, at a range of about 40 nm. At this range, the sea-skimming missiles pop up into radar range, then disappear again for a bit before the ship finally gets a good lock on them. The results were more or less in line with what happened during the first test:

Attacking WeaponSS-N-2 Styx
Speed660 kts
Altitude160 ft
Detection Range26 nm
Engagement Range26 nm
Missiles Launched30
Shot Down15/1 CIWS

This test was slightly luckier than any of the three1 I ran with this matchup last time, but the results were broadly the same. Now, what about a missile that was a contemporary of the Styx, but cruises at a higher altitude, the SS-N-3/P-5 Shaddock:

Attacking WeaponSS-N-3 Shaddock
Speed670 kts
Altitude20000 ft
Detection Range40 nm
Engagement Range38 nm
Missiles Launched37
Shot Down16

This test wasn't particularly lucky, as retargeting wasn't working and lots of missiles ended up going blind and landing in the San Gabriel Mountains. I ran it again and got 30 missiles fired, with 10 of those flying blind over Los Angeles after their target got taken out by an earlier missile. I ran it a third time tweaked to shoot 1v1 instead of 2v1, and got a total of 23 missiles fired. It's also worth noting that the first intercept of the Shaddock took place at about the same point where the Styx is first picked up and shot at, and the closest a missile got in any of these tests was 5.5 nm. But that's flying high. Now, what if we go for a proper sea-skimmer? Let's say that the Iowa still has her actual Harpoons and decides to use them for some reason.2 How does that work?

Attacking WeaponRGM-84D Harpoon
Speed570 kts
Altitude30 ft
Detection Range17 nm
Engagement Range17 nm
Missiles Launched22
Shot Down8/3 CIWS

In this case, the missiles did something different and flew a dogleg, presumably to come over the horizon from an unexpected direction. That didn't seem to make much difference (although it might matter more if the missiles hadn't been picked up on launch), but the low altitude pushed in the detection range and drastically reduced hit probability. Five missiles survived to hit the cruiser, although their small warheads meant that it took all five to sink her, as opposed to one or two hits by the big Soviet missiles used elsewhere.

But what if we go for the exact opposite of Harpoon? The AS-4/Kh-22 Kitchen, an air-launched Soviet missile, is capable of about Mach 4, and cruises at very high altitude. Unfortunately, I had to mess with the simulation quite a bit to make it work, as I couldn't just slap it on the bunkers like the other missiles. These would come from 8 Backfires over Barstow, so California would have their entire cruise to deal with them.

Attacking WeaponAS-4 Kitchen
Speed2300 kts
Altitude74000 ft
Detection Range135 nm
Engagement Range95 nm
Missiles Launched30
Shot Down16

I was astonished at the results from this one. It was pretty close-run, but California survived, thanks largely to the amount of time she had to engage. I actually ran it a second time, when she went 15/16, although the last one sunk her. But the big takeaway from this is just how powerful sea-skimming is, because it drastically reduces the total engagement time relative to being able to shoot as soon as the target enters missile range. Even going Mach 4 isn't really enough to counteract that. The other interesting thing about this test was that the first engagements were happening over land, so it would be a bad day to be at the 405/110 junction.3

But what if we combine sea-skimming and high speed? For this, we have the SS-N-22/P-80 Sunburn:

Attacking WeaponSS-N-22 Sunburn
Speed1400 kts
Altitude60 ft
Detection Range19 nm
Engagement Range19 nm
Missiles Launched10
Shot Down2

In this case, we have a clear victory for the missile. It gets picked up closer than the Styx and it's faster, so it's both harder to hit and gives the defender less time to shoot at it. But how would it fare against a more advanced vessel? Let's try it against Ticonderoga, fresh out of the yard:

Attacking WeaponSS-N-22 Sunburn
Speed1400 kts
Altitude60 ft
Detection Range29 nm
Engagement Range28 nm
Missiles Launched24
Shot Down7

But, you ask, how did Ticonderoga pick the missiles up so far out? The answer is less exciting than you'd hope. The game's automatic dogleg sent them over Catalina Island, forcing them to altitude and making them easier to pick up. I ran the test again and it picked a different dogleg that didn't have this issue:

Attacking WeaponSS-N-22 Sunburn
Speed1400 kts
Altitude60 ft
Detection Range19 nm
Engagement Range19 nm
Missiles Launched14
Shot Down3

In this case, it did only marginally better than California, although some of that is down to earlier missiles with worse low-altitude performance. But what about today's ships? How would they fare against this threat? To find out, I put in our old friend, Wayne E Meyer:

Attacking WeaponSS-N-22 Sunburn
Speed1400 kts
Altitude60 ft
Detection Range19 nm
Engagement Range19 nm
Ph0.79 SM-6/0.69 ESSM
Missiles Launched16 SM-6/13 ESSM
Shot Down13 SM-6/3 ESSM

In this case, the system handled the attack, thanks to much better SAMs. A lot of the ESSMs were wasted, although they fell into the sea instead of bombarding the LA basin. And on the whole, it's probably better safe than sorry in a case like this.

After all of this, I'm left with the impression that the Styx is actually a pretty good baseline threat. So let's try it against some other ships. First, we'll throw our 16-Styx salvo at a modern carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt, protected by 16 ESSM and 42 RAM.

Attacking WeaponSS-N-2 Styx
Speed660 kts
Altitude160 ft
Detection Range31 nm
Engagement Range12 nm
Ph0.8 ESSM/0.94 RAM
Missiles Launched16 ESSM/8 RAM
Shot Down9 ESSM/7 RAM

The reason for the mismatch between the detection and engagement ranges is that the carrier turned away from the incoming missiles and didn't get the ESSM launchers in arc until quite late. However, this did manage to get everything in-arc. The ESSMs didn't perform all that well, mostly because of the usual overkill issues, but that could easily be taken care of by ROE changes/better software on the actual carriers. When I ran it with ESSM set for 1v1, I got 10 ESSM and 11 RAM launched, with kills split 6/10. I suspect illuminator limitations play into this.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also decided to test out the British Type 42, specifically Sheffield in 1982 trim. At least she'll be alert, but I don't hold out great hope she'll survive.

Attacking WeaponSS-N-2 Styx
Speed660 kts
Altitude160 ft
Detection Range26 nm
Engagement Range26 nm
Missiles Launched18
Shot Down5/1 Chaff/1 Jam

That didn't go well. Sheffield had only 18 missiles, 2 illuminators and no way of retargeting. Would things be better with the last version of the Type 42? At least she has 36 missiles, but on the other hand, there's still no autopilot and no retargeting, so things aren't looking good.

Attacking WeaponSS-N-2 Styx
Speed660 kts
Altitude160 ft
Detection Range26 nm
Engagement Range26 nm
Missiles Launched21
Shot Down11/3 CIWS

That's better, but the lack of early follow-up salvoes really cripples the ship, and proves the worth of NTU-type upgrades. Now, it's not like I expect it to have a problem, but let's see how the Type 45 does. I'm going to use the delivery configuration, contemporary with the second Type 42 test, and as usual for modern ships, I'm switching to 1v1 for the missiles.

Attacking WeaponSS-N-2 Styx
Speed660 kts
Altitude160 ft
Detection Range26 nm
Engagement Range26 nm
Missiles Launched18
Shot Down16

The Type 45's radar horizon should be higher than that for the other ships, thanks to the location of the SAMPSON radar, but that doesn't show up here. No clue why it did for the CVN but not this. Oh well. Beyond that, no problems at all, and it's worth pointing out that Sea Viper is active-homing, so there were no illuminators involved at all. The short-range Aster 15s didn't even get used.

I think that's all for this set of tests, although I'll undoubtedly be back for more later on, both with other weapons and other targets, and maybe even more complicated scenarios. Feel free to suggest either in the comments.

1 Because I have to count things manually, I decided to cut back to one test of each combination unless I had reason to run it again, which I did a couple times.

