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Hiddensee P-20 missile.jpg
P-15M missile (SS-N-2c) being unloaded from a Former East German Navy Tarantul class missile boat.
Type Anti-ship missile
Place of origin Soviet Union
Service history
In service 1960- present
Production history
Manufacturer MKB Raduga
Weight 2300 kg
Length 5.8 m
Diameter 0.76 m

Warhead 454 kg hollow charge high explosive

Engine Liquid fuel rocket, solid rocket booster
Wingspan 2.4 m
80 km
Flight altitude 100-300 meters above sea level
Speed Mach 0.9
autopilot, active radar, supplemented in some with infra-red
naval ships, ground launch

The P-15 Termit (Russian: П-15 "Термит"; English: termite) was a type of missile developed by the Soviet Union's Raduga design bureau in the 1950s. Its GRAU designation was 4K40, and its NATO reporting name was Styx or SS-N-2. In Russian service today it also seems to be called Rubezh. China acquired the design in 1958 and created at least four versions: CSS-N-1 Scrubbrush and CSS-N-2 versions were developed for ship-launched operation, while the CSS-C-2 Silkworm and CSS-C-3 Seersucker missiles were used for coastal defense. Other names for this basic type of missile include: HY-1, SY-1, and FL-1 Flying Dragon (Chinese designations typically differ for export and domestic use even for otherwise identical equipment).

Despite the huge size, the P-15 was built in thousands and installed on many classes of ships from MTB to destroyer hulls, as well coastal batteries and even bombers (Chinese versions).



The P-15 was not the first anti-ship missile in Soviet service; this was the SS-N-1 Scrubber (coupled with the AS-1 Kennel air-launched from Tupolev Tu-16s), a powerful but rather raw system, with a short service life. The SS-N-1 was superseded by the SS-N-3 Shaddock fitted to 4,000-ton Kynda class cruisers, which replaced an initial plan for 30,000-ton battlecruisers armed with 305 mm and 45 mm guns. Rather than rely on a few heavy and costly ships, a new weapons system was designed to fit smaller, more numerous ships, while maintaining sufficient striking power. The P-15 was developed by the Soviet designer Beresyniak, who helped perfect the IB rocket interceptor.


The first variant was the P-15, with fixed wings. The basic design of the missile, retained for all the next versions, featured a cylindrical body, with a rounded nose, two delta wings in the center, and three control surfaces in the tail, with a solid-fueled booster under the belly.[1] This design was based on the Yak-1000 experimental fighter built in 1951.

The weapon was meant to be cheap, but at the same time capable of giving a simple missile boat the same 'punch' as a battleship's salvo. The onboard electronics were based on a simple analog set, with a homing conical scanning radar sensor. It used a more reliable rocket engine with acid fuel in preference to a turbojet.

Some shortcomings were never totally solved, due to the liquid propellants of the rocket engine: the acid fuel gradually corroded the missile fuselage. Launches were not possible outside a temperature range of -15/+38C°.[1]

The missile weighed around 2,340 kg, had a top speed of 0.9 mach, and a range of 40 km. The explosive warhead was behind the fuel tank, and as the missile retained a large amount of unburned fuel at the time of impact, even at maximum range, it acted as an incendiary device.[1]

The warhead itself was a powerful 500 kg hollow charge (HEAT), larger than the SAP typical of anti-ship missiles. Typically, the launch was made with the help of ESM gear and Garpun radar at a range of between 5.5 and 27 km due to the limitations of the targeting system. The Garpun range against a destroyer was about 20 km.[1]

The onboard sensor was activated at 11 km from the target, and the missile would begin to descend at 1-2° to the target, because the flight pattern was about 120-250 m above sea level. In minimum range engagements there was the possibility of using active sensors at shorter ranges, as little as 2.75 km.[1] In 1965 the P-15U was introduced, with improved avionics and folding wings, enabling use of smaller containers. In 1972 they were replaced by P-15M, which was a further development of the P-15U, with enhanced capabilities (its export simplified variants were designated P-21 and P-22, depending on the sensor installed, and a whole export system was designated P-20M).

