P-15 Termit

P-15 Termit
Hiddensee P-20 missile.jpg
A P-15M missile (SS-N-2c) being unloaded from a former East German Navy Tarantul class missile boat.
Type Anti-ship missile
Place of origin Soviet Union
Service history
In service 1960- present
Production history
Manufacturer MKB Raduga
Weight 2300 kg
Length 5.8 m
Diameter 0.76 m

Warhead 454 kg hollow charge high explosive

Engine Liquid fuel rocket, solid rocket booster
Wingspan 2.4 m
80 km
Flight altitude 100-300 meters above sea level
Speed Mach 0.9
autopilot, active radar, supplemented in some with infra-red
naval ships, ground launch

The P-15 Termit (Russian: П-15 "Термит"; English: termite) is an anti-ship missile developed by the Soviet Union's Raduga design bureau in the 1950s. Its GRAU designation was 4K40, its NATO reporting name was Styx or SS-N-2. In Russian service today it also seems to be called the Rubezh. China acquired the design in 1958 and created at least four versions: the CSS-N-1 Scrubbrush and CSS-N-2 versions were developed for ship-launched operation, while the CSS-C-2 Silkworm and CSS-C-3 Seersucker were used for coastal defence. Other names for this basic type of missile include: HY-1, SY-1, and FL-1 Flying Dragon (Chinese designations typically differ for export and domestic use, even for otherwise identical equipment).

Despite its huge size, thousands of P-15s were built and installed on many classes of ships from MTBs to destroyers, as well coastal batteries and even bombers (Chinese versions). The P-15 was quite successful in the conflicts where it was deployed.



The P-15 was not the first anti-ship missile in Soviet service; that distinction goes to the SS-N-1 Scrubber, (coupled with the AS-1 Kennel which was air-launched from Tupolev Tu-16s). A powerful but rather raw system, it had a short service life. The SS-N-1 was superseded by the SS-N-3 Shaddock. This weapon was fitted to 4,000-ton Kynda class cruisers and replaced an initial plan for 30,000-ton battlecruisers armed with 305 mm and 45 mm guns. Rather than rely on a few heavy and costly ships, a new weapons system was designed to fit smaller, more numerous vessels, while maintaining sufficient striking power. The P-15 was developed by the Soviet designer Beresyniak, who helped perfect the IB rocket interceptor.


The first variant was the P-15, with fixed wings. The basic design of the missile, retained for all subsequent versions, featured a cylindrical body, a rounded nose, two delta wings in the center and three control surfaces in the tail. It was also fitted with a solid-fuelled booster under the belly.[1] This design was based on the Yak-1000 experimental fighter built in 1951.

The weapon was meant to be cheap, but at the same time capable of giving an ordinary missile boat the same 'punch' as a battleship's salvo. The onboard electronics were based on a simple analog design, with a homing conical scanning radar sensor. It used a more reliable rocket engine with acid fuel in preference to a turbojet.

Some shortcomings were never totally solved, due to the liquid propellant of the rocket engine: the acid fuel gradually corroded the missile fuselage. Launches were not possible outside a temperature range of -15/+38C°.[1]

The missile weighed around 2,340 kg, had a top speed of 0.9 mach and a range of 40 km. The explosive warhead was behind the fuel tank, and as the missile retained a large amount of unburned fuel at the time of impact, even at maximum range, it acted as an incendiary device.[1]

The warhead itself was a 500 kg hollow charge (HEAT), larger than the SAP typical of anti-ship missiles. The launch was usually made with the help of Electronic Support Measures (ESM) gear and Garpun radar at a range of between 5.5 and 27 km due to the limitations of the targeting system. The Garpun's range against a destroyer was about 20 km.[1]

The onboard sensor was activated at 11 km from impact, the missile would begin to descend at 1-2° to the target, because the flight pattern was about 120–250 m above sea level. In minimum range engagements there was the possibility of using active sensors at shorter distances, as little as 2.75 km.[1] The P-15U was introduced in 1965, with improved avionics and folding wings, enabling the use of smaller containers. It was replaced by the P-15M in 1972, which was a further development of the P-15U, with enhanced capabilities (its export simplified variants were designated P-21 and P-22, depending on the sensor installed and a whole export system was designated the P-20M).

