On Dec. 27, Syrian militants fired three Grad rockets at the Hmeymim air base used by the Russian military forces deployed in Syria. Two of them were intercepted by Russia’s Pantsir air–defense (AD) system, while the third, which deviated from its trajectory, landed in the outskirts of the city of Jebla. Once again, the Pantsir AD system proved to be highly efficient under real combat conditions. It can first launch missiles, and if they miss, its artillery shells will finish the job. This was not the first time that this weapon had saved the lives of Russian servicemen. The Pantsir successfully intercepted three rockets targeting Hmeymim in late March. It is a truly formidable close-in weapon system (CIWS -“sea-whiz”), which few other last-ditch systems can measure up to.
Now the famous AD/gun system is going to sea. It was reported in late December 2017 that the seaborne Pantsir-ME version would be undergoing tests in 2018. "It will be tested beginning next year, first on the land-based stand and then it will be installed on one of the ships," stated the CEO of the Almaz Central Marine Design Bureau, Alexander Shlyakhtenko. He claims that the trials are scheduled to continue for one or two years.
Karakurt-class corvettes (project 22800) will be the first ships to be armed with the new weapon. The naval version is small enough to be installed on various platforms, including vessels displacing 300 tons and more. The Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier will be fitted with the Pantsir-ME, replacing its existing CIWS systems.
Equipped with radar and optical control systems, the Pantsir-ME can intercept missiles under any weather conditions, even during storms. The naval version of the Pantsir-S can successfully target sea-skimming missiles that have an unpredictable flight path.
Thanks to the 1RS2-1E multifunction phased-array radar system, the naval version of the Pantsir can engage four targets at once, flying at a speed of up to 2,240 mph. The reaction time is 3-5 seconds. Long-range early warning is provided by the vessel's radar.
Two GSh-6-30K/AO-18KD 30 mm (1.2 in), six-barrel rotary guns that can fire at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute are another element of this armament suite. With this rate of fire the weapon can effectively counter missiles, aircraft, drones and small vessels. Some sources report the rate of fire could be close to 10,000 (160 projectiles per second) rounds a minute. Its operational range is 0.3-4 km at an altitude of 0-3 km.
The 57E6-E two-stage surface-to-air missile can hit targets from a range of 1.2 to 20 kilometers. Its altitude is 0.002-15 km and kill probability is 70–95%. The weapon has a 15-year storage lifetime.
The system can operate independently, making it suitable for arming ships of various sizes from corvettes to cruisers. There are four tubes on each side of the turret. The tracking radars can operate as part of the ship’s combat system. The naval version of the Pantsir carries a total of 32 missiles.
The Pantsir-ME can fire the Hermes-K fire-and-forget missiles, which are especially useful for hitting small surface or shore targets. The semi-active laser of the surface-to-surface missile seeker makes it possible to strike over-the-horizon targets with great precision.
It would be next to impossible to penetrate the firepower wielded by the naval version of the Pantsir. Installing this weapon on a ship will greatly enhance that vessel’s survivability. Even if the missiles should fail, the cannons will take care of the target – a good example of the “kitchen sink” approach.
Taking the Pantsir CIWS to sea makes it possible to maintain credible “sea-whiz” defenses as Russia continues to build a more agile and technologically advanced navy. The UK-based Business Insider has included the family of Pantsir systems in its list of Russia’s ten most formidable weapons.
Russian sources have reported that the Pantsir-SM version is currently in development. Production might start as early as this year. That system boasts an operational range of 40 km with increased detection capability of up to 75 km. The Pantsir-SM’s naval version will be first installed on the Project 21631 Buyan-M corvettes.
The Pantsir is not the only Russian land-based air-defense system to include a naval version. The Tor-M2 short-range AD missile system can be adapted for naval applications. No ship today can be called modern if it lacks the robust CIWS capability that Russian surface combatants will soon boast once these new, cutting-edge systems become operational.