Analysis : Are Missile Boats Still Relevant in Modern Warfare? | World Defense

Analysis : Are Missile Boats Still Relevant in Modern Warfare?

jbgt90

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https://defencyclopedia.com/2016/11/17/analysis-are-missile-boats-still-relevant-in-modern-warfare/
INTRODUCTION
Having evolved from the humble gunboat in the latter half of the 20th century, the missile boat gained notoriety through its massive successes in the Egypt-Israel war of 1967 and the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Here it was proved that a small 200-ton boat, equipped with cruise missiles can wreak havoc on larger warships and land targets. A missile boat-boom followed, and countries all over the world scrambled to acquire this marvelous piece of technology, which was so small, yet so powerful.




The Osa class missile boats were used by the Indian Navy to inflict maximum damage during the 1971 war





The tiny Komar class missile boats of the Egyptian Navy humbled the superior Israeli Navy

It was a true David vs Goliath scenario as countries with smaller budgets scrambled to acquire dozens of such boats in order to gain an upper hand over their enemies with larger budgets and bigger toys. The missile boats were popular with even some powerful militaries, as they considered them to be a means of augmenting their fleet numerically, without spending a bombshell on larger platforms. The Soviet Union, having pioneered and perfected the missile boat, sold them countries around the world, resulting in many countries developing their own, thereby changing the face of naval surface warfare.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A MISSILE BOAT?
There is no fixed definition for such a ship. They are interchangeably called missile boats and corvettes all over the world and such a usage are widely accepted. Hence Defencyclopedia defines a modern missile boat as

A vessel displacing less than 1000 tonnes, having a high speed, carrying 4-16 cruise missiles to attack surface and land targets.​


Usually, these boats are less than 90 m long, have a small/medium caliber main gun and secondary guns to complement their main armament of cruise missiles. They do not have sophisticated electronics and have a search radar to scan for targets along with a missile guidance radar. Missile boats can be considered as ‘hitmen’ as they come, strike and return, with impunity. Despite being puny, they can sink vessels 10 times their size. But if you look at the other side of the coin, missile boats can end up as vulnerable targets and the war can quickly turn into a turkey shoot if the missile boats aren’t using proper attack tactics.

ROLE OF SMALL MISSILE CORVETTES
Hayabusa class
The primary role of the small missile corvette is to act as a floating launcher for cruise missiles. Since these ships are designed to be inexpensive, they are not usually equipped with sophisticated sensors or defensive systems. Their speed and small size are their biggest strength, as it allows them to reach an area quickly, fire its missiles and exit the area while being tough to detect on radar.

The Soviet Union developed and fielded hundreds of missile boats in order to give them an edge over the American carrier fleet. These boats were designed for coastal defense missions and were organized into brigades, which could unleash over 100 cruise missiles at once on an invading force. Such incredible firepower could annihilate any invading fleet considering the missile defense technology of that time.



Nowadays, navies deploy small missile boats to complement the firepower of their larger vessels. The advent of small land attack cruise missiles has given missile boats a different dimension of capability. The platform designed to engage targets 50 km away initially, can now engage targets 2500 km away if equipped with the right missile.

ADVANTAGES
Ease of operation




A Russian Nanuchka class missile boat
Any navy can procure and operate them. Even a moderately trained crew can cause massive damage in a confined littoral environment with the right vessel equipped with the right missile. Modern fire and forget missiles have made the task even easier. Also, since these missile boats are small, they can be deployed from any small port or harbour.

Firepower multiplier

The overall firepower of a fleet can be augmented by a bunch of missile boat. Consider a frigate armed with 8 cruise missiles used for defensive duties. If it is accompanied by 4 missile boats, each also armed with 8 cruise missiles, it will add the firepower of 4 more frigates, without the additional investment.

Cost effective

For the price of 1 fully equipped modern destroyer having 16 cruise missiles, China builds and deploys 25 missile boats having a total of 25 x 8 = 200 cruise missiles. Missile boats are incredibly cost effective as cruise missile launch platforms and countries can easily afford to operate them by the dozen if there is a need to do so.

