Country of origin
2 300 kg
Range of fire
40 km (80 km, later versions)
Active radar and internal navigation system
Surface ships and coastal batteries
revolutionary Raduga P-15 Termit (Western reporting name SS-N-2
was the first successful anti-ship cruise missile to achieve
operational service. It was not the first such weapon, but previous
missiles of this type such as the P-1 Strelka (SS-N-1 or Scrubber)
were short-lived in service.
had an unlikely origin as an attempt to produce a compact fighter
aircraft, in the form of the Yakovlev Yak-1000, which first flew in
1951. This aircraft was characterized by a cropped delta wing, an
all-flying tail with both vertical and horizontal stabilizers that
were also of a cropped delta shape, and a cigar-like fuselage.
Though it was quite fast (attaining an airspeed of Mach 1.7 for the
first time in a manned flight), its fragile undercarriage design was
ultimately its undoing, and the sole example was written-off after a
mere taxiing mishap.
In the late 1950s, the design of the Yak-1000 later caught
the attention of the MKB Raduga design bureau, who were tasked with
developing an anti-ship missile of similar in size and performance,
in order to defeat the numerous large warships then operated
throughout the Western Bloc. A team under Alexander Yakovlevich
Bereznyak (a co-designer of the Bereznyak-Isayev BI-1 rocket
interceptor during World War 2) adapted to the design of the
Yak-1000 into a radar guided missile with a different air inlet
system and stabilizers, and an active radar homing guidance system
(i.e., the seeker head emits its own radio waves, and homes-in on a
reflection consistent with a proper target).
In testing, the P-15 demonstrated the ability to virtually
demolish small warships, but it proved less effective than
anticipated against the larger vessels it was mainly intended to
defeat. For example, the incomplete Stalingrad battlecruiser herself
was one of the target ships used for the P-15, and had the unique
advantage of being indefinitely reusable; much to the surprise of
the Soviet government, the Stalingrad was never significantly
damaged, despite being pounded by over 100 direct hits from missiles
of all types (including many P-15s) from 1956 to 1960.
Development was complete by 1960, at which time the P-15
Termit entered operational service with the Soviet Navy. It was
originally intended as armament for mid-sized Soviet warships such
as the Kynda class missile cruisers, as substitutes for the
aforementioned canceled Stalingrad class, and the half-completed
Sverdlov class light cruisers (i.e., only about half that were
laid-down were completed). However, as the P-15 was recoilless upon
launch, and relatively small, light, and inexpensive for its
mission, its potential to arm much smaller warships was soon
realized, and numerous corvettes, frigates, and even fast attack
craft ended up being armed with them, giving small warships an
equalizer against larger enemies.
The appearance of the P-15 is defined by its long cylindrical
fuselage with a rounded nose and a tapered tail, steeply-swept
trapezoidal wings and fins, and a small cylindrical booster on the
aft underside. The wings are mid-mounted and located slightly aft of
the midsection, while the stabilizers consist of a single vertical
fin on top of the aft end, and two similar horizontal fins with a
steep dihedral pitch. A slightly bulged spine is located on the
forward underside of the missile, while several square-shaped access
panels are located on top. The thrust nozzle on the tail is tiny
compared to the rest of the missile, and thus easily overlooked. A
rocket booster bottle is fitted to the underside of the tail, which
is cylindrical in shape with a flat nose and a downward-curved
conical thrust nozzle. As the booster bottle is fitted to the
tapered underside of the tail, it is not parallel with the fuselage.
The fuselage and wings of the P-15 are primarily composed of
simple sheet steel, while the radome is composed of
radio-transparent fiberglass. The fuselage has an all-monocoque
construction, with a mixture of cast and riveted sections. The
liquid fuel that powers the motor is acidic and highly corrosive
over time, and due to the relatively loose mechanical tolerances of
the missile's overall assembly, the fuel often seeps into and
sometimes out of the missile, causing corrosion on the underside.
