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OTOMAT

Anti-ship missile

OTOMAT missile

The Otomat offers a viable alternative to the Exocet and Harpoon anti-ship missiles

 
 
Country of origin Italy and France
Entered service 1977
Launch platforms Ships and coastal batteries
Missile length 4.46 m
Missile diameter 0.4 m
Wing span 1.35 m
Missile launch weight (including boosters) 770 kg
Warhead weight 210 kg
Warhead type Angled HEDP
Flight speed 310 m/s
Range of fire 67 or 180 km (depending on variant)

 

   The OTOMAT is a sea-skimming Anti-Ship Missile (AShM) manufactured in Italy. Though this missile was first offered some time after the ubiquitous Harpoon and Exocet, and has remained in their shadows ever since, it has still proven itself a strong contender on the increasingly crowded anti-ship missile market. It is also known as the Teseo (the Italian name for Theseus; this name is in error however, as Teseo is the name of the larger system that the missile is only part of). First sold as an OTO Melara product, the Otomat is now manufactured by MDBA.

   The Otomat is the product of a joint program between OTO Melara in Italy, and Matra in France. The name "OTOMAT" is a portmanteau of these two companies' names. The program was initiated in 1967, and was initially meant to produce a common missile for use by both the French and Italian armed forces. It is notable that development started the same year as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyer Eilat was sunk by a P-20 Termit AShM, and while it is unclear which of these events took place first, there is little doubt that the sinking of the Eilat gave new urgency to the effort.

   While the design phase moved slowly, the first test launch took place in 1971, and development was completed on the first production design (the OTOMAT Mk.1) in 1974. While this was a relatively smooth transition from proposal to a production-ready weapon (for example, the Harpoon, Exocet, Penguin, and Kormoran each had protracted development), the OTOMAT program collided with an obstacle all too familiar with joint European weapon programs --- a key contributor decided to drop-out along the way and field their own weapon instead. Unsurprisingly, the French armed forced opted for their domestically developed Exocet missile instead of the OTOMAT in 1974, putting the whole program in jeopardy (the Europanzer, MBT-70, FH-70, and Eurofighter programs all experienced similar dramas). The Italian Navy nonetheless still proceeded with the OTOMAT (which by now would probably have been more accurately named the "OTO"), and selected it for use in the new Lupo class frigates. The OTOMAT Mk.1 finally entered service in 1976, a year before the Lupo class.

   In the mean time, a separate arm of the program had been developing and improved version of the OTOMAT in an attempt to address its limited effective range. Started in May of 1973, this improved design incorporated a mid-course datalink known as Teseo, which allowed the vessel launching the OTOMAT to "hand-off" control of the missile to a helicopter, which enabled the missile to be directed at Over-The-Horizon (OTH) targets at much greater distances (the Teseo system will be explained in greater detail further below). Eventually named the OTOMAT Mk.2 (and later re-designated as the Mk.2 Block I), the first test launch took place in 1974, and development was reportedly completed in 1976, though the first demonstration of its vaunted OTH capability didn't occur until 1978.

   The OTOMAT's fuselage is long, cylindrical, and narrow (though visibly not as narrow in relation to its length as most other AShMs), with a steep conical nose that ends abruptly in a hemispherical radome, and a slightly bulged boat tail. The four forward fins are set well aft, are steeply swept-back, and tipped with conspicuous strakes, while the four aft fins are much smaller, delta-shaped, cropped, and located just behind of the forward fins; all of the fins are arranged in a 90-degree crucifix pattern, and both the fore and aft fins are parallel. There are four divertless air inlets with half-circle-shaped scoops protruding from the sides of the missile, which form the roots of the forward fins. A protruding strip on each side of the missile aerodynamically conforms to it, and contains wiring. An unfired missile ready for launch also has two Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO) bottles mounted aft on the side strips; these are narrow, cylindrical, tipped with conical noses, and terminate in exhaust ports angled sharply outwards.

   The missile is loaded into a sealed rectangular container with an oblong cross-section, which is usually mounted atop a ramp-like structure. The front and back ends of the container are hinged on top, and swing-open when a launch is initiated. Although relatively compact, it is much less so compared to most contemporary and later AShM launchers; for example, the same area occupied by one launch tube for an OTOMAT is equal to a quadruple-tube launcher for the RGM-84 Harpoon, which is also not significantly taller. As a result, most warships that carry OTOMATs tend to have less than those armed with Harpoons.