2 OK, I didn't actually do this, fun though it would have been. For consistency, I fired RGM-84Ds from the bunkers I'd used for the previous two tests

3 OK, it's always a bad day to be going through there, but this would be worse than usual.


  1. September 15, 2021ike said...

    I loved the times that the automated dog-leg system gave the game away. Though I guess they are there in the first place, not to make attacks more successful, but to frustrate retaliation.

    Also, footnotes are busted.

  2. September 15, 2021Philistine said...

    Was the Type 45 sunk in the last test? The table says Yes, though (if I read it correctly) it also indicates that all incoming missiles were successfully shot down.

  3. September 15, 2021Echo said...

    @philistine firing the Royal Navy's entire missile payload exhausted the defense budget, so the ship was scuttled as a cost-saving measure.

  4. September 15, 2021bean said...


    In theory, it does help attacks by forcing you to watch more of the horizon.


    Editing error on my part. Type 45 survived no problem.


    Hmm. You may have a point there.

  5. September 16, 2021Chris Silvia said...

    How do sea-skimming missiles know where the target is going to be? If the target is maneuvering and the missile is below the horizon for a long time, won't the missile just sometimes not find the target?

  6. September 16, 2021redRover said...

    Re the doglegs: How much of that is automated?

    I assume for defensive weapons the flight paths are both straight and completely automated because of time constraints, but for offensive weapons are there options between "we are hand plotting each waypoint for this cruise missile" and "straight line to target"?

  7. September 16, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @Chris Silvia:

    How do sea-skimming missiles know where the target is going to be? If the target is maneuvering and the missile is below the horizon for a long time, won't the missile just sometimes not find the target?

    This was actually a major problem for TASM (the ASCM version of TLAM); even with the gigantic range, by the time the missile got to where the target was, the target had moved out of the seeker window. It's one reason more modern missiles have either targeting updating methods (eg the ability for updated target information to be beamed to the missile in flight) or much shorter ranges (where the target ship won't move fast enough to be outside the seeker window before the missile gets there anyway). You can also do things like mid-course updates where the missile pops up to altitude, lights up a radar that confirms there is still a target in the area, and then drops back to sea-skimming mode.

    Also, most sea-skimming missiles only go to true sea-skimming mode in their terminal phase, which is usually in the last few miles of the attack.

  8. September 16, 2021Blackshoe said...


    but for offensive weapons are there options between “we are hand plotting each waypoint for this cruise missile” and “straight line to target”?

    Well, obviously, we don't handplot them. That would be crazy; we input them in a computer. Like this one: Computers Like This

    Furrealz, though, for waypoints (which create the doglegs), most systems I am aware of give you the option of using a pre-programmed route the computer generated or using your own. And while not quite the same thing, some systems also have their own pre-programmed terminal offsets.

  9. September 16, 2021bean said...


    I covered some of this in Tomahawk Part 2, where I looked in detail at the TASM that Blackshoe mentions. And note that in most exercises, it got a hit rate of maybe 25%. The Soviets just had a datalink to most of their missiles where another platform could update them in flight.


    In the game, it's mostly automated, although some weapons will let you plot a course before launch. IRL, older systems made you hand-plot, although it's more automated these days. (Tomahawk was notorious for being difficult to plan when it first came out, for instance.)

  10. September 16, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    How well does CMANO simulate Russian warships? I'm curious about a Kirov or Slava versus Harpoon matchup of the same style.

    Also maybe Kalibr/Klub versus modern Burke/Tico.

  11. September 16, 2021bean said...

    Obviously, secrecy means that the model isn't quite as good, and it doesn't really have a mode to simulate half of their systems being down (OK, slight exaggeration) but it's in there. This just felt like it was getting long, so I decided to cut it off.

  12. September 16, 2021Alexander said...

    If you do a third round, I wonder how it models the NSM/JSM terrain following. If you have the missiles fly over Catalina Island, do they get detected early like the Sunburns, or are they low and stealthy enough to get closer undetected. I'm also interested in how different CIWS compare. Are missile systems like RAM vastly superior to gun CIWS? And how do smaller calibre rotary cannons like Phalanx compare against something like the 76mm Sovraponte, or an intermediate option like Millennium?