Several attempts were made to eliminate these fuel leaks throughout
the P-15's production run, but the problem was never entirely
resolved. Unfortunately, the fuel is also dangerously volatile and
toxic, and must be handled with care.
propulsion system consists of the aforementioned rocket booster
bottle, and an internal sustainer rocket. The booster is used to
propel the missile into the air up to a suitable speed for the
sustainer to start and produce sufficient thrust to sustain the
missile's flight. The booster burns-out and is jettisoned from the
missile as soon as sufficient inertia is achieved. The launch of the
P-15 Termit is a decidedly spectacular event, and it extremely loud
and fiery (especially before the booster burns-out); as a result,
the P-15 has a very strong launch signature that is easily spotted.
Due to the properties of the aforementioned acid-based fuel, the
P-15 can only be safely launched at temperature of between -15șC to
+38șC. Between the very bright launch signature and the fuel's
intolerance of low temperatures, Soviet regulations generally
forbade launching the P-15 on warm days and cold nights.
The propulsion system is sufficient to allow the P-15 to
attain a high subsonic speed within a minute of being launched, and
retain that speed throughout the duration of its flight. The P-15
flies at an altitude of 100 m to 300 m above sea level (depending on
the setting, and the variant), so its hardly a "sea-skimming"
missile by modern standards.
Guidance is provided by the MS-2 seeker head, and I-band
active homing radar system. The seeker contains both transmitters
and receivers for radio waves, allowing the missile to find and
illuminate its own target, and home-in autonomously. The MS-2 has a
range of only 11 km at the P-15's flight altitude, so an Inertial
Navigation System (INS) is also integrated into the guidance system,
in order to keep the missile on-course until it finds a target. Upon
achieving a lock at this range, the missile enters a shallow descent
(1-2°) into the target. However, this guidance method is only
effective against targets some 27 km away or further.
It is also possible to engage targets with the P-15 as close
as 5.5 km, but due to the limitations of the on-board guidance
system, it must employ semi-active radar homing guidance at short
ranges. The target must be illuminated by a separate radar system at
these ranges, such as the Harpun series of fire control radars.
The P-15 Termit employs a High Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP)
warhead, allowing it to penetrate relatively thick hulls and still
cause extensive damage. This munition consists of 454 kg of RDX
explosives and a copper charge liner (the mass ratio of which is
unclear). As the missile is expected to retain a significant amount
of fuel upon impact, the warhead was mounted behind the fuel cells,
so that the resulting detonation would have a substantial incendiary
effect inside the target.
It should be
noted that the P-15's HEDP warhead frequently misidentified as a
High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warhead. HEAT is another type of
shaped charge munition, whose construction forcibly directs its
blast energy into transforming the charge liner into as small and
fast a penetrator as possible, resulting in a relatively small
blast, but immense armor penetration. HEDP is essentially the
antithesis of HEAT, as while it is shaped to allow greatly increased
penetration (relative to an unshaped HE warhead), its design creates
a more dispersed blast that causes damage over a much greater area
on the interior and exterior of a warship.
While the P-15 Termit has frequently been cited in the West
as having an alternate nuclear warhead, no operational variants
appear to have actually been fitted with one. It is nevertheless
plausible that such a feat could be accomplished however, due to the
missile's large size; it is similar in dimensions and performance to
the P-1 Strelka, which was definitely armed with nuclear warheads.
combat deployment of the P-15 Termit was in Operation "Anadyr"
during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the Soviet Navy deployed 8
Komar class missile boats to escort arms shipments to Cuba. Though
ultimately, no fire was exchanged between US and Soviet warships
during this operation, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved
It was in 1967 during the early days of the War of Attrition
that the P-15 Termit first gained great fame (or infamy, depending
on who you ask), when it earned the coveted distinction of being
first missile to sink a ship in combat. This transpired on October
21st, when two Egyptian Komar class missile boats opened fire on the
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroyer Eilat. The crew spotted the
missiles and opened fire, not only mistaking them for aircraft, but
also not having any training for engaging incoming missiles. Three
of the four missiles launched hit the Eilat, causing catastrophic
damage; she sank within hours, suffering 47 crew dead and a father
100 seriously injured, out of the crew of 199. This incident sparked
a global arms race of anti-ship missiles and defenses against them
which still rages to this day.