Small size

A small size allows the missile boat to blend with its surroundings and disappear among the hundreds of fishing and commercial boats on the enemy’s radar screen. It is also an advantage in a cluttered island environment, where larger vessels cannot maneuver easily.

High speed


1519926341141.png

We may thank that a warship’s speed makes no difference in this age of supersonic missiles and high-powered radars. But a high-speed dash capability allows a missile boat to escape from trouble very quickly. An enemy submarine may engage the attacking missile boat, and top speeds of 40-45 knots will permit the missile boat to outrun the chasing torpedo and submarine. This however possible only if sufficient early warning is provided. High-speed maneuvers also make missile boats difficult target using subsonic anti-ship missiles.

Expendability

Although no military would officially acknowledge this, missile boats are treated as expendable assets. They are inexpensive, carry less crew and take on high-risk missions with minimal or no protection in many cases. The expendable nature of a missile boat allows military planners to make bold decisions with very high stakes, which they would not make if they were at risk of losing an expensive capital ship.

LIMITATIONS
Hopelessly vulnerable to submarines



This underwater hunter could spoil a missile boat’s day very easily
All surface warfare corvettes lack submarine defenses and are extremely vulnerable to an underwater attack. A modern submarine launched torpedo could disintegrate these sub-1000 ton boats without any trouble. Hence missile boats always need an anti-submarine escort in the form of an ASW vessel, submarine or ASW aircraft.

Minimal/Non-existant air defense



This Tornado could take out 12 missile boats on its own, if they aren’t equipped with air defense systems
Aircraft armed with anti-ship missiles or even small air to ground missiles would be the nightmare of any missile boat captain. Some of these boats, however, are equipped with anti-aircraft guns and shoulder-launched missiles which offer mediocre defense against anti-ship missiles. However, newer missile boats are increasingly having better air defenses which allow them to survive an enemy counter attack.

Short range

Since the missile boats are designed to be small and to operate close to shore, they have an endurance which limits them to short range operations. Most missile boats cannot be deployed more than a few hundred kilometers beyond their base. This was one of the driving factors behind the emergence of larger missile boats in the 700-1000 ton category, which offer a semi-blue water performance.

Small low-power radars

A missile boat may carry a cruise missile capable of targeting ships at 200 km, but if the boat’s search radar has a limit of 100 km, then the potential of the missile is wasted. In such a situations, offboard sensors such as helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft, and UAVs are used for targeting. Most missile boats have this limitation while attacking surface ships, but while attacking land targets using pre-defined coordinates, small radars won’t be an issue.

OFFENSIVE SCENARIO
The scenarios depicted may be based on actual events or hypothetical situations.

Scenario 1 :



A major crisis looms in a certain country in the middle-east. Russia decides to attack enemy installations from a safe distance. They deploy a flotilla of Buyan-M corvettes armed with 8 x Kalibr land attack cruise missiles each. These ships fire off a salvo and the missiles travel 1500 km to hit their target with pinpoint accuracy. The 2500 km long range of the missile enables the short range corvette to stay in its territorial waters and still attack targets over a thousand kilometers away.



Scenario 2 :



Your enemy is a neighbouring state whose coastline is close to yours. You send a fleet of missile boats on a hit and run mission to fire their complete missile batteries at the enemy harbours and the ships docked there. The coastal factories, refineries, and offshore oil rigs are targeted in a coordinated missile boat strike. Such an attack is usually accompanied by airpower and submarine escorts for protection, targeting, and additional impact.

DEFENSIVE SCENARIO
Scenario 1 :



China is in a naval standoff in the south China Sea with the US Navy. American carriers are moving closer to Taiwan along with their battle group comprising of a dozen destroyers. China decides to halt this advance, but US Navy airpower is very powerful and they can’t risk losing planes. A flotilla of 24 Type-22 missile boats is sent on a high-speed hit and run mission with 4 Type 54A frigates and 2 Type-52C destroyers as escort. The flotilla fires 24 x 8 =192 missiles at the American warships and goes back. Realistically, the missile boats will be destroyed by enemy submarines if the Chinese don’t have their own submarines and aircraft to act as escorts. Such missions usually end being a one way trip. This is a typical saturation attack scenario, which the USN is preparing for since the Cold War.