  13. September 16, 2021bean said...

    Interesting thought on NSM. I might try that and maybe LRASM to see how they stack up against the Soviet stuff. RAM is definitely superior to CIWS. The Pk for that is something like .25, while RAM is a missile (fired a lot earlier) and credited with Pk .94. Good thought on other CIWS. I know it models DART as a missile and not a gun.

  14. September 16, 2021Alexander said...

    Yes, I recall you mentioning that about DART. Is it broadly comparable to RAM? I probably have an unhealthy attraction to the idea of a warships with a dual purpose secondary battery, but if you can have that kind of flexibility for perhaps 2-3 times the weight of a smaller gun CIWS, I'd set aside some top weight for it.

  15. September 16, 2021bean said...

    I recall the Pk being 0.25 or so. Not nearly RAM levels, but still a lot better than a typical gun (Pk 0.01) and better than CIWS because you start shooting a lot further out and get multiple chances to engage.

  16. September 16, 2021Alexander said...

    So you might actually have more missile kills from a 21 cell RAM launcher than the 76 ready to fire rounds in a Sovraponte mount, even assuming that they were all DART rounds. The weight is pretty similar, so I expect that it comes down to cost. Probably the advantage lies with missiles in a peer conflict situation, and guns where you want to be able to cheaply put a shot across someone's bow, or sink a pirate or similar.

  17. September 16, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    I figure something like the 76mm with DART is a good bet for general-purpose frigates and convoy escorts, and probably also useful for ships that might do NSFS. The 76mm has enough grunt to possibly add to that mission usefully. RAM strikes me as more interesting on HVUs like CVNs and LHDs that really need to stop an incoming leaker and secondary uses be damned.

    That said, it might also be useful as an upgrade to Phalanx on a Burke or similar - upgrade one mount for more anti-missile grunt and keep Phalanx on the other to swat pirates and suicide speedboats.

  18. September 18, 2021John Schilling said...

    Is DART even a real thing, outside the world of advertising glossies and wargames? The company doesn't seem to have updated the marketing package in the past five years, which seems like the think they'd be eager to do if the system were making milestones on the path to operational service, nor are there any press releases of e.g. successful tests in that period. They don't seem to have made any foreign sales except to Columbia, and it's not clear that the Italian navy has bought any except for testing.

    They haven't gone so far as to pull down the advertising material, and there's occasional talk about how people are real interested in going DART, real soon now. But it kind of looks like DART is a dud.

  19. September 18, 2021Alexander said...

    That would be disappointing. I think I heard about problems with MAD-FIRES, and it could be that DART encountered similar difficulties. On the other hand, the Italians have a number of warships that mount 76mm guns where you would expect to see CIWS, so either they expect (or expected) them to offer some defence against missiles, or they envisage MAS boats coming back into fashion in a big way.

  20. September 18, 2021bean said...

    They've been using them as longer-ranged CIWS with conventional shells for a long time. DART is supposed to make them more effective, although as John says, there's little word on it lately, which means it probably isn't going anywhere.

  21. September 19, 2021John Schilling said...

    What bean says. There's long been a minority opinion (a large and respectable minority) that the right approach to CIWS is proximity-fuzed HE rather than bignum kinetic impact projectiles. You trade volume of fire for range and area of effect, and the range means that it's enough to riddle the missile with fragments and watch it fall into the sea, you don't have to actually detonate a warhead that's otherwise close enough to hit on a ballistic trajectory.

    Usually that points to something like a Bofors 40mm; the Italian decision to go with their Super Rapid 76mm is an outlier. But the plan when most of those ships were built was to use a dozen or so "dumb" (but smartly fuzed) HE rounds to bring down an inbound missile.

    Given 76mm guns on all of Italy's warships, it made sense to see if they could upgrade to guided projectiles. But they can still fall back on the old plans if the fancy rounds don't work, unlike Some Other Navy with it's 155mm gun / super fancy smart shell combo.