War Record

During the War of Attrition after the Six Day War in 1967, the Israeli destroyer Eilat was sailing at low speed outside Port Said on 21 October, and from 17 nautical miles it was attacked by two Egyptian Komars, each firing both their missiles from inside the harbour (they were acting as a coastal missile battery). The target was hit, despite the flak fire soon opened against the incoming 'fireballs'. The first two weapons almost blew the Eilat in two, another missile hit soon after, and the last exploded near the wreck in the sea. Eilat sank two hours after the first attack with 47 crew killed.[2]

In the India-Pakistan 1971 war, P-15 (NATO name Styx) missiles were used by the Indian Navy during Operation Trident. 4 Styx missiles were fired, 2 each at PNS Muhafiz (minesweeper) and PNS Khyber (destroyer), both of which sank. Indian Navy reportedly fired 13 Styx missiles during the war, 12 of which hit, sinking several ships and damaging the petroleum storage facilities at Karachi.[2]


In total, the P-15 family had the following models[1]:

  • P-15: Basic (SS-N-2A) with I-band, conical search sensor and 40 km range.
  • P-15M: (SS-N-2C) heavier and longer than the P-15, with an 80 km range and several minor improvements.
  • P-15MC: Essentially a P-15M, coupled with Bulgarian made electronic countermeasure package for the Bulgarian Navy.
  • P-20L: Designed as an interim solution since the P-50 (SS-N-9 Siren) missile with a turbojet engine was still not available, this was developed with the P-15M, and fitted with an 'L' band sensor and a new altimeter radar both developed for the P-50. (The P-50 suffered from engine problems rather than electronic ones). Since the development of a new set of electronics did not alter the P-15M airframe this was a relatively easy modification. The configuration of this missile (smaller than the P-50) did not allow for use of a data-link. Folding wings were introduced for a smaller launch box and for submarine use. This missile was finally known by NATO as SS-N-7 Starbright, and used only in Project 670/Charlie I SSGNs.
  • P-20: P-15 updated with the new guidance system of the P-20L, but with the original shorter range. They were perhaps known as SS-N2 B and used by 'Komar' and 'Osa' class boats.
  • P-20K: P-15M with new guidance system.
  • P-20M: Surface version of P-20L with folding wings. This was the definitive version of the P-15M with radar guidance.
  • P-21: The P-50 had a secondary IR guidance system, and this was evaluated to be as useful as the main sensor in smaller missiles: the P-15 with IR mode was called the P-21.
  • P-22: Derived from the P-15M/P-20M with longer range, folding wings (P-20M) and IR guidance.

The Chinese used this missile as a basis for their Silkworm series, with IR, radar, turbojets or rocket engines depending on the model. It had a fuselage of 75-80 cm width and a mass of over 2 tonnes. This is comparable with 600-800 kg and 35-40 cm for Western missiles. With improved electronics, the warhead reduced to 250 kg, and the original rocket engine replaced with a turbojet, this weapon was much improved with a range of over 100 km. Chinese Silkworm missiles were used in hundreds of ships and in shore batteries. The Chinese Navy built more than two hundred boats of the 183R (Komar-class) in a modified version ('Hegu' class, with a longer hull and additional 25 mm mount aft) and Osa-class. Frigates and destroyers were also equipped with the missile. Some were exported, and the were used in shore batteries built for North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

Chinese variants:

  • SY-1(C.201): The original Chinese copy, assembled in 1964 and test-fired in 1965, which entered service during 1968 in missile boats and destroyers, and later coastal batteries. Dimensions were: 6.55 m (length), 0.76 m (diameter), 2.4 m (wingspan). It weighed 2,095 kg of which 513 kg was the HEAT warhead. Range was 40 km at mach 0.8, flight altitude 100-300 m and uses inertial and active radar guidance systems. This unit employed conical scanning and was vulnerable to ECMs, due to the slow onboard computer, and during 1980 the SY-1A entered service, which had monopulse search radar, a great innovation, comparable to the evolution of the AIM-7 from F to M model.
  • SY-2(C.201): An improved version developed simultaneously. It was the equivalent of P-15M, and was known as the C-SS-3 Saccade. Designed for coastal batteries, with a larger airframe, the dimensions were: 7.48 m x 0.76 m x 2.4 m, weight 2,998 kg. Trials were made from 1967 to 1970 with 10 missiles out of 11 hitting the target. Entered service in China and was also exported. It had several versions:
    • HY-2: Basic, inertial and conical radar search (improved to SY-1), 1970.
    • HY-2A: IR-guidance variant. Developed during the 1970s and early 1980s, did not enter service despite certification in 1982. It was the equivalent of the P-22.
    • HY-2A-II: Improved variant of the HY-2A with improved IIR sensor, entered service in 1988. Also for export.
    • HY-2B: Fitted with monopulse-search radar to improve accuracy and reliability. It was tested scoring five hits out of six and entered service two years later in 1984. The YB-2B-II had another radar search system, entering service in 1989. These two missiles were capable of flying at an altitude of 20-50 m, so the overall capabilities (altitude, range, reliability, ECCM) were greatly superior.
    • C-201W: With a turbojet engine instead of liquid rocket. Only used for export, it had a 150 km range. It is arguably also called YH-4 or C-SS-N-7 Sadpack, and its dimensions are similar to the YH-1 and YH-2, but the weight is only 2,000 kg, demonstrating the differences between turbojet and rocket as propulsion systems. It is capable of flying at 70 m and attacking at 8 m, with a 300-500 kg charge. From this design was extrapolated the XW-41 land attack missile with a range of about 400 km (enough to attack Taiwan). It is not known if this model entered service.

Substitutes of these missiles are FL-2 and FL-7, solid-rocket fueled, C-701 and C-801, similar to the Exocet missiles and other systems, among them also SS-N-22 Sunburn, bought for Sovremenny class destroyers.

Launch platforms

This missile, despite its mass, was used in small and medium ships, from 60 to 4,000 tons, shore batteries and (only for derived models) aircraft and submarines. The main users were:

Operational usage


Cuban Missile Crisis

The first use of these weapons was in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Komar-class missile boats were deployed in Operation "Anadyr" ("Анадырь"), organized by the Soviet Union to help the Castro regime. At least eight were sent in cargo ships, thanks in part to their small dimensions, and were presumably left to the Cuban Navy after the crisis, together with many other weapons of Soviet origin.

P-15 missiles on parade

"War of Attrition" after the Six-Day War

Soviet-made P-15 missiles were used by Egypt against Israel in 1967, where Egyptian Komar class fast-attack craft sank the Israeli destroyer Eilat, scoring at least three direct hits. This was a milestone of modern naval warfare, for the first time anti-ship missiles displayed their potential, sinking the destroyer at 17 km from Port Said. After this engagement, the interest in this type of weapon was raised both in offensive weapons and defences (CIWS and ECM).

Indo-Pakistani War

During the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, Indian Osa class boats raided the port of Karachi causing severe damage and sinking several ships with their P-15 missiles, among them the destroyer, Khaibar. She was a former Battle class destroyer, designed as an anti-aircraft ship, which though effective against classical air threats (5 × 114 mm guns, several 40 mm Bofors), had no hope against anti-ship missiles.

These raids were meant to strike Karachi and destroy the Pakistan Navy in Western Pakistan. The first action was made by three 'Osa' on the night of 5 December[1]. It was called 'Operation Trident' and the units involved were:

  • INS Nipat (Lt.-Cdr B.N Kavina, VrC)
  • INS Nirghat (Lt.-Cdr I.J Sharma, AVSM, VrC)
  • INS Veer (Lt.-Cdr O.P Mehta, VrC, NM)

Around 20:30, a target was acquired by radar, at a distance of over 40 miles, and Nirghat fired two missiles. This was the destroyer Khaibar, sailing at 20 knots. The crew of the ship saw a "bright light" in the sky, low on the water. Believing it to be the afterburner of a fighter aircraft Khaibar opened fire with its Bofors guns, but these were not effective against such a small fast target. At 22:45 the missile struck the starboard side, destroying the electrical system, and one of the boilers, possibly struck by the HEAT charge, exploded as well. Despite thick smoke and a fire aboard, Khaibar was still able to open fire at the second missile, again mistaking it for an enemy fighter. This missile hit four minutes after the first, destroying and quickly sinking the ship.

