On July 14, 2006, an anti-ship missile fired from Lebanon struck the Israeli SAAR-5 Missile Corvette
(http://www.israeli-weapons.com/weapons/naval/saar5/Saar5.html ) INS Ahi-Hanit.

Reports are mixed as to exactly what kind of missile struck the INS Ahi-Hanit.Initial reports centered in an armed UAV as being the culprit based on Hezbollah propaganda.

This Defense Tech post (http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002585.html ) was typical. Most reports now center on the Chinese C-802 (http://edefense.blogspot.com/2006/07/c-802-missile-likely-shore-launched.html ) provided by Iran to Hezbollah.[Note on the C-802. The Noor is based on the C802 as the C802 is based upon the Exocet. It’s got longer range (by an estimated 25%). It’s capable of being air launched. It’s claimed to have an improved targeting system that’s less subject to decoys.]

This Wikipedia post (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INS_Hanit ) does a fair job of recounting known facts about the attack:

During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis, the vessel was patrolling in Lebanese waters ten nautical miles off the coast of Beirut. It was damaged on July 14, 2006 on the waterline, under the aft superstructure [1][2] by a missile (likely a Chinese-designed C-802) fired by Hezbollah. Reportedly, the missile started a fire aboard the ship and critically damaged the vessel’s steering capability, requiring it to be towed part of the way back to Israel. A large explosion caused the landing pad to cave in and be engulfed in flames that threatened the aviation fuel storage below, and flames were not fully extinguished until several hours later. There were four casualties from the ship’s crew, three of whom were found later in the ship. [3].

According to the Israeli Navy, the ship’s sophisticated automatic missile defense system was intentionally disabled. This was done for two reasons, one, there were many Israeli Air Force aircraft conducting operations in the vicinity of the ship and it was feared that the system may accidentally be triggered by a friendly aircraft, potentially shooting it down. Second, there was no intelligence pointing to the fact that such a sophisticated missile, roughly equivalent to the American Harpoon, was deployed in Lebanon by Hezbollah. (A point made by Wikipedia.)

Haaretz.com reported (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/738695.html ) another ship, a Cambodian flagged merchantman, was struck and sunk shortly after INS Ahi-Hanit was hit. The merchantman was 60 km from the coast and 44 km down range from the INS Ahi-Hanit and was hit by the missile that missed/was decoyed from the INS Ahi-Hanit.Both Debka (http://debka.com/article.php?aid=1184) and Defense-Update.com (http://www.defense-update.com/2006/07/ins-hanit-suffers-iranian-missile.html ) are reporting a “High-Low” missile attack was conducted on the INS Ahi-Hanit with the initial C-802 being set for a higher trajectory to draw out the INS Ahi-Hanit’s electronic defenses and chaff while a second sea skimming missile came in behind it and activated its seeker while it was almost on top of the INS Ahi-Hanit.

The difference between the accounts is that Debka says the first C-802 was set for a “pop-up” trajectory and dove into the sea while Defense-Update.com says the second missile was a TV guided Chinese C-701, also known as the Kosar in Iranian service.

This is the Defense-Update.com comparison of the two missiles:

C-801 radar guided anti-ship missile weighs about 750 kg, it is powered by a rocket motor and has a range of 40 km and is equipped with 100 kg warhead. The upgraded C-802 uses a rocket booster for launch, and a turbojet cruise motor, giving it a range of up to 140. The warhead uses about 180 kg of shaped charge explosives, which makes it a most capable threat to major warships including U.S. aircraft carriers. The C-701, (also known as Iranian Kosar) is deployed with Iranian forces as a truck mounted coastal defense missile, it is much smaller than the C-801/802, weighing about 100 kg, its range is about 18-20 km and the warhead has 29 kg of explosives, set with a delayed activation fuze to maximize internal damage after hull penetration. It uses an Infrared/TV seeker or active millimeter terminal guidance.

The C-802 series missile is clone of the rocket powered French Exocet missile upgraded with a turbojet to give it performance comparable to early marks of the US Navy Harpoon anti-ship missile.The C-701 is a smaller missile in the class of the British Sea Skua (http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/missile/row/sea_skua.htm ), Norwegian Penguin (http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/missile/agm-119.htm ) or Italian Marte Mk2 (http://www.mbda.net/site/FO/scripts/siteFO_contenu.php?lang=EN&noeu_id=110 ) anti-ship missiles. Missile in this class are used from helicopters, small missile boats and strike jets and often have heat seeking or television guidance rather than radar seekers.

We are of the opinion that the missile strike was indeed “high-low,” as both sites described, but we think it involved two C-802 missiles. The use of missiles of two different types implies two different launchers trucks being coordinated by radio under Israeli UAV and signals intelligence surveillance nets. The simpler and safer operational mode would be a single truck launcher with two C-802’s.We are also in agreement with it being two C-802 missiles, but not necessarily with the same-truck launcher scenario. The reason for the agreement is the damage done to the ship -it was a bit much for a 29kg warhead.

[[Kirk Spencer adds this disagreement: “It is difficult to fire two missiles close to one another in time and space. The second missile needs shielding from the blast of the rocket launcher of the first missile. The delay also needs to be sufficient that the first missile doesn’t become the target of the second. The answer to defeating electronic countermeasures in this case is easy – wire, or light. A pair of field telephones with wire between the two launchers is more than sufficient for coordinating the launch.”]]