War Record

During the War of Attrition after the Six Day War in 1967, the Israeli destroyer Eilat was sailing at low speed outside Port Said on 21 October, when from 17 nautical miles (31 km) she was attacked by two Egyptian Komars, each firing both their missiles from inside the harbour (they were acting as a coastal missile battery). The target was hit, despite the anti-aircraft fire soon opened against the incoming 'fireballs'. The first two missiles almost blew the Eilat in two, another hit soon after, the last exploded near the wreck in the sea. Eilat sank two hours after the first attack, 47 crew were killed.[2]

In the 1971 India-Pakistan war, P-15 (NATO name Styx) missiles were used by the Indian Navy during Operation Trident. Four Styx missiles were fired, two each at PNS Muhafiz (minesweeper) and PNS Khyber (destroyer), both of which sank. The Indian Navy reportedly fired 13 Styx missiles during the war, 12 of which hit, sinking several ships and damaging the petroleum storage facilities at Karachi.[2]


P-15 missile, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

In total, the P-15 family had the following models:[1]

  • P-15: A basic (SS-N-2A) with I-band, a conical search sensor and 40 km range.
  • P-15M: (SS-N-2C), heavier and longer than the P-15, it had a range of 80 km and several minor improvements.
  • P-15MC: Essentially a P-15M, coupled with a Bulgarian-made electronic countermeasure package for that country's navy.
  • P-20L: Designed as an interim solution since the P-50 (SS-N-9 Siren) missile with a turbojet engine was still not available, this was developed with the P-15M. It was fitted with an 'L' band sensor and a new altimeter radar both developed for the P-50. (The P-50 suffered from engine problems rather than electronic ones). Since the development of a new set of electronics did not alter the P-15M airframe this was a relatively easy modification. The configuration of this missile (smaller than the P-50), did not allow for the use of a data-link. Folding wings were introduced for a smaller launch box and for submarine use. This missile was eventually known by NATO as the SS-N-7 Starbright; it was used only in Project 670/Charlie I SSGNs.
  • P-20: A P-15 updated with the new guidance system of the P-20L, but with the original shorter range. They were perhaps known as SS-N2 B and used by Komar and Osa class boats.
  • P-20K: A P-15M with a new guidance system.
  • P-20M: A surface version of the P-20L with folding wings. This was the definitive version of the P-15M with radar guidance.
  • P-21: The P-50 had a secondary Infra Red (IR) guidance system, this was evaluated to be as useful as the main sensor in smaller missiles; the P-15 with IR mode was called the P-21.
  • P-22: Derived from the P-15M/P-20M with longer range, it also had folding wings (P-20M) and IR guidance.

The Chinese used this missile as a basis for their Silkworm series, with IR, radar and turbojets or rocket engines depending on the model. It had a fuselage of 75–80 cm width and a mass of over 2 tonnes. This is comparable to the 600–800 kg and 35–40 cm of Western missiles. With improved electronics, the warhead reduced to 250 kg and the original rocket engine replaced with a turbojet, this weapon was much improved with a range of over 100 km. Chinese Silkworm missiles were used in hundreds of ships and shore batteries. The Chinese Navy built more than two hundred modified versions of the 183R (Komar-class), the Hegu-class, (complete with a longer hull and an additional 25 mm mount aft) and the Osa-class. Frigates and destroyers were also equipped with the missile. Some were exported and they were used in shore batteries built for North Korea, Iraq and Iran. The Soviet Union developed an equivalent, the P-120 Malakhit.

Chinese variants:

  • SY-1(C.201)(SY is the abbreviation of pinyin:Shàng Yóu, literal meaning is upper river): The original Chinese copy of P-15 as ship-to-ship missile, called as Project 544, designed and assembled by Nanchang Aerocraft Factory from 1960, first inland test flight in December 1964 and ship-mounted test-fired in August 1965, finished the resear tests in June 1966, began definitizing test from Nov 1966, permitted definitize on August 1967. it entered service during 1968 in missile boats and destroyers and later coastal batteries. Dimensions were: 6.55 m (length), 0.76 m (diameter), 2.4 m (wingspan). It weighed 2,095 kg of which 513 kg was the HEAT warhead. Its range was 40 km at mach 0.8, with a flight altitude of 100–300 m, it used inertial and active radar guidance systems. This unit employed conical scanning and was vulnerable to Electronic Counter Measures (ECM), due to its slow onboard computer. The SY-1A entered service after 1984, with a monopulse search radar comparable to the evolution of the AIM-7, F to M model.
  • SY-2: An improved version developed from 1976. Used the solid rocket engine and supersonics flight, smaller and lighter than SY-1, extended range to 50 km. The exported version is FL-2.
  • HY-2(C.201)(HY is the abbreviation of pinyin:Hǎi Yīng, literal meaning is Sea Eagle):It was the equivalent of the P-15M, and was known as the C-SS-3 Saccade. Designed for coastal batteries, with a larger airframe, its dimensions were: 7.48 m x 0.76 m x 2.4 m, weight 2,998 kg. extended range from 30 km of SY-1 to 50 km. Trials were carried out from 1967 to 1970 with 10 missiles out of 11 hitting the target. It entered service in China and was also exported. There were several versions:
    • HY-2: Basic, inertial and conical radar search (improved to SY-1), 1970.
    • HY-2A: IR-guidance variant. Developed during the 1970s and in 1980, it did not enter service despite certification in 1982. It was the equivalent of the P-22.
    • HY-2A-II: An improved variant of the HY-2A with an improved IR sensor, it entered service in 1988. It was also available for export.
    • HY-2B: Fitted with monopulse-search radar to improve accuracy and reliability, it was test-fired, scoring five hits out of six and entered service two years later in 1984. The YB-2B-II had another radar search system, entering service in 1989. These two missiles were capable of flying at an altitude of 20–50 m, so the overall capabilities (altitude, range, reliability, Electronic Counter Counter Measures (ECCM) were greatly superior.
    • C-201W: Fitted with a turbojet engine instead of a liquid rocket version. It was only used for export, it had a 150 km range. It is arguably also called YH-4 or C-SS-N-7 Sadpack, its dimensions are similar to the YH-1 and YH-2, but its weight is only 2,000 kg, demonstrating the differences between turbojet and rocket propulsion systems. It is capable of flying at 70 m and attacking at 8 m, with a 300–500 kg charge. The XW-41 land attack missile was extrapolated from this design, it had a range of about 400 km, (which was enough to attack Taiwan). It is not known if this model entered service.

Substitutes of these missiles are the FL-2 and FL-7, which were solid-rocket fuelled and the C-701 and C-801, which were similar to the Exocet and other missile systems, among them the SS-N-22 Sunburn, it was bought for Sovremenny class destroyers.

Launch platforms

This missile, despite its mass, was used in small and medium ships, from 60 to 4,000 tons, shore batteries and (only for derived models) aircraft and submarines. The main users were:

Operational usage

Cuban Missile Crisis

The first use of these weapons was in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Komar-class missile boats were deployed in Operation "Anadyr" ("Анадырь"), organized by the Soviet Union to help the Castro government. At least eight were sent in cargo ships, due partly to their small dimensions and were presumably left to the Cuban Navy after the crisis, together with many other weapons of Soviet origin.

P-15 missiles on parade

War of Attrition

Soviet-made P-15 missiles were used by Egypt against Israel in October 1967, when Egyptian Komar-class fast-attack craft sank the Israeli destroyer INS Eilat, scoring at least three direct hits. This was a milestone of modern naval warfare; for the first time anti-ship missiles displayed their potential, sinking the destroyer 17 km from Port Said. After this engagement, interest in this type of weapon was raised in both offensive and defensive weapons such as the CIWS (Close-in weapon system) and ECM.

Indo-Pakistani War

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Indian Osa-class boats raided the port of Karachi in 2 highly successful operations causing severe damage and sinking several ships with their P-15s, among them the destroyer, Khaibar. She was a former Battle-class destroyer, originally designed as an anti-aircraft ship. Her armament might be effective against conventional air threats, (mounting 5 × 114 mm guns and several 40 mm Bofors), but had little chance against anti-ship missiles.

These raids were meant to strike Karachi and destroy the Pakistani Navy in Western Pakistan. The first action, Operation Trident, was carried out by three Osa on the night of 5 December [1]. 'Operation Trident' involved:

  • INS Nipat (Lt.-Cdr B.N Kavina, VrC)
  • INS Nirghat (Lt.-Cdr I.J Sharma, AVSM, VrC)
  • INS Veer (Lt.-Cdr O.P Mehta, VrC, NM)

Around 20:30, a target was acquired by radar, at a distance of over 40 miles (64 km), and Nirghat fired two missiles. This target was the destroyer Khaibar, sailing at 20 knots (37 km/h). The crew of the ship saw a "bright light" in the sky, low on the water. Believing it to be the afterburner of a fighter aircraft, Khaibar opened fire with its Bofors guns, but these were not effective against such a small, fast target. The missile struck the starboard side at 22:45, destroying the electrical system. One of the boilers, possibly struck by the HEAT charge, also exploded. Despite thick smoke and a fire, Khaibar was still able to engage the second missile, again mistaking it for an enemy fighter. This missile struck the ship four minutes after the first, destroying and quickly sinking her.

P-20 launcher on a Osa II class fast attack craft, with wings folded

During this action, Nipat attacked another two ships; the cargo vessel Venus Challenger, which was carrying ammunition from Saigon, was destroyed. Its escort, the destroyer PNS Shahjahan was severely damaged and later scrapped.

