The Kh-55 (Russian: Х-55, also known as RKV-500; NATO reporting name: AS-15 'Kent') is a Soviet/Russian subsonic air-launched cruise missile, designed by MKB Raduga. It has a range of up to 2,500 km (1,350 nmi) and can carry nuclear warheads. Kh-55 is launched exclusively from bomber aircraft and has spawned a number of conventionally armed variants mainly for tactical use, such as the Kh-65SE and Kh-SD, but only the Kh-101 and Kh-555 appear to have made it into service. Contrary to popular belief, the Kh-55 was not the basis of the submarine- and ground-launched S-10 Granat or RK-55 Relief (SS-N-21 'Sampson' and SSC-X-4 'Slingshot') designed by NPO Novator. The RK-55 is very similar to the air-launched Kh-55 (AS-15 'Kent') but the Kh-55 has a drop-down turbofan engine and was designed by MKB Raduga. Both have formed the basis of post-Cold-War missiles, in particular the Sizzler which has a supersonic approach phase.
Kh-55 in the Ukrainian Air Force Museum
|Type||Air-launched cruise missile|
|Place of origin||Soviet Union|
|Used by||Russia, China, Iran|
|Wars||Syrian Civil War|
|Manufacturer||Raduga OKB , KhAZ (Kharkiv) , Novator (MZiK) & NPP Temp (Eka) NPO Strela (Oren) , else|
|Mass||1,650 kg (3,640 lb) (Kh-65SE)|
2,400 kg (5,300 lb) (Kh-101)
|Length||604 cm (19 ft 10 in) (Kh-65SE)|
745 cm (24 ft 5 in) (Kh-101)
|Diameter||51.4 cm (20.2 in) (Kh-55-Kh-55SM)|
|Warhead||Thermonuclear weapon or Conventional warhead|
|Blast yield||Nuclear 200kt (Kh-55-Kh-55SM)|
|Engine||R95TP-300 Turbojet/turbofan (Kh-55-Kh-55SM)|
360-400 kgf (Kh-55-Kh-55SM)
|Wingspan||310 cm (122.0 in) (Kh-55-Kh-55SM)|
|2,500 km (1,300 nmi) (Kh-55)|
3,000 km (1,600 nmi) (Kh-55SM)
600 km (320 nmi) (Kh-65SE)
300 km, later 600 km (Kh-SD)
|Flight altitude||under 110 m/300 ft|
|Speed||Mach 0.75 (KH-SD)|
Mach 0.6-0.78 (Kh-101)
|inertial guidance with Doppler radar/terrain map updates; Kh-SD had a TC/IIR terminal guidance system, and an alternative active radar homing seeker was proposed|
|Tu-95MS, Tu-160, Su-34|
A Kh-55 production unit was delivered to Shanghai in 1995 and appears to have been used to produce a similar weapon for China.
In the late 1960s, the "Ekho" study conducted by the GosNIIAS institute concluded that it would be more effective to deploy lots of small, subsonic cruise missiles than the much more expensive supersonic missiles then in favour. Work started at the Raduga bureau on an air-launched cruise missile in 1971, with a first test flight in 1976. The appearance of the US Air Force's AGM-86 ALCM in that year gave further impetus to the programme, with the Soviet Air Force issuing a formal requirement for a new air-launched cruise missile in December 1976. The longer-range Kh-55SM was developed a few years after the original went into service. In the late 1980s work began on a replacement missile with either conventional (Kh-101) or nuclear (Kh-102) warheads and greater stealth. It was designed by Igor Seleznyev of Raduga. The importance of advanced missiles as "force multipliers" increased as Russia's fleet of available cruise-missile bombers declined in the early 1990s. The cancellation of the ambitious Kh-90 ramjet missile due to INF treaty in 1987 led to a renewed emphasis on improving the Kh-55, in particular to achieve the <20 m accuracy required to hit infrastructure targets with conventional - as opposed to nuclear - warheads. First flight of the Kh-101 was in 1998, and evaluation trials started in 2000.
After the end of the Cold War and anti-proliferation treaties restricting the deployment of long-range nuclear missiles, the Russians made efforts to develop tactical versions of the Kh-55 with conventional warheads. First came the 600 km-range Kh-65SE (derived from the Kh-55) announced in 1992, then the 300 km-range Kh-SD tactical version of the Kh-101 for export, and finally the Kh-555. In 2001 the Russian Air Force are believed to have selected the Kh-101 and Kh-555 for development.
A 1995 Russian document suggested a complete production facility had been transferred to Shanghai, for the development of a nuclear-armed cruise missile. Originally it was thought that this was based on the 300 km-range Raduga Kh-15 (AS-16 'Kickback'), but it now appears that it was the Kh-55 that was transferred to China.
