Ilya Kramnik Mar 7, 2012
Russia is developing the air force component of its strategic forces. The Air Force will receive modernized bomber aircraft with new armament. Modern missiles broaden the capabilities of long-range aviation by facilitating its use in various types of combat.
From Bludgeon to Sward/Rapier
In February 2012 the Russian Air Force received the first upgraded bomber plane Tu-22M3M. With the new armament and equipment these planes will become an important element of the combat power of the Russian military aviation of the 2020-30s. Along with the TU-22M planes Russia is upgrading its Tu-160 and Tu-95MC planes.
The long-range aviation is considered the most flexible part of the nuclear tirade. The ability to use various means of destruction, and consequently the ability to destroy a variety of targets, the ability to change targets after the launch – all of these features make the long-range aviation a universal instrument.
The Kh-55 cruise missile designed in early 1980s and its variations make up the basis of the ammunition of the heavy bombers Tu-95 and Tu-160. The «basic» Kh-55 with a nuclear warhead and the range of up to 2500 km is a quite flexible instrument in a nuclear warfare – the radial probable error of less than 20 meters together with a powerful charge of 200 kilotons allows these missiles to destroy highly protected targets with the degree of probability close to 1.
A version of this missile known as Kh-65 with a 400 kg high explosive warhead was developed for non-nuclear military conflicts. The range of the missile dropped to 500-600 km due to the heavier weight of the non-nuclear warhead. Kh-55 could have become a universal instrument of long-range aviation, but the dissolution of the USSR led to its very limited production.
A couple of missiles Kh-101/Kh-102 are viewed as a high potential armament for the heavy bombers. Kh-101 is equipped with a non-nuclear warhead, while Kh-102 carries a «special charge». These are pre-sonic missiles with a cruising speed of 200 mps and the maximum speed of 270 mps. The radial probable error of Kh-101 is 10 meters, which classifies it as a high precision missile. The flight range of the missile is 5000 km, which effectively prevents the detection and interception of the carriers.
The tests of this missile were just completed, and so far the long-range aviation has received just a few Kh-101 missiles. Nevertheless, the upgrade goes on.
The destroyer of aircraft carriers
One of the main goals of the Russian long-range aviation has always been the destruction of sea-based targets of the potential enemy, primarily the US Navy aircraft carriers. Such attention paid to the aircraft carriers is natural – aircraft carriers with 30-50 assault aircraft located near the Russian sea borders become strategic weapons. Their destruction in the event of a hypothetical conflict is the most important task.
Kh-22 cruise missile designed in 1960s to be launched from Tu-22M3 bombers remains the key anti-ship weapon employed by the long-range aviation. With its high speed, long range and powerful charge Kh-22 remains an effective weapon. However in the next few years all remaining missiles of this type will be «retired» due to their age.
According to the information available, Kh-32 missile made on the basis of Kh-22 and similar to its predecessor in most basic characteristics is to replace Kh-22. The maximum speed of Kh-32 will be 4000 km/h, which is quite similar to the previous missile. However, its range should be must greater – it will be 800-1000 km vs. 450-600 for Kh-22. It is expected that Kh-32 will become available in 2020.
In order to employ such long range of the new missile, external guidance is required, which automatically implies the necessity of launching a group of satellites and/or the existence of specialized aircraft that are no longer available in the Russian Air Force after the Tu-95RTs were decommissioned. One hopes that the issue of guidance will be resolved by the time the new missile will be adopted.