  22. September 19, 2021Alexander said...

    If RAM gets a Pk of over .9 and a 5" gun of .01 there is a big gap in the middle for 3" guns and high RoF CIWS systems to fit in. Either the 3" OTO Melara is vastly more effective at shooting down missiles than a 5" gun, or much less effective than a CIWS, or no gun helps much against missiles. Each of these three possibilities implies something unexpected to me, and it could be that more than one is true.

    Making up numbers, and clearly all these Pks would vary depending on the target etc as well, but say you have a Pk of .05 for a 3" and .25 for a Phalanx or Millennium or equivalent (for a burst). Then the 3" is much better than I would expect compared to the larger gun, but the Italians are still leaving their ships much more vulnerable to missiles than navies with gun CIWS, who would in turn be well advised to use RAM. If you alter the numbers you can reduce one or two of the performance gaps, but only at the cost of increasing another. What (best guess, because we can't easily test it) do you think the actual numbers might be?

    Related to super fancy shells, is Vulcano also unable to meet its goals?

  23. September 20, 2021AlexT said...

    AIUI, bigger ordnance also means longer range, so ships in the same group start being able to defend each other, which seems like a big deal in an actual shooting war. Also, I imagine the longer flight time allows a human in the loop, increasing safety for nearby friendlies, which means the system might actually be trusted enough to be used.

  24. September 20, 2021Alexander said...

    I expect you'd still have to be unusually close together for that to come into play, but longer range would let you re-engage the first round/burst is ineffective, which could close the gap in effectiveness somewhat. Having said that, RAM would come out ahead there too.

  25. September 20, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Makes me wonder about the viability of the BAE 57mm IR-guided shell that I've heard tell of.

    My thinking is that the 57mm is a rather dubious gun in any event, being inferior to something like the Twin Fast Forty for flinging lots of smart-fuzed HE at shortish range, having less space for any kind of guidance shinies, and not enough payload to be useful in a shore bombardment role, but I suppose if an IR-guided shell materializes, then it's a worthwhile CIWS. So long as you have a 127mm gun around for those other various "a gun is a better tool for this job" functions. (/me shakes a fist at the Constellation class, but then, that 57mm is mostly a placeholder. Its presence on the USCG Legend class is a bit less forgivable since they might actually need to punch out a big engine with that.)

    I'm curious what folks will ultimately converge on, since there are several problems to be solved, all vying for the same deck space and displacement. One is stopping anti-ship missiles that get past the SAMs and decoys, another is cheaply swatting drones or low-slow-flyer terrorist plane threats, a third is dealing with pirates, a fourth dealing with sucker-punch-boats (armed with torpedoes, short-range rockets, guns or suicide bombs, not proper missiles) and a fifth is shore bombardment.

    A bigger ship can afford a few different mounts for all of these - something like a Burke could have a 127mm gun, RAM and Phalanx - but a smaller frigate might want to get as many of these as possible into one or two mounts. Guided shells in addition to cheap dumb or semi-dumb (like AHEAD) shells sure do seem like a good way to go about that, if anyone can ever make them work, and the 76mm caliber seems like a good balance between rate of fire and payload. A 57mm shell just doesn't pack enough kablooie to do the last two roles reliably, and a 114-155mm doesn't fire fast enough for the first two, I'd think. (Where do 100-105mm guns fit in? Other than the French 100mm and an older Russian one, there don't seem to be many around in that caliber. Worst of both worlds?)

  26. September 20, 2021Alexander said...

    Could roles 2, 3, and 4 all be covered by a fairly basic autocannon? Lots of warships have 30mm Bushmasters in places you wouldn't see a Phalanx, and if they can handle the lower end threats, RAM could be reserved for the more serious ones. That would still leave you less capable of shore bombardment than a 76mm, but really, how much use is a 76mm there?

  27. September 20, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    My reservation with a basic hand-trained autocannon is that I'm not sure that hitting low-slow flyers and drones is as easy as you'd think - even hitting a directly-incoming torpedo bomber with a 20mm Oerlikon was a crapshoot in WWII. A modern one would get stabilization, and a 30mm might have VT fuzes, but that's about it. Maybe a power-operated mount tied into the combat system to benefit from radar/FLIR direction could do it, though.

