The Kh-55 program is an air-launched platform developed by the Soviet Union starting in 1971. Originally designed as a strategic system capable of delivering a nuclear warhead 2,500 km, the missile has given rise to several variants. These include the Kh-55SM, an extended range version; the Kh-555, a conventional version; and the Kh-65SE, a conventional version designed for export.
Kh-55 At a Glance
Originated From: Russia
Possessed By: Russia
Alternate Name: AS-15 ‘Kent”, RKV-500, X-65C3, Kh-SD
Class: Subsonic cruise missile
Length: 6.04 m
Diameter: .514 m
Launch Weight: 1,210 kg
Payload: Single warhead, 410 kg
Warhead: Nuclear, 200-250 kT
Range: 2,500 km
In Service: 1984
The missiles can be carried by the Tu-95 MS6 ‘Bear H6’, the Tu-142M ‘Bear F’, Tu-95 MS16 ‘Bear H16’, and the Tu-160 ‘Blackjack.’ The latest reports suggest that Russian forces utilize 13 Tu-160 which can carry 12 Kh-55SM or Kh-555 missiles; 32 Tu-95MS6 which can carry six Kh-55 and Kh-555 missiles; and 31 Tu-95MS16 which can carry 16 Kh-55 missiles. Some of these aircraft may not be operational, and would therefore reduce the number of operational missiles. In 2006, it was suggested that Russia had 872 Kh-55 operational missiles with the long-term goal of 500 nuclear armed missiles.1
The Kh-55’s cylindrical fuselage closely resembles the U.S. Tomahawk missile. In fact, the body diameters are almost identical. 2 The Kh-55 has a length of 6.04 m, a body diameter of 0.514 m, and a launch weight of 1,210 kg. It carries a 200 to 250 kT nuclear payload weighing 410 kg. It is guided by inertial navigation and TERCOM. It has a maximum range of 2,500 km and an accuracy of 25 m CEP. 3
The Kh-55SM is an extended range version. To achieve the extra range, conformal fuel tanks are mounted on both sides of the fuselage. It also has a more powerful engine, producing 450 kg of thrust. See below for the main differences.
- Slightly larger body diameter due to the fuel tanks, 0.77 m.
- Increased launch weight, 1,500 kg.
- Increased range, 3,000 km.
The Kh-555 is a conventional variant of the Kh-55. The nuclear warhead has been replaced by a 400 kg unitary HE, penetration HE, or submunitions warhead. Other notable changes include the following:
- Larger conformal fuel tanks (compared to the Kh-55SM).
- Reduced radar cross-section.
- Improved accuracy.
- Increased range, 3,500 km.
Kh-65SE and Kh-SD
The Kh-65SE is a conventional version designed for export, although no exports have been documented. It is capable of carrying a 410 kg HE warhead 600 km.4 Three years later, in 1995, a similar missile called the Kh-SD was reported. This missile would have fallen within the guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime due to its reduced range of 300 km. Although, in 1999 the range was reportedly increased to 600 km. Its exact status is unknown.5
Similarities with Iran’s Soumar
In 2000, reports suggest that Ukraine exported six Kh-55SM missiles to China, and in 2001, exported another six to Iran. Two Russian nationals, with the help of at least one Ukrainian official, created a series of front companies to hide and facilitate the transaction.6 This is considered one the worst cases of missile proliferation in modern times given the advanced capabilities of the Kh-55 series.
On March 8, 2015, Iran unveiled the Soumar ground-launched cruise missile. The origin of the Soumar appears to be from the nuclear capable Russian Kh-55. In 2005, Ukraine acknowledged that 12 Kh-55’s (without nuclear warheads) were illegally sold to Iran in 2001 through a black market counterfeit operation.