Veer then attacked Muhafiz at 23:05, (she was a minesweeper that had witnessed the attacks against Khaibar); she was hit and disintegrated, throwing most of the crew into the water before she sank.

Nipat fired two missiles at the port of Karachi. This is the first known use of an anti-ship missile against land targets. Large oil tanks, identified by radar, were hit by the first missile, destroying it, while the second weapon failed. Over the following nights there were other ship actions. Karachi was again attacked with missiles, while Petja-class frigates provided ASW protection to the Osa-class boats.

On the night of 8 December, in the second operation, Operation Python, the Osa-class boat Vinash, escorted by two frigates, fired missiles at Karachi in a six minute action. One missile hit an oil tank, destroying it. The British ship Harmattan was sunk, the Panamanian ship Gulfstar was set on fire. The Pakistan Navy fleet tanker, PNS Dacca, was badly damaged and only survived because the commanding officer, Captain. S.Q. Raza S.J. P.N., ordered the release of steam in the pipes that prevented the fire reaching the tanks. Though anti-aircraft guns opened fire in response, they only managed to hit a Greek ship, Zoë, that was moored in the port and consequently sank.

In all these actions against large ships, the P-15 proved to be an effective weapon, with a devastating warhead. Out of eleven missiles fired, only one malfunctioned, giving a 91% success rate. This gave every Osa FAC the possibility of striking several targets. Big ships, without any specialized defence, were targets for P-15s.

Yom Kippur War

Despite these early successes, the 1973 Yom Kippur War saw P-15 missiles used by the Egyptian and Syrian navies prove ineffective against Israeli ships. The Israeli Navy had phased out their old ships, building a fleet of Saar class FACs: faster, smaller, more maneuverable and equipped with new missiles and countermeasures.[3]

Although the range of the P-15 was twice that of the Israeli Gabriel, allowing Arab ships to fire first, radar jamming and chaff degraded their accuracy. In the Battle of Latakia and Battle of Baltim, several dozen P-15s were fired and all missed. Arab ships did not posses heavy firepower required for surface combat against enemy vessels, usually only 25 and 30 mm guns, and Osa and Komar boats were not always able to outrun their Israeli pursuers. Several boats were subsequently sunk by missiles or gunfire, allowing Israel to gain sea superiority for most of the war.

Iran–Iraq War

P-15 variants, including the Chinese duplication "Silkworm", were employed by Iran against Iraq in the 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq War, with some success. As the Iranian coastline is longer than Iraq's, control of the Persian Gulf was relatively easy. Shore batteries with missiles can control a large part of this area, especially around the Hormuz Strait.

Iraq also acquired Silkworms, some with an IR homing capability. Iraq used them against the IRIN navy but sustained heavy losses, especially from Iranian Harpoons and Mavericks. By the way, Iraqi forces also combined SS-N-2, AS-4 Kitchen launched from Tu-22, French-made Exocet launched from Mirage F1 & Super Etendard as well as Chinese-made Silkworm with C-601 launched from Tu-16, H-6 bought from China to engage the battle against Iranian Navy.

Gulf War

During the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq fired two Silkworm missiles at the United States battleship USS Missouri. One of them was shot down by Sea Darts launched by HMS Gloucester, a British Type 42 destroyer. This remains the only confirmed destruction of an anti-ship missile in wartime. (Another P-15 was believed to be shot down in 1972 off Vietnam by the USS Sterett during the Battle of Dong Hoi).


The P-15 missile family and their clones were widely deployed from the 1960s. They were big and powerful weapons, but quite cheap and so made in the thousands. It is difficult even to list all the operators.

A twin vertical launcher aboard the German corvette Hiddensee. Note the support for the ventral booster.

The German Navy, after reunification, gave its stock of almost 200 P-15s to the United States Navy in 1991, these weapons being mainly the P-15M/P-22. They were used for missile defence tests.[4]

  • Angolan Navy
  • Cuban Navy
 East Germany
  • Iranian Navy
 North Korea
 People's Republic of China
  • Polish Navy, withdrawn from combat service, 31 March 2006. They are currently used as target drones for anti-aircraft training.
  • Romanian Navy
 United States
  • US Navy, experimental activities.
 South Yemen
 Soviet Union
 Sri Lanka
  • Syrian Arab Navy
 FR Yugoslavia
  • FR Yugoslav Navy


  1. ^ a b c d e f Slade, Stuart
  2. ^ a b The Missile Boat War
  3. ^ https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/latakia.html
  4. ^ News section in a P&D Magazine, December 1991

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