TechUkrainian strike sinks Russian warship with us-made ATACMS missiles

Ukrainian strike sinks Russian warship with us‑made ATACMS missiles

One of the corvettes from project 22800 Karakurt.
One of the corvettes from project 22800 Karakurt.
Images source: © navalnews

7:52 AM EDT, May 20, 2024

The Ukrainians carried out another attack on Russian ships stationed in the port of Sevastopol. This time, however, they used MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missiles, achieving the first-ever hit on a warship. We explain the details of this attack.

According to the portal Army Recognition based on Russian sources, the Karakurt Tsiklon project 22800 Corvette was hit and sunk in the attack on the night of May 19-20, 2024. This modern Russian ship, launched in the summer of 2020 and commissioned on June 12, 2023, was one of four completed ships of this type and the only one serving in the Black Sea Fleet.

This feat was accomplished by MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missiles, marking the first such instance in the world involving a warship. While Houthi rebels from Yemen have hit vessels in the Red Sea with ballistic missiles, those were civilian units. Here, we have a warship targeted, another historic achievement by the Ukrainians in their campaign against the Russian Black Sea Fleet, following successful surface drone attacks and the elimination of a submarine with an air-launched cruise missile.

In keeping with the current trend, the project 22800 Karakurt ships feature stealth technology and advanced target detection systems. Their primary armament includes two four-chamber vertical launchers for Kalibr-NK cruise missiles or anti-ship P-800 Oniks missiles.

The secondary armament includes a 76mm AK-176MA naval gun, similar to the Leonardo 76mm Super Rapido, and a naval variant of the very short-range air defense system Pantsir-M. This system features a pair of GSh-6-30 six-barreled 30mm cannons, each with a rate of fire of 5000 rounds per minute and a range of up to 3 miles, paired with a launcher for 32 57E6 or 57E6-E rockets.

These rockets can engage targets up to 12 miles away but are only suitable for combating drones, helicopters, or subsonic missiles. Therefore, 57E6 or 57E6-E rockets are ineffective against ballistic missiles, for which larger systems such as the S-300 or S-400 are required. However, recent events have shown that these systems also have significant issues dealing with American MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missiles.

It appears that the project 22800 Karakurt Tsiklon corvette stationed in the port was either not protected by the anti-ballistic missile system or that this defense was destroyed shortly before the attack.

MGM-140 ATACMS - Russia's nightmare from the USA

The Ukrainians have been very successful in using the MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missiles donated by the Americans, but previous recordings showed the use of cluster warhead missiles. These would be ineffective against ships, so here, versions with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead with a range of 186 miles were used.

The missiles in question are from the M48, M57, and M57E1 families. They contain a single large WAU-23/B warhead weighing about 441 pounds or a specialized penetrating variant that detonates with a delay after piercing the target. Since ballistic missiles can travel up to Mach 7 (5370 mph), they possess such kinetic energy that a penetrating warhead can pierce through a ship's deck and detonate inside, causing catastrophic damage.

The guidance of the MGM-140 ATACMS missiles in these versions includes a combination of inertial and satellite navigation. This is slightly problematic, as the Russians can reduce the accuracy from a few meters to tens of meters. However, in the case of a large target (the project 22800 Karakurt Corvette) with a length of 220 feet and a width of 36 feet, even such a decrease in accuracy makes little difference.

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