Friday, September 29, 2023

A potential new threat to air travel?


I was intrigued to read about an Iranian air-to-air "missile" that appears to be more like a drone shaped like a missile.

The Iranian government has shown a curious "loitering" surface-to-air missile known only as the "358" to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu who is currently visiting the country.

The 358 is understood to be launched from the ground using a solid-fuel rocket booster, which falls away after it burns out. The missile then transitions to an air-breathing propulsion system, possibly a small turbojet, much like a traditional land-attack or anti-ship cruise missile ... past reports have said that the 358 further deviates from typical surface-to-air missiles in that is apparently designed to fly at low speed to a specified location and then loiter there until its fuel runs out. "The weapon flies in a figure-eight pattern and looks for targets," The New York Times reported in a story citing unnamed U.S. military officials back in 2020.

. . .

If the weapon works as described, they could be launched into forward areas where drones or helicopters are known or expected to travel through, and hunt and kill them without any need for additional advanced offboard sensors. This could be particularly useful for engaging incoming drones, which can be very hard to spot and engage with traditional air defense systems.

Beyond all this, groups of 358s flying figure-eight orbits would just present additional hazards an opponent would have to contend with or attempt to plan around, which could be problematic seeing that they can fly out to remote locations. If the 358 is low cost, then it could be even easier to deploy large numbers of them at once to increase the probability of success and otherwise try to disrupt enemy air operations.

It does not appear to require much in the way of logistical footprint to employ the 358 missiles, either. When Iraqi authorities seized the 358 near in 2021, they also found a simple launcher consisting of a crude rail attached to a base weighed down with cinder blocks.

At the IRGC expo that Russian Defense Minister Shoigu recently attended, a pair of 358 missiles were seen on more robust launch rails fitted in the back of a truck. That launch system also looks as if it might be designed to look outwardly like any other commercial truck when in transit, helping to reduce vulnerability, as well as add flexibility.

There's more at the link.

It occurs to me that this weapon might as well be purpose-designed to shut down civilian air transport networks.  A terrorist could launch it miles away from an airport, choosing a site that offers easy escape routes and minimal risk to the launch team.  It could be programmed to fly to the nearest airport and loiter there, selecting any slow-moving aircraft in the process of landing or taking off, and destroying it.  If two or three were launched simultaneously to attack a major airport in cities like Los Angeles, or Dallas, or New York, not only would they cause massive damage and casualties (not only aboard the destroyed aircraft, but in the suburbs where they fell), they'd also shut down all air traffic into and out of that city until the threat had been neutralized.

A terrorist group might have several of these missiles on hand, meaning they could threaten an area indefinitely unless and until they were taken out.  If multiple groups of terrorists were to threaten several major airports across America, they would shut down a huge slice of our economy overnight, and there's no guarantee when (or even if) it would come up again.  Getting the missiles into this country should not present any major problem.  According to the article, Iran has been smuggling them to its allies for some years, piece by piece.  Our southern border is so porous they could be carried across on the backs of cartel operatives, and with only a small proportion of container shipments through our ports being examined for contraband, the odds of getting missiles through US security must be excellent.

Not a comfortable thought at all . . .



Anonymous said...

Or it could sit 5 miles in there own border waiting for the isralei’s…again.

Hamsterman said...

What kind of sensors and terminal performance does it have? I think you're right in that it is meant to hang around airports and attack low-performance 'soft' targets like transports and airliners.

I wonder if the counter-measure will be similar to that used against V1 Buzz Bombs in WWII.

Anonymous said...

They could be launched from offshore, close to a major airport.

boron said...

loitering 358s
loitering at what altitude? bring back 3½" 12 gauge #2 lead shot for duck season practice or put a couple of shells in some of our drones with ID detectors - apart of "airport security" perhaps?

Anonymous said...