It is powered by a single 400 kgf Ukrainian-made, Motor Sich JSC R95-300 turbofan engine, with pop-out wings for cruising efficiency. It can be launched from both high and low altitudes, and flies at subsonic speeds at low levels (under 110 m/300 ft altitude). After launch, the missile's folded wings, tail surfaces and engine deploy. It is guided through a combination of an inertial guidance system plus a terrain contour-matching guidance system which uses radar and images stored in the memory of an onboard computer to find its target. This allows the missile to guide itself to the target with a high degree of accuracy.
The original Kh-55 had a drop-down engine; the Kh-65SE had a fixed external turbojet engine, while the Kh-SD had its engine inside the body of the missile. Current-production versions are equipped with the increased power of 450 kgf Russian-made NPO Saturn TRDD-50A engine.
The Kh-101 (Russian: X-101) version has a low radar cross-section of about 0.01 square meters. Kh-102 is a nuclear version. The Kh-101 is specifically designed for air-launch, abandoning the circular fuselage cross-section of the Kh-55 for a nose and forward fuselage section "aerodynamically shaped" to produce lift. It is 7.45 m (24.4 ft) long with a launch weight of 2,200–2,400 kg (4,900–5,300 lb) and is equipped with a 400 kg (880 lb) high-explosive, penetrating, or cluster warhead, or a 250 kT nuclear warhead for the Kh-102. The missile is powered by a TRDD-50A turbojet producing 450 kg (990 lb) of thrust to cruise at 700–720 km/h (430–450 mph; Mach 0.57–Mach 0.59) with a maximum speed of 970 km/h (600 mph; Mach 0.79) while flying 30–70 m (100–230 ft) above the ground, and hit fixed targets using a pre-downloaded digital map for terrain following and GLONASS/INS for trajectory correction to achieve accuracy of 6–10 meters; it is claimed to be able to hit small moving targets like vehicles using a terminal electro-optical sensor or imaging infrared system. Range estimates vary from >2,000 km (1,200 mi), to 4,500–5,000–5,500 km (2,800–3,100–3,400 mi), to as much as 10,000 km (6,200 mi) with a flight endurance of 10 hours; long range is essential since Russia has few bases abroad and cannot provide distant fighter escorts. The Tu-95MS can carry eight of the weapons on four under-wing pylons and the Tu-160 can be outfitted with two drum launchers each loaded with six missiles for 12 total, but the smaller Tu-22M3 will continue to carry the Kh-555, although it can also carry the Kh-101/Kh-102. The missiles are equipped with an onboard EW defence system as of late 2018.
The original Kh-55 entered service in 31 December 1983. The Kh-55SM followed in 1987. The conventionally armed Kh-55SE was flight tested on 13 January 2000, and first used in exercises over the Black Sea 17–22 April 2000. The Kh-555 is thought to have entered service in 2004, the first pictures of the Kh-101 appeared in 2007.
The Kh-55 can be carried by the Tupolev Tu-95MS ('Bear-H') and Tu-142M ('Bear-F'), and the Kh-55SM is carried by the Tupolev Tu-160 ('Blackjack'). Sixteen Kh-55's can be carried by the Tu-95MS16 (Tu-95MSM) variant, ten on underwing hardpoints and six on an MKU-5-6 rotary launcher.
The Kh-55 was also tested on the Tu-22M ('Backfire'). The Kh-SD tactical version was to have been carried by the Tu-95MS (fourteen missiles) and the Tu-22M (eight missiles); the Kh-101 is expected to be carried by the Tu-160 (twelve missiles), Tu-95MS16 (eight missiles), Tu-22M3/5 (four missiles) and Su-34 (two missiles).
The end of the Cold War left Ukraine with 1,612 Kh-55's, part of the armament of the 19 Tu-160's of the 184th Heavy Bomber Regiment at Pryluky and the 25 Tu-95MS of the 182nd Heavy Bomber Regiment at Uzin-Shepelovka. It was reported that Ukraine demanded US$3bn for the return of the planes and their missiles to Russia. In October 1999 a compromise was reached that saw Russia pay US$285m for 11 aircraft and 575 missiles, while the rest were meant to be destroyed under a US-funded disarmament programme. However, in March 2005 Ukraine's prosecutor-general Sviatoslav Piskun said that in 2001, 12 Kh-55's had been exported to Iran in a deal allegedly worth US$49.5 million and six to China. In March 2015, Iran subsequently revealed the existence of the Soumar cruise missile with a design and range comparable to the Kh-55.
