Deadly new Russian weapon hides in shipping container

MOSCOW Mon Apr 26, 2010 2:11pm EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian company is marketing a devastating new cruise missile system which can be hidden inside a shipping container, giving any merchant vessel the capability to wipe out an aircraft carrier.

Potential customers for the formidable Club-K system include Kremlin allies Iran and Venezuela, say defense experts. They worry that countries could pass on the satellite-guided missiles, which are very hard to detect, to terrorist groups.

"At a stroke, the Club-K gives a long-range precision strike capability to ordinary vehicles that can be moved to almost any place on earth without attracting attention," said Robert Hewson of Jane's Defense Weekly, who first disclosed its existence.

A promotional video for the Club-K on the website of Moscow-based makers Kontsern-Morinformsistema-Agat shows an imaginary tropical country facing a land, sea and air attack from a hostile neighbor.

It fights back by loading three shipping containers concealing Club-Ks onto a truck, a train and a ship, disperses them, and then launches a devastating strike on its enemy, destroying its warships, tanks and airfields.

"The idea that you can hide a missile system in a box and drive it around without anyone knowing is pretty new," said Hewson, who is editor of Jane's Air-Launched Weapons.

"Nobody's ever done that before."

Hewson estimated the cost of the Club-K system, which packs four ground or sea-launched cruise missiles into a standard 40-foot shipping container, at $10-20 million.

"Unless sales are very tightly controlled, there is a danger that it could end up in the wrong hands," he said.

The promotional video showed how an ordinary shipping container with the Club-K inside could be hidden among other containers on a train or a ship. When required, the roof lifts off and the four missiles stand upright ready to fire.

An official reached by telephone at makers Kontsern Morinformsistema-Agat declined to answer questions about the Club-K.

He said the firm had no spokesman and he needed time to study written questions before passing a request to the firm's management.

Russia is one of the world's top arms exporters, selling a record $8.5 billion of weapons last year to countries ranging from Syria and Venezuela to Algeria and China. Its order book is estimated to top $40 billion.

Mikhail Barabanov, a defense expert at Russia's Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), said that as far as he understood, the Club-K was still at the concept stage.

"Potential clients include anyone who likes the idea," he said. "It is known that the United Arab Emirates has shown interest in buying the Club."

Barabanov said the Club-K used proven missiles from Novator, an established Russian maker of weaponry including anti-submarine, surface-to-air and submarine-launched missiles.

One of the missiles on offer is a special anti-ship variant with a second stage which splits off after launch and accelerates to supersonic speeds of up to Mach 3.

"It's a carrier-killer," said Hewson of Jane's. "If you are hit by one or two of them, the kinetic impact is vast...it's horrendous."

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