Air Weapons: Russian Mystery Missile


April 4, 2012:  Russia announced a new stealthy cruise missile for their heavy bombers and whatever emerges from the effort to develop something to compete with the American F-22 and F-35. The Russian announcement said little more, declaring that details of the new missile were classified. That was probably to avoid embarrassment, as the Russians have been having a hard time completing missile designs that were halted at the end of the Cold War (1991) because there was no more money.

One of these missiles was the Kh-102, a stealthy development of the Cold War era Kh-55. The Kh-102 had been in development for nearly two decades, but most work was halted in the 1990s because of money shortages. Ten years ago there were reports that work had been resumed. Five years ago some appeared, hanging from a Tu-95 heavy bomber.

 These missiles are upgrades of the Cold War era Kh-55 (AS-15) cruise missile. Five years ago an upgrade, the Kh-555, appeared. This missile is six meters (19.8 feet), weighs 1.6 tons, and has a range of 3,000 kilometers. The 364 kg (800 pound) conventional warhead appears to be a cluster bomb type (carrying bomblets). The missile uses inertial and satellite supplied guidance and can hit within six meters of its aiming point. Russia says it will use these missiles to attack terrorist bases in foreign countries. There was also a nuclear version, but this does not appear to be in regular service.

The Kh-102 has a new shape, and a radar absorbing skin, to make it more difficult for radar to detect it. Otherwise, the Kh-102 weighs 2.2 tons, but has the range and payload of the Kh-555. Apparently, the Kh-102 isn't going to replace Kh-555 missiles but complement them, at least until the Kh-555s are too old to maintain and are retired. That's a process that could take a decade or more. Currently, Tu-160 and Tu-95MS heavy bombers are equipped to carry a dozen Kh-555 or Kh-102 cruise missiles each. The new fighters would apparently carry one or two of them. 

Russia is increasing its Tu-160 bomber force from 16 to 30 aircraft. The Tu-160 "Blackjack" is very similar to the 216 ton American B-1B but never really lived up to its potential. Still, it is the most modern heavy bomber the Russians have. It's a 267 ton aircraft that can carry up to 40 tons of bombs and missiles, for up to 12,000 kilometers. The aircraft can refuel in the air. It originally entered service in 1987, and was built mainly to deliver cruise missiles. Noting the success of the B-1 in Afghanistan and Iraq with smart bombs, the Tu-160s were modified to do the same, in addition to retaining their cruise missile carrying capability.

The Tu-95 aircraft (called "the Bear" in the West) entered service over half a century ago and is expected to remain in service, along with the Tu-142 variant, for another three decades. Over 500 Tu-95s were built and it is the largest and fastest turboprop aircraft in service. Russia still maintains a force of 50 Tu-95MSs (a missile carrying version from the 1980s) and fifteen Tu-142s (for maritime reconnaissance). There are dozens of Tu-95s in storage, which can be restored to service as either a bomber or a Tu-142.

The 188 ton aircraft has a flight crew (for the Tu-95 version) consisting of a pilot, copilot, engineer, and radioman and an unrefueled range of 15,000 kilometers. Max speed is 925 kilometers an hour, while cruising speed is 440 kilometers an hour. Originally designed as a nuclear bomber, the Tu-142 version still can carry up to ten tons of weapons (torpedoes, mines, depth charges, anti-ship missiles, sonobuoys) and a lot more sensors (naval search radar and electronic monitoring gear). There are two 23mm autocannon mounted in the rear of the aircraft. The mission crew of a Tu-142 usually consists of eight personnel, who operate the radars and other electronic equipment. Patrol flights for the Tu-142 can last twelve hours or more, especially when in-flight refueling is used. Maximum altitude is over 14,000 meters (45,000 feet). The Tu-95MS is designed to carry four or more large cruise missiles.



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