Scenario 2:



You are a country which has hundreds of islands as a part of your territory. There is an adversary which also lays claim to your territory. If they try to send a naval flotilla with assault ships, landing craft and troops to capture your islands, your missile boats scattered among the islands can launch a surprise and coordinated attack on the enemy amphibious forces. This will result in massive casualties and your adversary will not try to be so adventurous again. However this plan will succeed only if your have air superiority over the region. Or else, it becomes a one way trip for the defending force.

MODERN SMALL MISSILE CORVETTES
Here is a list of some of the modern and modernized missile boats in service around the world as of today. Most of these vessels displace less than 500 tons but are capable of targeting ships at ranges of 100+ km. Some of them even have land attack capability. These vessels will be dealt with in detail in a future article dedicated to analyzing their capabilities individually.

Type- 22 Houbei class [China]



Hayabusa class [Japan]



Veer class [India]



Buyan-M class [Russia]










Sa’ar 4.5-class [Israel]



Ambassador class [Egypt]






SHIFT TOWARDS LARGER CORVETTES
Although small, heavily equipped missile boats were the flavour of the day during the latter part of the 20th century, the end of the Cold War and the rise of asymmetric threats in distant seas, led to a policy shift with respect to small missile boats. Countries which operated small, heavily armed boats, now preferred larger missile boats with similar armament, but longer range and blue water capabilities. This saw the emergence of missile boats in the 800-1500 ton category, with better electronics and self-defense suites. The word ‘boat’ doesn’t suit such large warships and they are popularly referred to as missile corvettes. These ships now serve along with the smaller missile boats as many countries prefer larger ones for offensive, semi-blue water roles and smaller ones for defensive green water roles.



Countries like China, India and Russia operate larger missile corvettes along with their fleet of smaller missile boats. Let us take China for example. They operate the 1500 ton Type 56 corvette used for longer range duties along with the 220 ton Type 22 missile boat which is designed for short range defensive roles. Russia operates the 800 ton Buyan-M along with their 2000+ ton corvettes. India operates the 1200 ton Kora class along with their 450 ton Veer class. This shows that, even though countries may be moving towards larger vessels, the smaller missile corvette is equally important and remains a part of their naval strategies.

CONCLUSION
  • The term ‘missile boat’ may be dying, but the missile boat itself has a bright future.
  • Many countries around the world are fielding increasingly more capable and modern designs, and designating them as ‘corvettes’, instead of missile boats.
  • These corvettes possess enormous firepower relative to their size and are cost effective.
  • The usage of missile corvettes worldwide is seeing an upward trend, and this is only expected to increase in the future.
  • The advent of smaller, longer ranged and more lethal missiles will only increase the demand for missile corvettes with many navies.
  • The 150-500 ton range missile corvettes still reign supreme in confined waters as they can inflict massive damage.
  • The larger missile corvettes are slowly taking over the role of light frigates. They will dominate the littoral and semi-blue water battlespace.
 

jbgt90

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Nilgiri

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The lack of air defence in missile boats is what is prompting the upsizing/reclassification to corvettes that function in a parallel way but having higher standoff capacities against airbourne threats.

A large factor are the current prices and trendlines of aerial based sensors/platforms compared to (even small) naval hulls+weaponry+crewing. If a navy in the long run can produce more UAVs and more importantly integrate them into the C4I network and even put weapons on them as well....in an economic sustained way, there is little advantage left to small missile boats to challenge such navies with a feasible doctrine.

This is similar to how and why the era of the battleship ended, again due to the introduction of more economical counters (aircraft carriers and airbourne recon). It is interesting to see the effect happen on the other side of the size scale.
 

