The introduction of non-nuclear cruise missiles – to be covered in more depth in the second part of this article – has made it possible to use Tu-95MS and Tu-160 aircraft in real warfare. This happened for the first time in November 2015 over Syria. According to the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, during a four-day operation from November 17 to 20, Tu-95s flew six sorties and Tu-160s flew ten (in addition to 96 sorties by Backfires), launching 48 Kh-101 and 35 Kh-555 cruise missiles. The bombers flew to their targets from Engels, over the Caspian Sea, and launched their weapons over Iranian territory, close to the Iraqi border. The exception was the mission conducted on November 20, 2015 when two Tu-160s took off from Olenyegorsk base in northern Russia, flew round Norway and the British Isles, entered the Mediterranean Sea via Gibraltar and flew over the entire Mediterranean to launch eight Kh-555 missiles against targets in Syria. Then, flying over Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Caspian Sea, they returned to their home base at Engels; the route covered more than 7,019nm (13,000km).
Independently of its bomber modernisation programmes, Russia is arming them with new weapons. Beginning in 2003, Tu-160s and Tu-95MS bombers were adapted to employ conventional Kh-555 missiles: conversions of nuclear Kh-55s. Since 2011, the aircraft have also been configured to carry up to 12 new-generation nuclear Kh-102 and then conventional Kh-101 missiles. The Kh-101/ Kh-102 missile is nearly 1.4m (4.6ft) longer and 1,000kg (2,205lb) heavier than the Kh- 55SM or Kh-555. As a result, it was necessary to develop a new, stronger six-round rotary launcher capable of carrying Kh-101 and Kh-102 missiles in the weapon bays of the Tu-160.
Tu-95MS bombers, which have smaller internal weapon bays, can carry Kh-101/ Kh-102 missiles on external pylons only. The maximum range of a Kh-101 missile is estimated to be between 1,620 and 2,160 nautical miles (3,000 and 4,000km); the range of the Kh-102 version is greater.
The Raduga company based at Dubna is developing the strategic long-range Kh-BD (Bolshoy Dalnosti) cruise missile, which is an extended version of the Kh-101/Kh-102 to utilise room available in Tu-160’s weapons bay. Some Russian sources claim the Kh-BD is designed with a range of 3,780 nautical miles (7,000km).
When design work on the Tu-160 bomber began in 1972, it was to be armed with two 10.80m/35.4ft supersonic Kh-45 missiles, and the weapon bays were designed accordingly with a length of 11.30m (37.1ft). After the aircraft’s design had been frozen, the Tu-160’s armament was changed to the shorter 6m (19.7ft) subsonic Kh-55 (AS-15 Kent) cruise missile, meaning there is plenty of empty space within the weapon bays, even when loaded with 7.4m (24.3ft) Kh-101 missiles.
Raduga’s design bureau is also developing a heavy anti-shipping missile, designated Kh-32M, for the Tu-22M3 Backfire, which reportedly has a range of 486 nautical miles (900km), thanks to a new engine control system and an optimised high-altitude flight profile that is twice the range of its Kh-22 predecessor.
A Kh-32M weighs around 6,000kg (13,227lb) and flies at Mach 4+ when diving in its terminal phase. The Kh-32 entered low-rate production around 2005, while the upgraded Kh-32M has been in testing since 2012.
Two other new missiles under development for all types of Russian long-range bombers are the Kh-SD and Giper-Zvukovaya Upravlaemaya Raketa (GZUR). Both are about 6m (19.7ft) long to fit in the weapon bays of the Tu-22M3 and Tu-95MS. Both missiles have a range of 810 nautical miles (1,500km).
Each type uses a different approach to survive in a heavy air defence environment.
Raduga’s medium-range Kh-SD (Sredney Dalnosti) is a subsonic cruise missile featuring a low-observable airframe, similar to the American AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM), fitted with the guidance system of the strategic Kh-101 missile. A Tu-22M3M Backfire bomber has capacity to carry six missiles on an internal rotary launcher and two on external pylons. The Tu-95MSM Bear H strategic bomber is capable of carrying up to 14 missiles, including six internally and the Tu-160M/ Tu-160M2 can carry up to 12 on two internal rotary launchers.
Jointly developed by Raduga and the Tactical Missiles Corporation, the GZUR hypersonic guided missile is rated at Mach 6, with the ability to hit various surface targets with a probable main mission of anti-ship. Purchases of both Kh-SD and GZUR missiles are planned under Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027.
Stealthy Cruise Missile – Raduga Kh-101/102
RUSSIA’S ONLY known stealthy air-launched missile, the Raduga Kh-101/102 family of new-generation air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) was designed for the upgraded Tu-160 and Tu-95M strategic bombers. Generally based on the smaller and nonstealthy Kh-55, they are much larger and heavier, with a considerably reduced RCS.
The Kh-101/102, the only successful Russian stealth project to date, is in largescale production. Russian sources note that the weapons’ RCS is significantly reduced through shaping and the use of composite materials that absorb electromagnetic energy.
The Kh-101 has an 882lb (400kg) conventional warhead, while the Kh-102 has a nuclear warhead of 250kT yield. The missiles weigh 5,400lb (2,500kg) and are powered by a retractable turbofan. The nuclear version has a range of 2,967nm (5,500km), while the Kh-101 has a shorter reach due to its heavier warhead. The weapons reach up to 970km/h at altitudes between 100 and 19,680ft. Guidance is by terrain-contour matching (TERCOM), enhanced with INS/satellite en-route correction (using a combined GLONASS/GPS receiver). Terminal phase guidance switches to TV scene matching. This combined guidance method achieves high accuracy, with a claimed circular error probable of between 40 and 66ft (12 and 20m).
The Kh-101/102 was developed under a classified programme and few hard facts are known. It was tested for the first time in 2004 and reportedly commissioned into RuASF service in 2013. The Kh-101/102 can be carried internally only by the upgraded Tu-160 Blackjack; its two new rotary launchers can accommodate up to 12 missiles between them. The Kh-101/102 is too large for internal carriage by the Tu-95MS Bear-H, but as many as eight can be suspended from external pylons on four twin-round launcher units.
The Kh-101 saw its combat debut on November 17, 2015 as Tu-160s launched it against antiAssad forces in Syria. Conducted on President Vladimir Putin’s orders, the operation marked decisive retaliation for the terrorist action that brought down a MetroJet Airbus A321 over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015.