Russia’s military-industrial complex is offering an ominous weapons system in the international arms market called the Club-K cruise missile system. It consists of a quadruple launcher for Club cruise missiles hidden inside an innocuous-looking cargo container that serves as cover for the missiles’ Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) and the control cabin, where two operators would handle the satellite communications and the missiles’ targeting and launching. The Club missiles are known by NATO as the SS-N-27 “Sizzler.”
Fittingly, the marketing name given to the system is “Pandora’s Box.” The container-looking weapon system can be fired from a container ship, a train cart, or a container truck. By appearing externally as a simple container, the Club-K can be positioned covertly, ready to unleash a surprise attack, probably firing simultaneously from more than one container.
The Club-K missiles have satellite navigation, which currently would utilize the U.S. GPS and the Russian GLONASS systems, and possibly also China’s Beidou 2 system and Europe’s Galileo in the future. According to the Club-K promotional video, targeting coordinates would be provided from space by a satellite, but these could also be supplied by airborne platforms.
The warheads of the Club-K missiles might not be exclusively conventional. According to Jane’s, the Club missiles are analogous to the Soviet RK-55 cruise missile, which was designed to carry a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead. The SS-N-27A land-attack missile could also be armed with a high-power generator used as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon or E-Bomb.
Container ships carrying the Club-K system could be used to attack commercial shipping, particularly in choke points like the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca. These container ships would be acting like Germany’s auxiliary cruisers of the First and Second World Wars, which were armed merchant ships used for commerce raiding. Cargo ships armed with the Club-K could be equipped with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to provide airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR).
Even though use by Hezbollah is a possibility, the greatest potential threat could come from China, which reportedly was already interested in acquiring Club missiles for its submarines of the Type 041 Yuan class, the nuclear-powered Type 093 Shang class, and Russian-made Kilo class subs. China could load container ships with land-attack missiles, with E-Bombs for a surprise attack against Taiwan, and armed with nuclear warheads and E-Bombs to strike the port facilities used by the U.S. Navy in Singapore, the U.S. West Coast, the Panama Canal, etc. Chinese missiles could be launched from container trucks sent secretly to Mexico mixed with legitimate containers. India, another customer of the SS-N-27, could use the Club-K system against Pakistan or China as a first or second strike weapon. Iran could be another customer for the Club-K, once U.N. sanctions are lifted.
The Club-K is a highly destabilizing weapon system. Due to the nature of international trade, with millions of containers being shipped worldwide, transported by train and particularly by trucks, it would be very hard to detect, and an attack could happen at any time on any day without warning. The military and intelligence services of the U.S. and its allies must keep a close watch on this Pandora’s Box, to make sure it will never be opened in anger against them.