Watch Russia’s Only Operational Battlecruiser Launch A Massive “Shipwreck” Anti-Ship Missile

The Kirov class is about to say goodbye to these Cold War era “carrier killers.”

byTyler Rogoway|
Russia photo


Russia's most powerful surface combatant, the nuclear powered Kirov class battlecruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great), is a fascinating vessel to say the least. The ship is the manifestation of the Soviet Union's top naval weapons technology during the waning years of the Cold War. You can read all about it in this past profile I did on the class. Although she has received some light upgrades in recent years, Pyotr Veliky will be leaving the fleet in the next couple of years to undergo a deep refit. Her long mothballed sister ship, the Admiral Nakhimov, is finishing a similar deep refit and will be taking the Pyotr Veliky's place as the flagship of the Northern Fleet . 

This means that Pyotr Veliky still has much of its original armament, including the 20 massive P-700 'Granit/SS-N-19 'Shipwreck' anti-ship cruise missiles stored in canted launch tubes in her bow. And its one of these hulking "carrier killers" that Pyotr Veliky test fired this week. Thankfully, the Russian Ministry of Defense released video of the launch, which is a pretty rare sight to say the least: 

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I described the SS-N-19 in a previous profile I wrote on the Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier, which also carried a dozen of these missiles:

"These missiles were designed in the late 1970s and intended to allow Russia’s future capital ships to be able to reliably strike American carrier battle groups from outside the range of their surface-based weapon systems. In combat, the missiles would be launched in large salvos, they would then scream toward their targets as fast as mach 2.5 at altitude or at about mach 1.5 while low over the water. 

The missiles were very advanced for their time, integrating networking and automated cooperative “swarm” tactics. They were launched at a target (or targets) usually based on third party data, such as coordinates derived by a scout ship, a maritime patrol aircraft, or even a submarine. They would fly toward their targets from over 350 miles away on inertial navigation, then as they approached the suspected target area, one missile out of the swarm would “pop up” to higher altitude to use its own active radar and anti-radiation sensors to obtain updated targeting info. It would then classify these targets and assign them to missiles in the swarm below. 

If the pop-up missile was destroyed another one would automatically take its place. The missiles could also accept midcourse updates from third party sources as well and supposedly had connectivity to the now defunct Soviet-era EORSAT satellite network. Once in the terminal attack phase of their flight, each surviving missile would acquire its own target and prosecute that target, blazing over the horizon at supersonic speeds and giving (presumably) American close-in weapon systems little time to react. 

There is no doubt, the P-700 was born to be a high-end carrier killer. Their speed and numbers would overwhelm a Carrier Battle Group’s defenses, and their individual warheads were large enough to register a kill even on America’s largest surface combatants. 

The Soviet Navy’s aspirations were clear, with twenty of these monsters available on Kirov class battlecruisers, two dozen on Oscar class nuclear guided missile submarines, and a dozen on the carriers that would eventually be known as the Kuznetsov class, Soviet surface action groups could have filled the air with these deadly missiles."

The SS-N-19 with its booster attached is about the size and weight of a combat loaded MiG-21 and packs a 1,650 high explosive charge or a 500kt thermonuclear warhead. In the case of the latter, a near miss is still a certain kill, although it's very unlikely that the Russians still deploy these missiles loaded with nuclear warheads. 

Russian crew handles a massive P700/SS-N-19., Public Domain

So yeah, this was the missile behind Soviet Russia's "carrier killer" strategy of the last decade of the Cold War. But technology has changed a remakrably since the 1980s and the upgraded Kirov class ships will do away with the SS-N-19 system altogether. In a previous piece on the upgrades that will be done to these vessels, the description of what will take the SS-N-19's place is impressive:

"These refitted Kirov class battlecruisers will supposedly feature a whole new set of sensors and subsystems, and most ominously, weapons. Russia’s TASS news agency reports that the ships will receive totally updated multipurpose vertical launch systems, making these ships capable of carrying a much wider variety of anti-ship missiles and many more of them. sums up this upgrade well, and their analysis is consistent with other sources on the matter:

The Sevmash Shipyard and the Special Machinebuilding Design Bureau (KBSM, a subsidiary of Almaz-Antei) made a deal for 10 3S-14-11442M vertical launch systems (VLS) to equip the Project 11442M Admiral Nakhimov missile cruiser being upgraded now. The contract is valued at 2.559 billion rubles ($33.5 million).

Thus, the ship’s 20 inclined below-deck launchers of P-700 Granit antiship missiles (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) will be replaced with 10 VLS modules of the UKSK versatile ship-based launch system. The VLS modules will total 80. The same solution is expected to be applied to the Pyotr Veliky cruiser.

The 3S-14 VLS can launch the missiles of the Kalibr family (SS-N-27 Sizzler). In addition, the equipment for testing the VLS using mockups of the 3M-54, 3M55 and 3M22 antiship missiles is to be ready be December 2016...”

TASS reports that the upgraded Kirovs will house a mix of hypersonic Zircon, supersonic Onix and long-range subsonic Kalibr cruise missiles, and that with an arsenal of 80 anti-ship missiles stuffed in their vertical launch tubes, these ships will have have “enough to engage any existing naval force globally.”

And this doesn't include the updates to other armaments, including its air defense systems. In total the refitted Kirov class cruisers will have somewhere around 174 vertical launch cells and will sport a seagoing version of the S-400 air defense system

With all this in mind, and with the Pyotr Veliky heading into refit it the not so distant future, this may be the last time we get to see one of the big "Shipwreck" carrier killers being slung off a Kirov class battlecruiser's bow.

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