Russia’s new Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fighter jet has been given another capability – the means to destroy surface warships. The fifth-generation multi-role aircraft will be armed with an extended range Kh-35UE cruise missile. The aircraft is to be introduced into service with the Aerospace Forces next year. Designated as a stealth air superiority fighter, it will eventually replace the Sukhoi Su-27 fourth-generation multirole aircraft in service with the Soviet and Russian militaries since the mid-1980s. Testing of the cruise missile on the T-50 has been completed to demonstrate that the weapon is compatible with the aircraft’s onboard equipment. When deployed, the cruise missile will be mounted underneath the T-50's wings.
The Kh-35UE tactical cruise missile is an upgrade of the Kh-35 jet-launched subsonic anti-ship missile. The successful incorporation effectively turns the T-50 into a ‘multifunctional fighting machine’ whose characteristics go far beyond those of a mere fighter aircraft.
The latest Kh-35 variant has the range of up to 260 kilometers, providing the T-50 with a stand-off capability, which enables the aircraft to launch the missile while staying out of range of enemy air defenses. The minimum range is 7 km. Upon launch, the missile instantly finds its target and independently directs itself toward it. The Kh-35UE attacks the target at the height of about three meters above sea level – lower than the ship's deck, which makes detecting it difficult for radar stations. Even if the Kh-35UE is detected, shooting it down at this altitude will be a mission extremely hard to accomplish.
The speed is Mach 0.8–Mach 0.95 (609–723 mph; 980–1,164 km/h), flight altitude: 10-15 m en route and roughly 3 m at terminal area. Warhead: 145 kg HE fragmentation shaped charge. Guidance system: inertial guidance and ARGS-35E X-band terminal active radar homing. The relatively small diameter – 45.0 cm – allows it to be installed on all types of carriers.
The Kh-35UE as a subsonic, sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missile composed of the body, active radar seeker, high-explosive fragmentation penetrator warhead, independent self-destruct system, inertial navigation system, radio altimeter, air intake, fuel system, efficient sustainer turbofan and solid-state rocket booster.
The automated control system is used to implement missile combat preparation and pre-launch procedures. Target designation data is fed from onboard organic and external sources, including airborne ones. Cruise flight phase is controlled by inertial navigation system to keep the missile on the preset path and to steer it to the target area. Terminal guidance is provided by an ECM-resistant active radar seeker. Thanks to the drastically reduced radar cross-section and sea-skimming flight profile the KH-35UE penetrates enemy ship’s self-defenses with enhanced probability, providing covert combat employment and surprise strike capabilities. Aerial unmanned and autonomous underwater vehicles can be used for guidance.
The weapon is unique. As a universal cruise missile, it can be placed on a variety of platforms – from ships, to airplanes, to helicopters, to coastal defense missile systems. The Kh-35UE has demonstrated itself effectively on the carrier-based variants of the MiG-29K and MiG-29KUBR fighter planes, and on the Ka-52 attack helicopter. Launched from various platforms several missiles can sink a ship comparable in size to the US Arleigh Burke class destroyer.
The missile is capable of targeting and destroying everything from landing craft to aircraft carriers, as well as ground targets, including hard points, warehouses, and even mobile military equipment. One missile can take out vessel up to 5,000 tons. Before the Kh-35UE, the classical approach was for various platforms (aircraft, helicopters, ships and coastal defense systems) to use missiles specially-designed for each.
The Kh-35UE is able to bypass missile defense interceptor systems, as well as advanced electronic jamming, thanks to its dual-band active/passing homing guidance system. The ability to target an array of ground-based targets, along with a shorter intake and folding wings, distinguishes the Kh-35UE from its predecessor – the Kh-35 jet-launched anti-ship cruise missile.
The fact that the missile can be fired from a multitude of platforms with high precision at great distance makes it an indispensable weapon for all services. Deployed in large numbers, the unified weapon greatly enhances the firepower and combat capability of the military. With the introduction of the Kh-35UE into its armament suite, the T-50 will be able to destroy full range of targets with unparalleled efficiency.