The Kh-101 / Kh-102 is a line of conventional and nuclear capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) developed and deployed by Russia. A stealthy missile, the Kh-101/-102 is designed to defeat air defense systems by flying at low, terrain-hugging altitudes to avoid radar systems. The Kh-101 carries a conventional warhead, while the Kh-102 is believed to carry a 250 kt nuclear payload.
Kh-101 / Kh-102 at a Glance
- Originated from
- Possessed by
- Air-launched Cruise Missile (ALCM)
- Tu-160 Blackjack, Tu-22M3/5 Backfire C, Tu-95MS16 Bear-H, and Su-27IB
- 7.45 m
- 0.51 m
- 450 kg
- HE, fragmentation, submunition (Kh-101), 250 kt nuclear (Kh-102)
- 2,500-2,800 km
- In service
Kh-101 / Kh-102 Development
The Kh-101/-102 was developed as a long-range, standoff cruise missile to replace the aging Kh-55 and Kh-555 ALCMs. It travels on a low altitude flight path beneath infrared and radar systems, and its use of radar absorbing composite material makes the missile challenging to detect.1 Its accuracy is also believed to be quite high, employing the electronic GLONASS satellite navigation (the Russian equivalent to GPS) and TV terminal guidance. Soviet engineers began designing the Kh-101/-102 in the late 1980’s, and full scale development likely began in 1995.2 The Kh-101 achieved initial operating capability in August 2003, and entered service in 2012.3
Kh-101 / Kh-102 Specifications
The Kh-101/-102 ALCM is 7.45 m in length and 0.51 m in diameter. At launch the missile weighs 2,300-2,400 kg and is fired without a booster, using the launching aircraft’s momentum at release to give it initial velocity.4 The missile uses a TRDD-50A turbofan engine, giving it a cruising speed of Mach 0.58 and a maximum speed of Mach 0.78.5 The range of the Kh-101/-102 is reported to be between 2,500 km and 2,800 km, although unconfirmed reports by the Russian Ministry of Defense claim its maximum range is 4,500 km.6 Capable of flying at “tree top levels” around 30 m to 60 m, the missile cruises at an altitude around 6,000 m.7 It has an estimated flight endurance around 10 hours.8
The missile is carried by Russia’s Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’, Tu-95MS16 ‘Bear-H’, Tu-22M3/5 ‘Backfire C’ and Su-27IB (Su-32) ‘Flanker’ strategic bombers.9 The Kh-101 carries a conventional 450 kg warhead, and can be equipped with high explosive, penetrating, or cluster/submunition warheads.10 The Kh-102 reportedly carries a 250 kt nuclear warhead, but some report the warhead could be larger, up to 450 kt.11
For midcourse navigation, it uses an electro-optical correction system that uses a terrain map stored in the missile’s onboard computer to perform photographic terrain comparison updates, as well as inertial and Russian GLONASS satellite navigation.12 In the terminal stage, the missile uses a TV imaging infrared seeker for guidance. The circular error probable of the Kh-101/-102 has been reported as 6 m, but is generally stated as between 10-20 m.13
Since entering service in 2012, the Russian air force has employed the Kh-101 several times in combat operations.
Following ISIS terrorist attacks against a Russian Metrojet airliner on October 31, 2015, that killed 249 people and the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks that killed 129 people, Russia launched a series of cruise missile strikes at various ISIS targets in Syria. On November 19-20, 2015, after an initial wave of strategic bombers fired cruise missiles at targets in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces, a second wave of Tu-95 ‘Bear’ and Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’ strategic bombers launched cruise missiles at ISIS targets in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. A debut for the aircrafts and the munition, the Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers launched a total of 32 Kh-101 cruise missiles during the engagement.14
Russia used two Kh-101s in strikes against ISIS targets near the cities of Idlib and Homs on November 17, 2016.15 An unknown number of Kh-101s were also used to target ISIS on February 17, 2016.16
On July 5, 2017, Russia again employed the Kh-101 against ISIS targets in Syria. Russian Tu-95 long-range strategic bombers fired several of the missiles to destroy three ISIS ammunition depots and a command facility near the town of Aqirbat on the border of the Syrian provinces of Homs and Hama. The missiles flew 1,000 km before reaching their targets.17
ISIS militants were once more the target of several Russian Kh-101 missiles on September 26, 2017. Tu-95MS bombers flew 7,000 km from Engels Airfield in southern Russia through Iraqi and Iranian airspace before firing an unknown number of Kh-101s. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed the strike succeeded in destroying ISIS command posts and ammunition depots.18
- Andrei Akulov, “Russian Kh-101 Air to Surface Cruise Missile: Unique and Formidable,” Strategic Culture, October 19, 2016, https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/10/19/russian-kh-101-air-to-surface-cruise-missile-unique-and-formidable.html.
- “Kh-101/-102” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015-2016, ed. James C O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2016), 189.
- Ibid, 190.
- Ibid; Russian Ministry of Defense, “Strategic Tu-95MS bombers destroyed the ISIS militants’ command post and storages in Syria with missile attack,” July 5, 2017, http://eng.mil.ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12132186@egNews.
- Dave Majumdar, “Ready for War: Russia’s Stealthy Kh-101 Cruise Missile Debuts in Syria,” National Interest, November 18, 2015 http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/ready-war-russias-stealthy-kh-101-cruise-missile-debuts-14387; Akulov.
- “Tactical Missile Corporation plans to upgrade Kh-101 Cruise Missile,” Russian Aviation, August 19, 2016 https://www.ruaviation.com/news/2016/8/19/6541/?h.
- O’Halloran, 189.
- Ibid; Akulov.
- “Kh-101/-102” in IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015-2016, 189.
- “Kh-65/ Kh-SD/ Kh-101,” Federation of American Scientists, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/bomber/kh-101.htm.
- RC Porter, “Top-Notch Kh-101 Cruise Missiles that Russia Unleashes on Daesh in Raqqa,” Fortuna’s Corner (blog), February 19, 2017, https://fortunascorner.com/2017/02/19/the-cruise-missiles-russia-is-using-in-syria/; Nicholas de Larrinaga “Russia Launches Long Range Air Sorties into Syria,” IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, November 17, 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20151118145706/http://www.janes.com/article/56062/russia-launches-long-range-air-sorties-into-syria.
- RC Porter.
- David Cenciotti, “Russia Tu-95 Bear Bombers Escorted by Su-30SM Jets Carry Out Air Strike in Syria using Kh-101 Strategic Cruise Missiles,” The Aviationist, July 5, 2017, https://theaviationist.com/2017/07/05/russian-tu-95-bear-bombers-escorted-by-su-30sm-jets-carry-out-air-strike-in-syria-using-kh-101-strategic-cruise-missile/.
- “Russia hits Islamic State in Syria with advanced cruise missiles,” Reuters, July 5, 2017 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSKBN19Q1QP.
- Russian Ministry of Defense, “Tu-95MS bombers fired cruise missiles at terrorist objects’ in Syria,” September 26, 2017, http://eng.mil.ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12143592@egNews.