   Little information has been published on the composition of the OTOMAT, save that it extensively employs lightweight alloys, including aluminum.

   The OTOMAT employs active radar homing guidance. Its SMA ST-2 single-axis active seeker (French-made OTOMATs use the Col Vert seeker, made by Thompson CSF) illuminates the target with radio beams via a radar transmitter antenna, "sees" the radar reflection on the target, and the missile then steers itself into the target. This system makes the OTOMAT a "fire-and-forget" type missile, that is autonomous after being launched, allowing the launch platform to target multiple targets with multiple missiles simultaneously, or to switch to a new target after a missile is launched at the previous target.

   An Inertial Navigation System (INS) keeps the missile on-course if the target is too far away to attain a lock during the launch phase. However, attacking targets more than about 60 km from the launch platform requires a datalink, and this is where the Teseo system (introduced in the OTOMAT Mk.2) comes into play. In order to insure the missile attacks the right target, it is fed instructions via one of two datalinks in the Teseo system; within 60 km, it can be controlled using the TG-1 channel, but distances beyond this require a helicopter to send corrections via the TG-2 channel. The transmitter and receiver elements themselves are designated as the PRT400 system, with the individual components being the PRT401 (shipborn), PTR402 (on the missile, as a receiver only), PTR403 (carried by helicopters), PRT404 (a PRT401 alternative for smaller ships), and the PRT405 (an alternative for helicopters). The control console used for the Teseo system is the MM/OJ-791, a rather hefty machine at a weight of 570 kg, which has a power requirement of 4 kW.

   The helicopter originally used as the relay was the Agusta Bell AB-212, though other helicopters can be used for the TG-2 channel instead, such as the Westland Lynx, Eurocopter AS-365 Dauphin and Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk. There is also an alternate French-made guidance system developed for the OTOMAT, called the ERATO (Extended Range Air Targeting for OTOMAT), which uses the CLIO console (similar in form and function to the MM/OJ-791).

   Although the launchers for the OTOMAT are static, the ship carrying them doesn't need to orient itself to aim the missiles, as they can be pre-program prior to launch to make an initial course correction of up to 200 degrees. It is also possible to directly control up to 6 missiles in mid-air using the Teseo or ERATO systems, and transmit up to 6 corrections to each missile.

   While most missiles in the OTOMAT's class and generation are launched using a single rocket booster on the tail, which falls-away moments after the missile takes to the air, the OTOMAT is propelled by a pair of side-mounted ROXEL boosters; a type of RATO system, more typically seen on much earlier naval missiles such as the P-15 Termit. The Hotchkiss-Brandt ROXEL boosters weigh 75 kg each, and provide 3 500 kg of thrust each for four seconds. This brings the missile into an ascent to an altitude of 200 m, after which the boosters are jettisoned and the missile assumes a gradual descent to an altitude of 20 m, by which time the sustainer is able to fully-propel the missile. These boosters make the launch of an OTOMAT missile a spectacular event, with bombastic smoke and flame, so launching the missile isn't exactly a stealthy endeavor.

   The OTOMAT's sustainer motor is a Turboméca TR.281 Arbizon III turbojet, fed by a 90 liter fuel supply. While this engine is relatively simple in layout, it is also an unusually powerful propulsion system for a 1970s era sea-skimming missile, with a thrust class of 400 kg of thrust (50% more thrust than the engine used in the RGM-84 Harpoon). This combination of a simple construction and tremendous power resulted in an unusually large engine (by AShM standards) with substantial air intake suction; hence, the OTOMAT's bulkiness and unusual air inlet design.

   The warhead of the OTOMAT is unusual as well. While the use of an High Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP) warhead isn't unusual for an AShM, the one used on the OTOMAT isn't designed to pierce horizontally through the bulkheads and compartments --- it is designed to fire downward to rupture the target's keel. It also includes a secondary charge, consisting of 16 submunitions, which detonate inside the target after the main charge has penetrated it. These charges collectively weigh 210 kg, 65 kg of which is the Hertol-based bursting charge. According to Forecast International, about 150 kg of the total warhead weight consists of incendiary munitions (which probably pertains to the aforementioned 16 submunitions).

