TechRussia wary as NATO deploys advanced weapons to Bornholm

Russia wary as NATO deploys advanced weapons to Bornholm

Typhon Launcher
Typhon Launcher
Images source: © Public domain

9:13 AM EDT, June 5, 2024

The inclusion of Sweden and Finland in NATO has shifted the balance of power in the Baltic Sea, but it hasn't exhausted Russia's list of bad news. As the deputy commander of the Russian navy admitted, Moscow is concerned about Bornholm and the potential deployment of American cruise missiles there, a scenario that is becoming increasingly likely.

Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov, deputy commander of the Russian navy, recently shared these concerns, as quoted by the Bulgarian Military. The Russian commander refers to American maneuvers during which, in 2023 and May 2024, Typhon launchers were located on Bornholm.

Why is this specific model of American weapons so troubling to the Russians? They have a good reason: although Typhon may seem unassuming, it's a technical revolution that gives the United States exceptional capabilities.

Thanks to this new weapon, the Pentagon can airlift the system to any region of the world, which is, in some respects, equivalent to a missile cruiser. Instead of requiring a multi-day voyage to reposition a ship, this process takes just a few hours.

What is Typhon and what does the presence of this weapon on Bornholm change?

Typhon – a missile cruiser transferred to land

The Typhon system is a new weapon—Lockheed Martin delivered the prototype battery in December 2022. Regarding capabilities, Typhon is the land-based equivalent of the maritime Mk 41 VLS launchers.

This standard vertical launch system for Western navies has a crucial advantage: versatility. The Mk 41 VLS can launch many different types of missiles, from Tomahawk cruise missiles to anti-aircraft missiles and even rocket torpedoes designed to combat submarines.

In practice, the Typhon system provides the U.S. Army with capabilities previously reserved for aviation and the navy, such as the ability to strike targets deep within enemy territory.

Although this is a significant simplification, Typhon is a land-transferred American missile cruiser that can be airlifted to any location worldwide in hours. An example of Typhon’s mobility was the recent transfer of the system to the Philippines, where within just 15 hours, the battery was moved a distance of 8,100 miles.

Visualization of the Typhon system capable of launching SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles
Visualization of the Typhon system capable of launching SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles© US Army

This is possible because all the system's elements—launchers (each with four launch chambers), a command vehicle, and a transport and loading vehicle—are housed in standard 40-foot containers.

This configuration makes it difficult to detect and track the system during movement while facilitating transport, especially on a strategic level. By placing everything necessary for operation in containers, Typhon can be easily moved by air, tractor-trailers, or rail.

Components of the Typhon battery fit into 40-foot containers.
Components of the Typhon battery fit into 40-foot containers.© Lockheed Martin

The Typhon system launchers are adapted to launch two types of missiles. The first is the RGM-109M Tomahawk Block V cruise missile, which has a range exceeding 1,100 miles.

Although they entered service in the early 1980s, they are continuously developed and improved. Their significant advantages include the ability to fly at very low altitudes, making detection and destruction difficult, and their guidance system. Their key system is TERCOM, which uses satellite and inertial navigation.

Thanks to TERCOM, the missile tracks the terrain it passes, compares it with its map and satellite photos, and accurately determines its position, allowing it to find the target regardless of interference.

SM-6 – long-range anti-aircraft missile

The second missile launched from Typhon is the RIM-174 SM-6 ERAM, a long-range anti-aircraft missile that can also serve as an anti-ship missile. The SM-6 stands out for its size—over 21 feet long and weighing 3,300 pounds, built with two stages powered by solid fuel.

When launched from the ground, the SM-6 can destroy a target up to 230 miles away. However, the range depends on many factors, such as the target’s speed, size, altitude, and maneuvers.

It's worth noting that the United States is testing the possibility of using the SM-6 as an air-to-air missile, potentially allowing the U.S. Air Force to engage adversaries at record distances. The SM-6's range could reach up to 310 miles when launched from a fast, high-flying fighter.

"Closing" of the Baltic Sea

Although the launchers were deployed on Bornholm without missiles during exercises, delivering Tomahawks to the island was only a matter of decision. In practice, by deploying their new weapon to the Danish island, the Americans rehearsed the ability to close the Baltic Sea to both the Russian fleet independently and—to some extent—aircraft.

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