Conceptual Thoughts: Defending Against the Onyx

Setup: The Kyiv Post ran a practical headline on Thursday, July 20, entitled with subhead, “Ukraine’s Latest Missile Problem – How to Shoot Down Russia’s ‘Onyx’: Russia has taken to using “Onyx” supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles against southern coastal cities, highlighting the shortage of air defense systems capable of taking them on.”

The Onyx supersonic missile launches upwards briefly. Thrusters nearer the nose adjust their trajectory to a horizontal aspect after which a kerosene-fueled ramjet engine kicks in sending the warhead or submunitions on a flightpath as high as 14 kilometers and as low as 10-15 meters as it approaches the naval targets they were designed for. Yet Russia has been using them against coastal, civilian targets.

Better and more air defense missiles such as U.S. Patriot missiles could answer the Onyx missile threat, however, not enough air defense missile systems have been sent to Ukraine to do that now. Also, as with other missiles, anti-ship missiles used against navy vessels, coastal installations, or inland targets may eventually release their own decoy countermeasures against interceptors.

This came to the fore as recently as 2019 regarding ground-based U.S. missile defense system tests. The Society of Concerned Scientists issued a report calling interceptor missile tests in the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) inadequate for failing to use sufficiently realistic decoys that enemy missles might use. Likely fixed by now the report is instructive of the need to continuously assess and adapt to adversary or enemy attacks, defenses, and countermeasures while adapting our own attacks, defenses, and countermeasures with the flow of change.

Other Solutions

Decoys and Electronic Warfare: Yuri Ihnat, spokesman of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine suggested to the Kyiv Post that electronic warfare (EW) might be one way to mitigate the Onyx’s impact for areas lacking air defense coverage. EW is already combined with a number of layered naval decoy and air defense countermeasures against anti-ship missiles. And BAE Systems acquired the Australian designed, developed, and joint Aussie-American-built Nulka Active Missile Decoy system, upping the game in anti-ship missile countermeasures.

Yet Russia is already using anti-ship missiles against the port of Odessa and other coastal targets having announced an intent to treat civilian shipping to Ukrainian ports as hostile military traffic.

Perhaps layered countermeasures for protecting navy vessels can also defend coastal installations such as the grain storage facility in Odessa and other targets Russia struck this week. While testing that hope, Ukraine will likely be thinking ahead, because coastal infrastructure and inland targets are not the same as naval vessels but broader, more vulnerable targets.

Anti-aircraft gatling guns may help close-in, however, with the Onyx missiles traveling beyond supersonic speed, it is doubtful.

Imagine All the Missiles Ditching into the Sea

To guard coastal and inland installations from Onyx missiles, defenders need to present a broader informational mirage to anti-ship missile sensors and seekers.

Just as a mirage tells water seekers in the desert to see, hear, and believe that which is not there, so a good decoy system for coastal installations and inland targets will tell incoming missile sensors and seekers what their programmers expect them to see and hear when in fact it is not there. This, so that enemy anti-ship missiles will follow clever ghosts into the sea or into gauntlets of crossfire from close-range gatling guns and or air defense lasers.

Offensive Countermeasures

In addition to more air defense solutions, Ukraine could use help with boosted supplies and production of land-based, rocket-fired airborne torpedos that enter the sea within range of enemy vessels, unmanned attack craft, and anti-ship missiles with which to strike back at the Russian Black Sea Fleet which has made itself a legitimate target for its bombardments of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.

To help Ukraine liberate Ukraine, defeating the Russian Black Sea fleet is necessary.

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