P-20 launcher on a Osa II class fast attack craft, with wings folded

During this action, Nipat attacked another two ships; the cargo ship Venus Challenger, carrying ammunition from Saigon, which was destroyed, and its escort the destroyer PNS Shahjahan. The destroyer was severely damaged and was later scrapped.

Veer then attacked Muhafiz, a minesweeper that witnessed the attacks against Kaibar, which at 23.05 was hit and disintegrated, throwing most of the crew in the water before it sank.

Nipat fired two missiles at the port of Karachi, striking land targets. This is the first known use of an anti-ship missile against land targets. Large oil tanks were identified by radar, and the first missile hit one, destroying it, while the second missile failed. The following nights there were other ship actions. Karachi was attacked with missiles, while 'Petja' frigates granted ASW protection to the Osa-class boats.

On the night of 9 December in Operation Python, the Osa class boat Vinash, escorted by two frigates, fired missiles against Karachi in a six minute action. One missile hit an oil tank destroying it. The British ship Harmattan was sunk, and the Panamanian ship Gulfstar, was set on fire. The oiler PNS Dacca was heavily damaged and survived because the commanding officer Capt. S.Q. Raza S.J. P.N. ordered the release of steam in the pipes that prevented the fire reaching the tanks. Though anti-aircraft guns opened fire in response, they only managed to hit a Greek ship, Zoë, that was harboured in the port and consequently sank.

In all these actions against large ships, the P-15 proved to be effective weapon, with a devastating warhead and a remarkable reliability. Out of eleven missiles fired, only one misfired, giving a 91% success rate. This gave to every 'Osa' FAC the possibility to strike several targets. Big ships, without any specialized defence were targets for P-15 missiles, which gave them only seconds to react.

Yom Kippur War

Despite these early successes, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War P-15 missiles used by the Egyptian and Syrian navies proved ineffective against Israeli ships. The Israeli Navy had phased out their old ships, building a fleet of Saar class FACs: faster, smaller, more maneuverable, and equipped with new missile countermeasures.[3]

Although the range of the P-15 was twice that of the Israeli Gabriel missile, so that Arab ships could fire first, radar jamming and chaff degraded their accuracy. In engagements such as the Battle of Latakia, several dozen P-15 were fired and all missed. The Arab (mostly Syrian) ships did not have heavy firepower for combat against other ships, usually only 25 and 30 mm guns. Several Osa and Komar boats were unable to outrun their Israeli pursuers and were sunk by missile or gunfire. Israel was able to gain sea superiority for most of the war.

Iran–Iraq War

P-15 variants, including the Chinese Silkworm, were employed by Iran against Iraq in the 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq War, with some success. As the Iranian coastline is longer than Iraq's, the control of the Persian Gulf was relatively easy. Shore batteries with missiles can control a large part of this Sea, especially around Hormuz Strait.

Iraq also acquired Silkworms, some with infra-red homing capability. Iraq used them against the IRIN navy and sustained heavy losses, especially from Iranian Harpoons and Mavericks. In 1991, during the Gulf War, Iraq fired two Silkworm missiles at the United States battleship USS Missouri. One of them was shot down by Sea Darts launched by HMS Gloucester, a British Type 42 destroyer. This remains the only confirmed downing of an anti-ship missile in wartime. Another P-15 was believed to be shot down in 1972 off Vietnam by USS Sterett during the Battle of Dong Hoi.


The P-15 missile family and their clones were widely deployed from the 1960s. They were big and powerful weapons, but quite cheap and so made in the thousands. It is difficult even to list all the operators.

A twin vertical launcher aboard the German corvette Hiddensee. Note the support for the ventral booster.

The German Navy, after reunification, gave its stock of almost 200 P-15 missiles to the United States Navy in 1991, these weapons being mainly the P-15M/P-22. They were used for missile defence tests.[4]

 East Germany
 North Korea
 People's Republic of China
  • Polish Navy, withdrawn from combat service, 31 March 2006. Are currently used as target drones for anti-aircraft training.
 United States
  • US Navy, experimental activities.
 South Yemen
 Soviet Union
 Sri Lanka
 FR Yugoslavia
  • FR Yugoslav Navy


  1. ^ a b c d e f Slade, Stuart
  2. ^ a b The Missile Boat War
  3. ^
  4. ^ News section in a P&D Magazine, December 1991


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