made history once again in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, in which 11
were launched by the Indian Navy in two daring raids. The first of
these was Operation Trident on December 5th, in which Indian Osa
class missile boats sank the Pakistani destroyer Khaibar, the cargo
ship Venus Challenger, and the minesweeper Muhafiz, as well as
damaging the destroyer Shahjahan so badly that she was later
written-off. The second raid was Operation Python, in which Indian
missile boats used modified P-15s to bombard an oil refinery (the
P-15 was not originally intended for attacking land targets) in
Karachi, during which several tankers and cargo ships were also
sunk. These raids were accomplished with no Indian casualties or
ship losses, and with only one of 11 launched missiles
The seemingly unstoppable winning streak of the P-15 Termit
finally came to a halt in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which the
Israelis turned the tables on Arab missile boat crews anticipating
another easy victory. This time the IDF struck with a fleet of their
own missile boats (the Sa'ar 2 class) armed with the Gabriel
anti-ship missiles. Though the Gabriel was a smaller and
shorter-range weapon than the P-15, its accuracy and maneuverability
made it well-suited for attacking small watercraft; the same could
not be said of the girthy P-15, which had been designed with
engaging aircraft carriers and cruisers in mind. The IDF crews had
also trained extensively for combat with and against missiles, and
their vessels boasted chaff, jammers, and radar warning receivers.
In the resulting Battle of Latakia, a numerically superior Arab
missile boat force was virtually wiped-out, without a single vessel
lost by the Israelis. This time, it was the limitations of anti-ship
missiles that were demonstrated by the P-15.
There was also extensive usage of the P-15 Termit and its
derivatives by both sides during the Iran-Iraq War. Both sides used
them in their numerous attacks on each others warships, and upon
civilian tankers steaming through the Persian Gulf. Iran also based
coastal P-15 variants at the infamously narrow Strait of Hormuz,
resulting in worldwide concern that these missiles could close the
entire region to merchant traffic. The Iraqi Air Force was also able
to adapt P-15 variants for use from aircraft during this conflict.
Numerous nations have operated the P-15 Termit over the
years, to include Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cameroon,
China, Croatia, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Indonesia,
Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia,
Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Vietnam, Yemen, and Yugoslavia. Note that
this does not include nations that have operated Chinese variants of
the P-15 (rather than Russian variants).
Several operators have since retired the P-15 from service,
including Finland, Germany (who inherited them from East Germany
after unification), Poland, and South Yemen. Bangladesh is presently
in the process of retiring their P-15 stocks. It is also likely that
most other operators will retire their own P-15 stocks in the near
future, as most of the remaining missiles are no doubt quite old and
The P-15 Termit is no longer in production or development,
although it is unclear exactly when production ended. The unit cost
has not been published, although it would be presumably much lower
than for contemporary missiles like the
Harpoon. Though if one includes the cost of refurbishing and
maintaining large stocks of missiles designed in the 1950s and
mostly built in the 1960s, and considers the greater performance of
most modern anti-ship missiles, the P-15 begins to lose its luster
Yak-1000: An experimental and ultimately unsuccessful fighter
aircraft, the Yak-1000's design was re-purposed as a guided missile,
resulting in the P-15 Termit. Did not enter production or service.
P-15: Basic production model, as described above. It was
adopted in 1960. This missile has a maximum range of 35-40 km.
P-15M: Upgraded extended range model, with improved guidance
and several incremental improvements. It was adopted in 1972. The
P-15M has a maximum range of 80 km. This missile is larger. Its weight increased to
just over 2
500 kg. Warhead weights 513 kg. This missile can be fitted with
conventional or nuclear warhead. It is used by
Rubezh (Western reporting name SSC-3 or Styx)
coastal defense missile system.
