Latest Russian Strikes on Syria Employ New Cruise Missile

 - November 20, 2015, 7:43 AM
The Russian MoD released this image of a Kh-101 cruise missile separating from a Tu-160 bomber. (Photo: Ministry of Defense)

In retaliation for the bombing of the Metrojet Airbus A321, Russia launched a new wave of air strikes on the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) on November 17, using strategic bombers. This marked the first combat use of the Tu-95MS and Tu-160 and their primary weapon—the Raduga Kh-101 cruise missileagainst real targets. Tu-22M3s were also committed, dropping free-fall FAB-250-270 HE bombs.

The operation, which was staged from airbases inside Russia, comprised 34 air-launched cruise missiles on the first day, 16 on the second and 12 more on the morning of November 19.

The Russian MoD released photos and videos in which a Tu-160 launches what is believed to be the Kh-101. Designed by Raduga, this weapon represents a second generation of Russian long-range cruise missile. It differs from the Soviet-era Kh-55 in outward appearance. Raduga is the lead developer of nuclear-tipped air-launched weapons in the country. The Kh-101 carries a conventional warhead; the Kh-102 a nuclear charge.

The Kh-55 resembles the original U.S. AGM-86B Tomahawk air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) that entered service in 1982. The similarity comes from the fact that both were developed in the 1970s to fit into 533-mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes, a standard weapon system for submarines. With a launch weight of 1.3 tonnes (2,865 pounds), the Kh-55 has a compact dual-flow turbojet stored inside the fuselage, which extends into the air flow at launch. This R-95-300 turbojet develops 250 t 350 kg (550-770 pounds) of thrust, sufficient for the missile to maintain low-level flight at high subsonic speed.

The Kh-101/102 series has been designed specifically as an air-launched weapon. Raduga designers have abandoned the circular missile fuselage cross-section, characteristic of the first generation. The nose and forward fuselage section of the newer missile is "aerodynamically shaped" to produce lift.

While the Kh-55 was produced in Kharkov in the Ukraine, the Kh-101/102 is of all-Russian manufacture. It is powered by a TRDD-50A turbojet producing 450 kg (990 pounds) of thrust . It entered service in 2013. Like the Kh-55, the Kh-101 is intended to destroy ground targets with known (fixed) coordinates. Maximum firing range reportedly falls between 4,500 and 5,500 km (2,400 and 3,000 nm). The 7.45-meter-long (24.5 foot) weapon has a launch weight of 2.2 to 2.4 tons (4,850 to 5,300 pounds), compared with 1.5-1.7 tons (3,300 to 3,750 pounds) for the Kh-55SM. The Kh-101/102 can be carried  externally on pylons, or internally. The weapons bay of the Tu-160 is outfitted with two drum launchers each loaded with six missiles.

Typically, the missile flies at a height of 30 to 70 meters (100 to 230 ft) using a digital map for terrain following, which is downloaded before flight into an onboard computer. The trajectory is corrected by a Glonass/GPS satellite-aided navigation system and an electro-optical sensor.