    I'd also be somewhat worried about whether a 20-30mm autocannon could put a suicide or torpedo boat down quickly enough to be the only defense. I have the same reservation about 57mm 3P ammo - those little fragments can definitely kill crew, but they're also the kind of thing that's not at all hard to armor against. Direct hits from 57mm HE-PD would probably be enough, though, and any boat big enough to tank a few of those is big enough to throw a RAM or ESSM at.

    As for how much use a 76mm is in shore bombardment, it's not much use for anything hard, but then, hard targets call for airstrikes or missiles. Against trucks, troops in the open, etc, 76mm seems like it ought to be enough, especially at 120RPM.

  28. September 21, 2021bean said...

    Jade, didn't they have the stabilized 25mm guns when you were on Ramage? Those basically meet all the criteria you list except for the VT fuzes, and they're very useful against small boats. I'd be a bit skeptical of them against torpedo boats, but those are quite rare these days, and they should be more than adequate for anything else that a small gun could reasonably do.

  29. September 21, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    They had them, yeah, though the remote control systems were exceedingly buggy and so we expected to have to use them hand-trained. That said, if the stabilized mounts are remote control actually work, they might do alright on small boats.

    They were supposed to be used against drones and low-slow flyers too, but pretty much everyone was skeptical of that. (Among the officers, the consensus was that if we know it's a suicide small plane, it gets an SM2.)

  30. September 21, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Also they weren't tied into the main combat systems, though there were rumors that later versions would do that kind of thing - select a FLIR or radar track and engage it with the 25mm the same way you could with the 5". I'm not sure if that's in service or not yet.

  31. September 21, 2021Alexander said...

    Presumably there is nothing in particular that makes it harder to tie a 30mm in to your combat system than a 57mm or a 5"? It's just that it's a higher priority for your main gun than your lighter weapons. Also a 5" is a more integral part of the ship where as smaller guns can be added almost as an afterthought.

  32. September 21, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @Jade: I was always intensely amused at LSF ATFP drills. Sure, yeah, GM3 Timmy (who has never fired Ma Deuce against an airborne target, and not fired much against moving/maneuvering targets in general) is totally going to shootdown that Cessna before it hits us. Pushing the I Believe VAB hard on that one. To say nothing of actions like "Sound your horn", because you can really hear things like that outside of the engine noise a small aircraft makes.

    No offense if you were a former GM.

    @Alexander: nothing "in particular" that makes it hard, it's just going in and writing lots of code and then connecting it into a system. Doable but very expensive and probably not worth the effort is where it comes down to.

  33. September 22, 2021Kit said...

    I don't know how anyone with unclassified knowledge could know this but ...

    How accurate are the models in Command: Modern operations? Do they have reasonable guesses at the Pk of modern missiles?

    Also, loved this post!

  34. September 22, 2021bean said...

    To a large extent, we don’t now. The only place where I have significant inside knowledge is their laser model, which is wildly off. In the first round of tests, I shot the missiles at Ponce, and it handled them with no problem at all. Even at the time I was suspicious, and when I overhauled that post, I could state the problems much more strongly. Actually, I should get in touch with the devs, because they’ve proven pretty good at incorporating this kind of correction in the past.

    As for missiles, I take Command as a best guess on public information, and it more or less matches what I do know where there’s some overlap. It’s not perfect, and I’d take the really modern stuff with some grains of salt, but it’s not bad even there.

  35. September 23, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    @Blackshoe I was actually an IT. That said, that's pretty much how all of us felt about it, especially the GMs. The GMC's grandfather was a 20mm gunner on the USS Cleveland, and apparently told him "look, hitting a Kate coming straight at you with a 20mm is hard. Hitting a crossing Cessna with a .30-cal MG? Forget it." (Quote is somewhat approximated, of course - came to me second-hand a decade ago.) Either way, he repeatedly advised the Captain that the official drill for that kind of thing was baloney, and to use an actual AA weapon if it were to ever actually happen.

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