   The OTOMAT operates at an altitude of 20 m throughout the remainder of its mission, flying at high subsonic speeds. The terminal phase of the missile's flight depends on the guidance system installed; while the Italian ST-2 will simply fly the missile straight into the target, the French Col Vert guidance system will have it perform a sudden "pop-up" maneuver short of the target, and then plunge downward into the top deck. The pop-up maneuver allows the OTOMAT to evade short-range air defense systems like close-in weapon systems, circumventing them just short of the distance at which their kill probability is highest.

   The OTOMAT is claimed by the manufacturer to have a 90% probability of kill ratio, though combat experience with equivalent AShMs suggest this rating is exaggerated. For example, Exocets launched during the Falklands War failed to detonate when they struck the British destroyers HMS Glamorgan and HMS Sheffield and the container ship HMS Atlantic Conveyor (by chance, the Exocets that hit the Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyer were still full of fuel, and secondary damage from the resulting fires is what sank them), while the Harpoon has missed every target it has ever launched against in combat. When Hezbollah launched two YJ-82 AShMs at the INS Hanit on July 14th 2006, one missile missed the target (even though she was caught completely by surprise, and didn't have time to respond with any electronic counter measures or weapons), and the missile that did hit failed to sink the little 1 200 ton corvette.

   Despite its very long and widespread service, the OTOMAT has never been launched in anger. It has thus received little press coverage over the years, and its success has been driven for by most part by two forces; its technical merit, and an absence of the fickle politics and "red tape" associated with buying weapons from most other Western nations. Though despite its obscurity, relative to weapons like the Harpoon, Exocet, and Yakhont, the OTOMAT was a modest commercial success, and over 1 000 were produced.

   Operators of the OTOMAT include Bangladesh, Cyprus, Egypt, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Of come 1 000 missiles delivered, the most numerous sales were made to Saudi Arabia (225 missiles), Italy (approximately 200 missiles), Venezuela (140 missiles), Egypt (135 missiles), and Libya (120 missiles). Less-numerous arsenals are found in the armed forces of Peru (80 missiles), Malaysia (48 missiles), Nigeria (40 missiles), Kenya (20 missiles), and Bangladesh (10 missiles). These figures are no longer accurate however, as several of these nations have expended OTOMATs in exercises, and some have purchased more (notably Bangladesh). It is unclear how many OTOMATs are owned by the Philippines.

   The exact models of missiles used by these nations are also an interesting gauge of their anti-ship capabilities. For example, Cyprus, Kenya, and Nigeria have only used the Mk.1 model, while only Italy and Bangladesh to date use the formidable Mk.2 Block IV missiles. The age of the missiles in question is another concern, as guided munitions more than a decade or two old tend not to work properly (save for service life extensions, of course); for example, Egypt's newest OTOMATs were delivered in 1982, and if we assume they haven’t had their bursting charges, fuel, batteries, and so on replaced at some point in the last 20 years, it is doubtful that these missiles will be serviceable much longer (assuming they even still function).

   One more curious buyer was the US Navy, who purchased 8 OTOMAT Mk.2s for testing and evaluation purposes. It is unclear if the US military has its own designation for the OTOMAT, but ultimately no further sales to the US were forthcoming. Argentina and Brazil have sometimes been mentioned as OTOMAT users, but this appears to be in error, as there have been no reports of these nations operating any shore batteries or warships armed with OTOMATs.

   Kenya's Nyayo class missile boats have had their OTOMAT launchers deleted during a 2011 refit. As no other Kenyan vessels are armed with OTOMAT launchers, and it is uncertain if they will ever re-use these missiles, this nation is effectively a former operator. Likewise, Nigeria's only warship armed with the OTOMAT was the Aradu multi-role frigate, which has recently been mothballed. The status of Venezuela's OTOMATs and the ships that carry them is unclear as of late 2017, given the recent near-total collapse of their government and economy.

   The most notable warships armed with the OTOMAT include the Saudi Al Madinah class frigates (which are the only warships that use the ERATO system instead of Teseo), Peru's Almirante Grau (the only gun cruiser still in service), and the Assad class corvettes (built for Iraq, but some were ultimately delivered to Malaysia instead; two others were never sold, and are still moored-up in Italy with no operator).