During the Syrian Civil War on 17 November 2015 Russian Ministry of Defence announced that Tupolev Tu-95MS aircraft launched Kh-55 air-launched cruise missiles against targets in Syria, while Tupolev Tu-160 bombers launched Kh-101 stealthy cruise missiles in their first combat use. Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber aircraft launched missiles against targets in Syria's Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces and Tupolev Tu-95MS and Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers launched missiles against targets in Aleppo and Idlib provinces. A total of 34 air-launched cruise missiles are claimed to have been fired against 14 ISIL targets in Syria on 17 November 2015. Tu-95MS bombers fired Kh-555 and Tu-95MSM fired Kh-101 missiles against targets in Syria on 17 November 2016. On 17 February 2017, the Tu-95MS strategic bombers, flying from the Russian territory through the airspace of Iran and Iraq, attacked purported ISIL facilities near the Syrian city of Raqqa with the Kh-101 cruise missiles. The targets included purported militant camps and training centers as well as a command center of a major ISIL unit. Russian Tu-95MS long-range bombers struck Daesh targets in Syria on 5 July 2017, strikes were made from a range of about 1,000 kilometers. 26 September 2017 Russia's Tu-95MS strategic bombers carried out missile strikes with Kh-101 on ISIS and the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda (now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) in the provinces of Idlib and Deir Ezzor.
On 5 July 2017, Kh-101 was used by Russian Air Force to destroy three ISIS ammunition depots and a command facility near the town of Aqirbat.
On 26 September 2017, Kh-101 missile was used by Russian Air Force to destroy a number of ISIS command posts, fortifications, military hardware as well as ammunition depots in Syria.
- Kh-55 (NATO 'Kent-A', RKV-500A, Izdeliye 120) - original model with 2,500 km range.
- Kh-55-OK - with optical guidance.
- Kh-55SM (NATO 'Kent-B', RKV-500B, Izdeliye 121) - with extra fuel tanks to extend range to 3000 km.
- Kh-101/102 (Izdeliye 111) - developed as a very stealthy replacement for the Kh-55SM in the late 1990s, the Kh-101 has a conventional warhead and the Kh-102 is thermonuclear. This missile weighs some 2,200 - 2,400 kg, the weight of warhead is 400–450 kg. According to reports, the Kh-101 has a maximum range of 4500–5500 km and a variable flight profile at altitudes ranging from 30 – 70 m to 6000 m, a cruising speed of 190–200 m/s and a maximum speed of 250–270 m/s. The missile is equipped with an electro-optical system for correcting the flight trajectory and with a TV guidance system for terminal guidance. Its official range is 4,500 km or 3,000 km with a conventional payload. It is re-targetable. The missiles are expected to be accurate within 10–20 m CEP. They are expected to be in service in required numbers by 2023. The new missile complex has been successfully tested and in recent years put into series production to equip modernized Tu-160 and Tu-95MSM bombers.
- Kh-65SE - tactical version announced in 1992 with 410 kg conventional warhead and restricted to the 600 km range limit of the INF treaty.
- Kh-55/65SD (средней дальности Srednei Dalnosti - 'Medium Range') - 300 km range conventional version announced in 1995, possibly for export. Shared components with the Kh-101, range reportedly increased to 600 km with a high-altitude approach, but the Kh-SD was apparently shelved in 2001. An alternative active radar seeker was proposed for anti-shipping use.
- Kh-555 (NATO 'Kent-C', Kh-55SE, Kh-55Sh) - conventionally armed version with an improved guidance system and warhead. It became operational in 2000. Entered service in 2004.
- Kh-BD conventional and nuclear armed version with said range up to 3000 km or greater, near or more than 5000 km range.
- Kh-50 or Kh-SD new stealthy short to medium (300 to 1500–1900 km) ranges and conventional (or also nuclear) variant (somewhat analogue of AGM-158 JASSM). Length is 6m, Uses inertial/GLONASS/DSMAC guidance
- Soumar - Missile likely derived from the Kh-55 produced by Iran.
It was believed originally that the RK-55 (SSC-X-4 'Slingshot' and SS-N-21 'Sampson') were land- and submarine-launched derivatives of the Kh-55, but it is now known that the Kh-55 is different from the other two as its motor drops down below the missile during flight.
- RK-55 - so similar to the Kh-55 it was long believed in the West to be merely a sub-/surface-launched version
- AGM-86 Air-Launched Cruise Missile - 1430 kg missile with 2400+ km range, Mach 0.73
- AGM-129 ACM (Advanced Cruise Missile - stealthy 1330 kg missile with 3700 km range) (decommissioned)
- BGM-109 Tomahawk - surface/sub- launched, but otherwise similar to the Kh-55
- Nirbhay (India) - Nirbhay is an all-weather low-cost medium-range cruise missile
- CJ-10 - Chinese land-attack cruise missile, believed to have incorporated elements from the Kh-55
- Hoveizeh (cruise missile) Iranian land attack missile
- Meshkat (missile) - Iranian land-attack cruise missile in development
- Babur missile Pakistani missile
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Raduga Kh-55.|
- CSIS Missile Threat - KH-55
- worldweapon.ru (in Russian) - has good pics at the bottom
- GlobalSecurity.org - Kh-55
- fas.org - AS-15 KENT
- Kopp, Carlo (2006-06-22), Bypassing the NMD: China and the Cruise Missile Proliferation Problem, Alexandria, United States: International Assessment and Strategy Center, archived from the original on 2006-07-14 - Excellent review of the routes by which Kh-55 technology has proliferated.