Bulgarian-made P-15M, with an added electronic counter measures
P-20: Is an
export variant. It has the P-15M's improved guidance, but not its
extended range. Primarily intended for use by missile boats. It is
also used by Rubezh
coastal defense missile system.
P-20K: Essentially a P-15M with a further improved guidance
P-20L: Submarine-launched version of the P-15U. Named the
Ametist ("Amethyst") in Soviet service, and code-named SS-N-7
or Starbright by the West.
P-20M: Surface-launched version of the P-20L with an MS-2A
P-21 used by Rubezh coastal defense missile system. It is an export variant of the P-15M
with an infrared-homing seeker head.
P-22 used by Rubezh coastal defense missile system: Another
export variant of the P-15M with an infrared-homing seeker head.
P-27 used by Rubezh coastal defense missile system: Further
development with an L-band radar.
HY-1 is a
Chinese license-produced version of the P-15M. It is referred in the
West as the Silkworm. The HY-1 was modernized numerous times and was
supplied to a number of countries. It evolved into HY- and SY-series
of missiles. Too many different versions exist to list them all
KN-1: North Korean missile derived from the P-15, with added
technology from China's P-15 variants as well. It is sometimes
designated as KN-01, or referred to as the Geum Seong-1.
reportedly an Iranian version, developed with China's assistance.
Its production commenced in 1996.
German anti-ship cruise missile of World War 2, with a similar
design to the P-15, but a radically different range and attack
profile. Though much-celebrated as one of the first weapons of its
type, the use of over 1 000 of them failed to sink more than about a
dozen ships, at the cost of many bombers that launched and/or guided
them. The lesson taught by the Hs 293 was that an AShM would only be
viable in the open sea with a stand-off capability and a
"fire-and-forget" guidance system.
MXY-7 Ohka: Japanese anti-ship cruise missile of World War 2,
similar in size and performance to the P-15. However, the Ohka was
rocket-powered, and manually guided by a pilot --- from *inside* the
missile. Some 500 were launched in combat, but only sank 15 Allied
vessels, all of which were only destroyers or auxiliary vessels.
P-1 Strelka: One of the first practical anti-ship missiles.
Also called the KSShch ("Korabelny snaryad Shchuka", meaning "Pike
Anti-Ship Munition"), the P-1 was similar to the P-15, but much
larger, only launched from fleet warships, and armed with a nuclear
warhead. All were retired between 1966 and 1977, and replaced on the
ships that once used them with P-15 variants. It was code-named
SS-N-1 or Scrubber by the West.
P-5: Long-range ship and submarine launched cruise missile,
with a conventional or nuclear warhead, and even a land attack
capability. It is codenamed SS-N-3C or Shaddock by the West, and though
not formally named by the USSR, it was commonly called the "Pyatyorka"
("Fiver"; a reference to its stock number) in the Soviet Navy.
KS-1 Komet: Air-launched anti-ship cruise missile very
similar in design and performance to the P-15 Termit. The KS-1 was
launched only from the Tu-4 Bull (an unlicensed Soviet copy of the
B-29 Superfortress) and the Tu-16 Badger bombers. Code-named AS-1
Kennel by the West. The KS-1 was retired in 1969.
S-2 Sopka: Land-launched version of the KS-1 Komet.
Designated SSC-2b Samlet by the West. These were retired from the
Soviet armed forces in 1980.
FKR-1: Nuclear-armed version of the S-2 Sopka. Code-named
SSC-2a Salish by the West. They were presumably retired by 1980,
along with the S-2.
K-10S: Air-launched cruise missile similar to the P-15 Termit,
but with much greater speed and range, as well as a nuclear payload.
Code-named AS-2 Kipper by the West. The K-10S entered service in
1960, and was withdrawn from service at an uncertain date.
MGM-1 Matador: US cruise missile similar in form and
performance to the P-15 Termit, though not in function; this weapon
relied on Manual Command to Line of Sight (MCLOS) guidance via radio
command. It was armed with a nuclear warhead, and was launched from
a trailer at a land target. The Matador was retired in 1962.
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