   The OTOMAT was also offered as a coastal defense missile system, and is used in this capacity by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

   In a rather curious twist of fate, the competing Exocet and the OTOMAT have ultimately both become MDBA products. Both are still actively marketed by MDBA, and are still available for production. Forecast International's 2010 estimate for the unit cost of the OTOMAT Mk.2 valued the missile at $514 800.

   The Roketsan company in Turkey has also recently begun offering an upgrade for the OTOMAT, which includes a new engine claimed to provide a substantial increase in effective range. This design was also reportedly co-developed with MBDA.

   Though despite its success thus far, the future of the OTOMAT remains uncertain. Of the 1 000 built, less than 100 have been sold since 2000, and only 2 nations (as stated above) have purchased the currently offered Mk.2 Block IV model. And while the most recent missiles now have capabilities competitive with contemporary AShM systems like the RBS.15 and Kh-35, the OTOMAT is only just catching-up to features that its competitors have had for decades. The most recent crop of AShMs are defined by extreme speed, range, or stealth, and the OTOMAT excels in none of these traits. Thus, despite MDBA's glowering claims of offering a competitive AShM solution for beyond 2020, it remains to be seen if the OTOMAT will still be effective (or even in service) by the end of that decade.

 

Variants

 

   OTOMAT Mk.1: Initial production model, with a short range and no datalink.

   OTOMAT Mk.2 Block I: First model to employ the Teseo datalink system, which increased its effective range three-fold over the Mk.1.

   OTOMAT Mk.2 Block II: Introduced folding wings, allowing a much smaller launcher to be used.

   OTOMAT Mk.2 Block III: Has numerous improvements, including a new inertial navigation system, insensitive materials for the bursting charge and booster fuel, and a more powerful datalink system that doesn't require a helicopter to serve as a relay. It is unclear if the Mk.2 Block III was ever adopted by any nation.

   OTOMAT Mk.3: This was a joint US-Italian effort, which was also known as the Ulisse (the Italian name for Ulysses) in Italy, and as the New Generation Anti-Ship Missile (NGASM) in the US. There were numerous improvements in the Mk.3, including an extra infrared seeker head, GPS guidance, and a land attack capability, as the Mk.3 was planned to effectively bridge the gap between the mission profiles of the RGM-84 Harpoon, and the BGM-109 Tomahawk. The US government gradually lost interest and dropped out of the program, leaving a development cost too steep for Italy alone to pay for. Thus, the OTOMAT Mk.3 program was terminated.

   OTOMAT Mk.2 Block IV: This missile is basically the spiritual successor to the Mk.2 Block III, and has even further improvements, which have taken the OTOMAT program into the 21st century. The Mk.2 Block IV was first test-launched in 2006, it was adopted by the Italian Navy in 2007, and it was first offered for export in 2009.

   OTOMACH: Proposed supersonic version with a flight speed of Mach 1.8. It was rejected in the design phase when studies indicated that a stealthy missile would have a much greater chance of avoiding interception through surprise, than a supersonic missile attempting to overwhelm defenses through speed.

   MILAS: Anti-submarine version of the OTOMAT, which carries a MU90 456 mm torpedo to the location of the target. It has a range of only 35 km, but can be launched from a standard OTOMAT launcher. This missile was adopted only by the Italian Navy.

 

Similar Weapons

 

   Exocet: The first generations of the ubiquitous French Exocet AShM are comparable in design and performance to the OTOMAT Mk.2 onward. There are also air, submarine, and shore launched versions.

   RGM-84 Harpoon: One of the best-known AShMs in service today, the US-made Harpoon is similar to the OTOMAT Mk.2 model onwards. There are also air-launched (AGM-84) and submarine launched (UGM-84) variants, and the RGM-84 Harpoon can also be launched from mobile shore batteries.

   RBS.15: This Swedish-built AShM is similar in size and power to the OTOMAT, but has a much more modern design, and more advanced guidance options.

   Gabriel Mk.III/IV: The Mk.III version of this Israeli AShM series is very similar to the OTOMAT Mk.2 (notably the propulsion and warhead), while the Gabriel Mk.IV has much in common with the OTOMAT Mk.2 Block IV.

   Kh-35U "Uran": This recently-introduced Russian AShM is similar in size and firepower, but it is a much more advanced missile than most OTOMAT variants. There are air, surface, and shore launched versions.

   C-802: This more recent Chinese AShM is vaguely similar to the OTOMAT, but has more in common in its design to the Exocet.

 

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OTOMAT missile

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