Recent events in Syria have again highlighted the usefulness of cruise missiles to strike at targets deep into enemy territory. The combat operations are demonstrating the advances in cruise missile technology and new weapons.
Modern Russian weapons have proven their reliability and efficiency in Syria, said Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Aircraft of strategic aviation used for the first time air-launched missiles Kh-101 with a range of up to 4,500 kilometers in real combat conditions,” the minister added.
The new weapon was first fire-tested in Syria on November, 17, 2015.
That day, two Tu-160 strategic bombers took off from Engels air base near Saratov to launch 16 Raduga Kh-101 missiles against Islamic State positions.
It was the first combat debut for the new cruise missile, as well as the Tupolev Tu-160Blackjack as its delivery means. Russian and Soviet long-range cruise missile – capable strategic bombers had never been used in local wars before. The Tu-160 is the heaviest strategic combat aircraft ever built.
The Raduga Kh-101 was initially developed in versions fitted with a non-nuclear warhead (the Kh-101) and with a nuclear warhead (the Kh-102). The missile can be equipped with high-explosive, penetrating, or cluster warhead. The conventional warhead would pack 880lbs (400 kg) of explosives. The nuclear warhead is thought be a 250KT device.
The Kh-101 is integrated with the Tu-160 (twelve missiles), Tu-95MS16 (eight missiles), Tu-22M3/5 (four missiles) and Su-34 (two missiles) bombers. The weapon can be launched by an aircraft at the altitude from 3,000 up to 12,000 m flying at a speed in the range of 900 km per hour. The weapon has no booster. It has to be dropped to give it initial velocity.
The maximum range is 5500 km (3418 miles), a cruise speed of 700-720 km/h, a maximum speed of 970 km/h, and an endurance of flight of 10 hours. Some sources even say that the maximum range is up to 10,000 km. The long range enables it to strike targets deep inside the enemy’s territory without threat to the launch platform. The bombers do not have to penetrate enemy airspace to any great extent. They can launch cruise missiles from stand-off distances.
The new missiles afford Russia’s bomber fleet a long-range precision strike capability that was until recently the sole purview of the US Air Force. The air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) has a combat weight of 2,400 kg (including a warhead of a length of 745 cm), and a speed of Mach 0.6-0.78. The altitude of flight is 30 – 6000 m. Maximum deviation of 20 meters. Accuracy for moving targets is up to 10 m. The highest accuracy of 5 m. It can accelerate to a maximum speed of 1,380 mph and climb to a maximum altitude of 49,235 feet.
The new cruise missile is believed to be able to correct its flight trajectory. It boasts a low radar signature. In particular, an opto-electronic flight correction system is used instead of a radio altimeter. The weapon with radar-evading stealth features poses unique threats because it can defeat defenses by flying at low altitudes, avoiding radars, and hiding behind terrain. Some newer cruise missiles have making them even less visible to radar or infrared detectors.
With the «aerial torpedo” configuration, the ALCM has a low radar cross-section of about 0.01 square meters. Raduga boasts swept wings and uses radar absorbing materials, conformal antennas, and other stealth technologies.
The ALCM uses a terrain map stored in its onboard computer, as well as a TV-seeker for the terminal stage of flight. The missile uses a combination of inertial guidance and satellite navigation using the Russian GLONASS system to weave the way to predetermined waypoints to avoid obstacles or air defenses. It might have an imaging infrared terminal guidance system. Hugging the topography of the Earth, it can travel at tree top levels to stay well below enemy radar. Preprogrammed geographical data and onboard sensors help the missile avoid collisions with terrain features or buildings.
The Kh-101 has a variable flight profile at altitudes ranging from 30 – 70 m to 6000 m, a cruising speed of 190–200 m/s and a maximum speed of 250–270 m/s. The ALCM is reported to have a circular error probability of less than about 6 m (30 feet) at the maximum range. During its terminal phase, the missile locates its target through a mix of coordinates and onboard image recognition, essentially matching an uploaded image of the target to what the missile sees in front of it. If all goes to plan, the payload is then guided straight to the target for a violent impact.
The Raduga’s specifications make it a very unique weapon. Nobody, even the United States, has an analogue. US aircraft are currently equipped noticeably more poorly: the operational range of the Russian Kh-101 exceeds any American analogues more than twice over. The combination of a strategic bomber and the highly accurate battle-tested missile with such a great range gives Russia the capability to strike any target in the world on short notice.