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This actually a good topic to discuss. Are missile boats relevant in modern warfare? Yes

Advantage

-- Fast engagement, posing threat to mid-size naval vessels
-- Provide great escort to ships...frigates.
-- Can effectively deal with border infiltration
-- Cost effective
-- Minimum maintenance
-- Carry various of armament.

Disadvantage

-- Prone to aerial attack
-- Can not be deployed away from home unless in a formation with large vessels.
 

Joe Shearer

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This actually a good topic to discuss. Are missile boats relevant in modern warfare? Yes

Advantage

-- Fast engagement, posing threat to mid-size naval vessels
-- Provide great escort to ships...frigates.
-- Can effectively deal with border infiltration
-- Cost effective
-- Minimum maintenance
-- Carry various of armament.

Disadvantage

-- Prone to aerial attack
-- Can not be deployed away from home unless in a formation with large vessels.
You are right, no doubt about that.

The point of the article that @jbgt90 reproduced for us agrees precisely with your sentiments, and explains how to overcome the disadvantages that all of you have pointed out.

Missile boats are vulnerable to air attack because they don't have the space to carry an anti-aircraft suite; they are also vulnerable to submarine attack, for precisely the same reason. Finally, they cannot be deployed away from home because of their size, making them vulnerable to bad weather and stormy seas.

On the advantage side, their ability to deal with maritime border infiltration, that is, either hostile boats smuggling in hostile armed elements, or civilian boats, fishing vessels, fishing illegally in economic exploitation zones, remains even when size increases. And regarding the ability to carry various types of armament, the missile boat is handicapped compared to larger craft.

So, taking these into account, a missile corvette just qualifies for all the points considered.

Corvettes have space for an AA suite. They also have space for an ASW suite. Finally, corvettes are sea-worthy, compared to missile boats.
 

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You are right, no doubt about that.

The point of the article that @jbgt90 reproduced for us agrees precisely with your sentiments, and explains how to overcome the disadvantages that all of you have pointed out.

Missile boats are vulnerable to air attack because they don't have the space to carry an anti-aircraft suite; they are also vulnerable to submarine attack, for precisely the same reason. Finally, they cannot be deployed away from home because of their size, making them vulnerable to bad weather and stormy seas.

On the advantage side, their ability to deal with maritime border infiltration, that is, either hostile boats smuggling in hostile armed elements, or civilian boats, fishing vessels, fishing illegally in economic exploitation zones, remains even when size increases. And regarding the ability to carry various types of armament, the missile boat is handicapped compared to larger craft.

So, taking these into account, a missile corvette just qualifies for all the points considered.

Corvettes have space for an AA suite. They also have space for an ASW suite. Finally, corvettes are sea-worthy, compared to missile boats.
Deploying the boats within a range of medium/long surface to air defense system and launching anti-subs sonars for detection would give them a sharp edge in real engagement. IMO Fast boats can outperform a missile corvette if they get the cover.
 

Joe Shearer

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Deploying the boats within a range of medium/long surface to air defense system and launching anti-subs sonars for detection would give them a sharp edge in real engagement. IMO Fast boats can outperform a missile corvette if they get the cover.
Well, yes, there is that, the 'Continental' school of thought.

Starting from even the basic architecture of their ships, the French had very fast, very strongly manned privateers that were not particularly sea-worthy, and did not need to be, since their job was only to sail out in fair weather, grab any unfortunate merchantmen sailing by without a convoy (in some bold and brazen cases, even in convoy) and sail back.

The Russians followed a similar philosophy later; their missile boats, post-WWII, were fast, dangerous and would, in case of war, have operated under strong air cover and strong support from shore-based batteries. They used high speed for safety from subs, and took the chance of a lurking submarine in the shallow waters in which they operated; effectively, as has been said by the knowledgeable, missile boats are seen as 'expendable' by naval strategists. They are not capital ships on which a nation's attention has been focussed and that serve as objects of patriotic loyalty. They can be risked to cause heavy damage to the enemy, and losing them is not a vital blow to an admiral sending them out.

