On July 5, Russian strategic bombers struck the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria with new Kh-101 Raduga air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM). According to the Russia’s Defense Ministry, Tu-95MS bombers launched Kh-101 cruise missiles on IS targets in the area along the boundary between the Syrian provinces of Hama and Homs. The planes took off from the Engels airfield in Russia to perform a flight with aerial refueling. They returned to the home base after the mission was accomplished. The Khmeimim airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia, which is currently being used by front-line aviation, is not suited for strategic bombers. Its runway is too short and the necessary infrastructure is missing. But strategic bombers can operate without landing on Syrian soil.
Three ammunition depots and a command facility near the village of Uqayribat were destroyed. The aircraft flew from their base in southwestern Russia and launched the missiles at a distance of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the targets.
The ministry did not say how many aircraft took part in the attack, but said the strategic bombers had been escorted by Sukhoi-30SM fighters from Russia's airbase in Syria's Latakia province. This strike marked the sixth time that Russia has used the Kh-101 in combat.
A Tupolev-95MS (Bear) can carry eight such missiles at any one time. A Tu-160 bomber can carry 12 of them. Over 60 cruise-missile capable aircraft are in the inventory of Russia’s Long-Range Aviation. A Su-34 is a tactical aircraft which can carry two missiles of this type.
The Raduga can be equipped with high-explosive, penetrating, or cluster warhead. The conventional warhead would pack 880lbs (400 kg) of explosives. The Kh-102 variant can be fitted with a nuclear warhead – a 250KT device. The Kh-101 uses GLONASS, the Russian satellite navigation system, for trajectory correction and is reported to have an accuracy of five to six meters.
An effective range is up to 4,500 km. The long range enables it to strike targets deep inside the enemy’s territory without threat to the launch platform. The missile can be launched at the altitude from 3,000 up to 12,000 m.
A combat weight is 2,400 kg, including the warhead. The altitude of flight: 30 – 6000 m. Maximum deviation: 20 m. Accuracy for moving targets: up to 10 m. The highest accuracy is 5 m. It can accelerate to a maximum speed of 1,380 mph and climb to a maximum altitude of over 49,000 feet (15,000 meters).
With no booster, the ALCM has to be dropped to give it initial velocity. The Kh-101 has a variable flight profile at altitudes ranging from 30 – 70 m to 6000 m, a cruising speed: 190–200 m/s and a maximum speed: 250–270 m/s.
The Raduga boasts a low radar signature. With the “aerial torpedo" configuration, the radar cross-section is only about 0.01 square meters. The ALCM boasts swept wings and uses radar absorbing materials, conformal antennas, and other stealth technologies.
The missile would use a combination of inertial guidance and satellite navigation using the Russian GLONASS system. A flight trajectory can be corrected. An opto-electronic flight correction system is used instead of a radio altimeter. With its radar evading features, the missile flies at low altitudes, avoiding radars and hiding behind terrain.
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. Air defenses can be overwhelmed with multiple low flying Kh-101s coming from different directions and defeating air defenses at the weakest points. The Radugas can also fly circuitous routes to reach targets, avoiding radar and air defenses.
No other air force in the world has a weapon of such great range, offering great accuracy and stealth features. The Kh-101 exceeds any American analogue more than twice over. The firepower and mobility displayed on July 5 is a fearsome reminder of the increased Russian military capabilities. Another takeaway: with this air-to-surface strike capability Russia hardly needs to breach the INF Treaty, something the US has recently accused it of doing. It simply does not have to with such awesome strike power of its aircraft.