These are not needed. A simple MANPADs are smaller, don't need a launcher and are effective. A team of three men. One driver and two shooters around the take off side of a airport. Major airports usually have parallel runways in operation. Take off is the most vulnerable time. Slower speeds and heaviest weight. Three or four teams would shut down the entire country. LA, Dallas, Chicago, NYC, Boston and Atlanta are the "big dogs" in airports. Find a quiet parking lot. Wait for the larger planes and fire one shot. If not effective shoot the second. If effective shoot another and leave. Please don't think I am "giving bad guys ideas". They already know how to do this. It will happen at some time. It will kill our economy. Much easier than using some lame virus and baloney scare talk. The world is a fragile complex place. Who knows what will happen to bring it down, but down it will come.

Will said...

Hmmm, need to know it's performance capabilities in order to figure out how to kill it expeditiously.

Does it use a "dash" phase to catch up to a target?
It would probably cruise around at least several k feet above, to avoid noise and visual notice.
What is it's loiter time?
Heat seeking or radar?
Size of warhead.
Type of warhead.

I suspect that heat seeking would be of lessor usefulness, as taking out an engine might not be as dangerous as a fuselage hit, on a multi-engine transport aircraft. Depends on the warhead size and type, though.
There is another possible design, but I'd rather not discuss that in public.
We need more data on this missile.

Francis Turner said...

Until someone comes up with an effective drone counter that is at least as cheap as the drones themselves drones are going to gradually dominate the skies (and seas).

It should be possible to create cheap defenses, but recall that drones like this IRanian one, cost between $10k and $100k and many of the drones used to great effect in Ukraine cost $1000 or less.

People have mentioned flak guns or similar. The problem they have is that eventually everything they shoot up has to land somewhere, just as it does when idiots shoot of their weapons to celebrate New Year, marriage etc. And well if you have a lot of them and a lot of drones you end up with a lot of stuff falling out out of the sky. Probably some thing that can loft a grenade or two to approximately the drone's altitude and location will work better

Dan said...

I have no doubt at all that Tehran has thought of the terroristic uses for such a device in addition to any possible military use. If this actually works as advertised...a pretty big if... then it could be a major pain in the arse for a lot of people. I also bet the US has something akin to this either in the works or already perfected and just not openly advertised.

Aesop said...

All that's required is to figure out how to bait it, and send in low-cost sucker-bait targets that yell "Come get me!", and in a few minutes, you soak up all those missiles, and send your actual drones in unopposed.

Meanwhile, anyone menaced by them can trade $1K COTS drones for $50K 358 missiles all day long.

(The Dutch AMT "Titan" jet engine that powers the 358 goes for USD$12K, per Jane's.

I suspect the Dutch company that sold buttloads of minijets to Iran in the first place is answering some rather pointed questions about now.

Aesop said...

BTW, those missiles are about 8" in diameter, and over 11' long.

Ain't nobody carrying one of them across the border.

Three guys (or more like 6 or eight) carrying components for later assembly would be doable, but likely a single missile weighs in at between one to three hundred pounds.

For comparison, our AMRAAM missile is comparable at 7" in diameter, 12 feet long, and weighs 356 pounds.

Peter said...

@Aesop: Yes, component carry is how they'll do it. The article I linked had photographs of components captured by Coalition ships blockading the Yemen coastline. No problem to rope in half a dozen cartel "mules" per missile to do the carrying.

Aesop said...


And the only reason it hasn't happened already is because no one's bothered, and/or the cartels have told them "no".

Given the foot traffic across the border now, they could outdo the Ho Chi Minh Trail system for tonnage of supplies imported, if anyone had a mind to do it.

At this point, the only thing holding anyone back is the cartel telling them "No", because those guys don't want the heat that kind of thing would bring down on their operations.

Anonymous said...

Will, the engine going out is not the problem. The problem is when it explodes, what other damage does it do? Most airliners today have the engine suspended from the wing spar. Airliners are not as tough as military aircraft.

LL said...

The cartels will buy them.

Aesop said...

For local use, not export.

Anyone can kick the neighbor's yappy mutt, but no one goes into the woods looking to poke the bear.