The 'self-sufficient' strategy, that tends to devolve to corvettes, fast but not SO fast, equipped to kill bigger, more dangerous enemies, armed against air attack, with sufficient strength to deal with a submarine encountered, or, better still, detected by their sonar, and the 'working under air and shore battery cover' strategy are both valid in that sense. Continental powers will tend to the former, strong blue water navies will tend to the latter. It isn't decisively one or the other. and certainly, for those inclined to focus on their Army and Air Force, the 'working under cover' strategy, the Continental school of thought, is still valid.

Sonar has the limitation of not working at high speed. Submarines remain a hazard of war, but there is the bleak comfort of knowing that one operating so close to shore is itself vulnerable to air detection and attack from shore-based maritime surveillance aircraft.

As in life itself, there are no definitive and overpowering answers. Some illustration of actual happenings may be useful in considering the options.

In one case that has been cited in the OP, both types of boats were used; missile boats were escorted for long hours through the distance to the designated target, shore-based harbour installations and vessels and oil reserves held on shore, performed their mission, and returned under the same cover. Three Osa-class missile boats, called 'Vidyut'-class by their operating Navy, the Indian Navy, were escorted by two Petya-class (called 'Arnala'-class by their operating Navy) corvettes, along with a fleet tanker, and waited on the high seas about 460 kms away from their targets, attacking as night fell.

The key strategic thought here, @WebMaster, was that the planners went along with the Continental strategy, but they moved their own base-line, the safe haven out of which a missile boat works best, to within 500 kms of the designated target, by using the fleet tanker. So the key to this strategy was the tanker, not exclusively the escorting corvettes, nor the use of the missile boats in an attacking mode, both of which were innovative.

In the follow-on mission three days later, there was no tanker, only one missile boat and two escorting vessels, both frigates; this was a hit-and-run raid of a different type, with one main objective: fuel storage facilities that had not been eliminated by the earlier mission. It has less to offer us for analysis, other than having observed the essential feature of offering the vulnerable to air-and-sub-attack missile boats a frigate escort (no tanker this time; this was a brick aimed at a jewellery store window, pure hit-and-run).

We end up with missile boats only, under air and shore battery protection, with missile corvettes only, operating on their own, and these composite examples, missile boats escorted by corvettes and frigates!
 
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jbgt90

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@Joe Shearer what are your thoughts to the future of these boats in the IN and even for the Pak navy . I think the Pak navy would benefit greatly as these are small cheap and easy to maintain and make larger fleets like the IN to take a lot more precautions before then attempt any sort of an attack .
For instance let us picture the scenario of 1971 again but this time with both sides having missile boats , how would the raid of Karachi have turned out of the PN also had similar boats?
 

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@Joe Shearer what are your thoughts to the future of these boats in the IN and even for the Pak navy . I think the Pak navy would benefit greatly as these are small cheap and easy to maintain and make larger fleets like the IN to take a lot more precautions before then attempt any sort of an attack .
For instance let us picture the scenario of 1971 again but this time with both sides having missile boats , how would the raid of Karachi have turned out of the PN also had similar boats?
In a note on some other forum, sometime in 2010 or 2011, I had in fact suggested a PN force composition solidly founded on shore artillery and missile batteries, on small missile boats, and on submarines; if I were to be writing that today, I would add OPV type vessels 500 kms or more out at sea and constant round the clock monitoring of their Sea Lines of Communication by Maritime Surveillance Aircraft. Once we understand that the PN does not need frigates, destroyers, missile cruisers and aircraft carriers, we might come to the startling conclusion that neither does the IN!

However, sadly, the same reasons that drove India to develop and test the bomb will kick in at this point, and we will all start perspiring heavily thinking about the 800 lb gorilla in the room that is not to be mentioned, but which remains a terrifying presence in the room. Rockets and nuclear devices were China-specific then; aircraft carriers and strong destroyer and frigate fleets are China-specific today. Inevitably, this will be seen as a provocation, and the PN will also try to emulate us, leading to an arms race in mid-ocean.
 

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