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A dramatic image shows a vintage missile roaring into the sky against the backdrop of a bleak Arctic stone desert. Like the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle and T-55 tank, the Styx missile system is testimony to the longevity of Soviet engineering. Yet while the rifle and tank are relegated to reserve, this massive missile is still in front line service with Russian forces.
The Termit family of missiles, code named Styx by NATO, date from the early 1950s. It stands in contrast to the rest of Russia’s large and diverse shore-based anti-ship weapons. Other missile systems in use are newer, and much more formidable. The truck mounted Bal system, which entered service in 2004, carries 8 sea-skimming anti-ship missiles like the U.S. Harpoon. The even newer Bastion-P system fires supersonic anti-ship missiles. These have a secondary land attack capability. Yet the Termit remains in service.
It is a generation older than the well-known Exocet and Harpoon missiles which fill a similar role. And partly due to its age, it is a much larger missile. In fact the airframe is based on the experimental Yak-1000 supersonic fighter prototype. This gives the advantage that the warhead can be much larger than contemporary anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon. And size can matter. But equally, due to its high flight trajectory (as opposed to sea-skimming) it can be argued that Styx is long-since obsolete.
Termit was the first postwar anti-ship missile to draw blood. In 1967 an Israeli destroyer, Eilat, was sunk by three Egyptian Termit missiles. But most other engagements resulted in the missiles missing. Since then it has only enjoyed modest success it combat. During the 1991 Gulf War Iraq launched one towards the battleship USS Missouri. It was shot down by a British destroyer using Sea Dart missiles. Those were intended to target aircraft, not missiles. The Sea Dart missile was retired years ago, replaced by more modern types. But the Termit and its derivatives live on.
The ‘Rubezh’ truck-mounted variant shown in the photo was first fielded in the 1970s. It has gone through updates, but it would still be instantly recognizable to a Cold War warrior. And the basic missile is not dissimilar to the first Termit fielded in the 1950s.
Russia is not alone in retaining this aging missile system. Other countries still using the Rubezh variant include Cuba, who due to austerity still maintain many vintage assets. In contrast, another operator is Egypt, one of the largest and best funded militaries.
It is not clear how long Russia will hang on to these missiles. Possibly not for very long. But the publicized test launch is a reminder that not all missile threats are shiny new toys.