The Saar-5 corvette INS Ahi-Hanit, on paper, was fully capable of defeating the C802 with hard kill – Barak anti-missile missiles (http://israeli-weapons.com/weapons/missile_systems/sea_missiles/barak/Barak.html ) and Phalanx CIWIS (http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/weaps/mk-15.htm ) – and soft kill electronic defenses [See this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PtCD8UNRYs )].

The question is why wasn’t the INS Ahi-Hanit allowed to use them? The answer is simple. The Israelis were more afraid of the anti-missile systems and electronics on the INS Ahi-Hanit engaging their own aircraft and UAV’s than they were of Hezbollah anti-ship missiles. The Barak anti-missile missile and Phalanx are fully automated in anti-missile modes. They will strike anything that flies in their defense zones that is not squawking the proper identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder signal.Most UAV’s and some helicopters don’t carry IFF transponders and in the 2003 Gulf War the Coalition air forces lost two jets to Patriot missile batteries in fully automatic anti-missile mode that failed to recognize their IFF transponders. The Israelis have been using helicopters and jets to strike targets in Beirut and sending in UAVs on the same flight paths, AKA from the sea. we’d wager that INS Ahi-Hanit, was on “weapons tight” with human control on its anti-missile defenses. It was under military air corridors and could not automatically engage incoming missile threats due to aircraft overhead.

[[Kirk Spencer adds this thought: The official reports of the IDF also say the ship was on Weapons Tight status.]]

There may also have been electronic interference issues with Israeli UAVs, rotary wing, and fixed wing aircraft overhead so it could not use its active jamming equipment freely.

[[Kirk and Trent have a significant disagreement on this point. While they are both certain electronic interference is a factor, Kirk argues “It is only significant for systems ‘overhead’. The ship was approximately 18km offshore, and it’s on-board jammers are not that powerful.”]]

As a multi-role “flotilla leader” for Israeli missile boat squadrons, SAAR-5 ‘s like INS Ahi-Hanit are expected to be able to run blockades, provide air traffic control updates, play intelligence platform and play search and rescue/helicopter refueling platform all at the same time. The Hezbollah/Iranians/Syrians simply templated INS Ahi-Hanit operations and waited until it was doing something that compromised its active defenses. They could have been waiting for hours or days for just the right combination of events until they pulled the trigger. For example, If INS Ahi-Hanit were conducting flight operations with a helicopter, it would have to shut down its fully automatic anti-missile defenses while it landed. That kind of patient surveillance is how the Serbs nailed Scott O’Grady’s USAF F16 and later a USAF F117 in the Kosovo War.

[[Kirk Spencer added: “It is also possible is that the second missile ignored countermeasures. Remember that the ship had only been on station for a day or so. I am doubtful that the missiles were already stationed near the shore, but rather they had to be moved relatively undetected to launch positions and subsequently used. I agree that an optimal strike time is while the helicopter is in near-ship flight operations. However, no statements to that effect have been made. And we’ll also point out that chaff was fired. Chaff is harder on a helicopter than any electronic defenses.”]]

When Hezbollah/the Iranains did pull the trigger, the INS Ahi-Hanit was 16 km from the launcher and had under 60 seconds to respond. As it was, from the way the damage was described, it looks like the INS Ahi-Hanit decoyed away one of the two incoming missiles with chaff and nearly got the second to miss as well.

[[The ship’s exact position off-shore is not known. Trent goes with 16 kilometers. Kirk writes: “According to Haaretz article cited before as well as other sources, the ship was 18 km offshore. Barring absolutely perfect positioning, we’d believe the range more of 20-25 km.”]]

Trent argues that “Anti-ship missiles tend to strike the center of the highest contrast part of a ship. This is dead center of the ship’s superstructure. The standard use of chaff clouds to decoy anti-ship missiles is slightly ahead and to the sides of a ship so it can cruise through the chaff cloud and leave the missile locked on to the chaff cloud behind it. That the C-802 struck the helicopter deck implies it was being drawn off from the normal aim point by chaff and other electronic deception measures.”

Kirk Spencer disagrees: “The damage is consistent with a solid ‘hit’. The Hanit lost rudder control. It lost propulsion for a while. The explosion damaged under-decks so severely that the IDF was saying they thought the three remaining missing sailors would be found there eventually, and it caused a severe fire that engulfed the helicopter pad. Second, claiming the location of the strike indicates an almost miss makes two assumptions that are unjustified. The first assumption is that the ship was perpendicular to the approach path. “Center mass” is relative to view, and there’s no reason to assume the ship was running parallel to the shore at the time of impact. The second assumption is that missiles hit perfectly centered on the center of mass. A damage review of other ships struck by missiles will show that this is relatively uncommon. As an additional note, we point out that the first missile is reported to have gone OVER the ship, not behind it. In sum, we suspect that the second missile wasn’t decoyed.”

Given the secret presence of the C802 in the first instance, we both think it is reasonable to assume that there were Iranian signals intelligence and fire control people telling the truck mounted launchers all of this so as to set up the launch with the maximum chance of success.


Kirk Spencer and Trent Telenko are both skilled and knowledgeable military analysts. This is there their analysis of the recent attack on the Israeli corvette, INS Ahi-Hanit. They have areas of close agreement, and a few disagreements. After passing emails back and forth they produced this coordinated assessment, with noted disagreements. The disagreements and occasional “expanding comments” appear in double brackets.