Russia’s Tu-22M3 and modernized Tu-22M3M long-range bombers reportedly use the new Kh-32 anti-ship cruise missiles, also known as ‘carrier killer missiles,’ for precision strikes on Ukrainian military infrastructure.
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The latest revelation came from a report by RIA Novosti, the Russian state-owned news agency, on November 2, which cited an unnamed Russian defense source.
The source noted that the Kh-32, which is derived from the Soviet-origin Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missiles, is designed for the upgraded Tu-22M3M version. Still, several Tu-22M3 have also been converted to accommodate the new Kh-32 missile.
Before its military operation in Ukraine, Russia had said it would upgrade 30 Tu-22M3 bombers to the Tu-22M3M version, but so far, only four aircraft are said to have undergone the upgrades.
“As part of the (Special Military Operation), the converted Tu-22M3s carried out a whole series of launches of new Kh-32 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles at the ground facilities of the military infrastructure of the Ukrainian side. As a result, the ability of the missiles to effectively and accurately hit ground targets was fully confirmed in combat conditions,” the source told Ria Novosti.
He further noted that “not a single Kh-32 missile was intercepted by Ukrainian air defense systems.”
The Kh-32 Cruise Missile
The Kh-32 is a physically identical successor of the Kh-22 that entered the service of the Soviet military in 1968 and continues to be operated by the Russian military.
Designed by the Raduga Maritime Design Bureau, the size and weight of Kh-32 and Kh-22 are the same, with the missiles weighing around 5800kg and having a length of 12 meters with a one-meter diameter and a three-meter wingspan.
However, the Kh-32’s warhead weighs much less than the Kh-22. On Kh-22, the warhead weighs 900kg, whereas the one on Kh-32 weighs 500kg, and the empty space is used to carry extra fuel.
The Kh-32 cruises at speeds between Mach 3.5 – 4.6 (or 4000 – 5400 kph) at altitudes of up to 40 kilometers, while the Kh-22 is said to accelerate to Mach 3 (3704 kph) and up to Mach 4.15 (5124 kph) in the terminal stage.
The Kh-32 has a maximum range of 1000 kilometers, and its radar seeker can lock on to its target at ranges varying between 200-300 kilometers, while the Kh-22 has a range of 80-330 kilometers.
The Kh-22 missile operated at fixed frequencies, making it vulnerable to radar jamming; however, the new Kh-32 is equipped with a multi-frequency radar seeker, which is less susceptible to radar jamming.
After it is launched, the Kh-32 soars to an altitude of around 40 kilometers, exits the stratosphere, then vertically dives down on the target, making it extremely difficult to shoot down.
The missile uses inertial guidance for the cruise phase and a radio-frequency seeker for the terminal phase, and it is not dependent on satellite navigation systems like GPS or GLONASS.
The missile is claimed to be completely invulnerable to enemy interceptors and air defense systems and is said to be capable of withstanding hits from a 20 mm rotary cannon, 1 AIM-7 missile, or 2 AIM-9 missiles.
The Kh-32 missiles can also exchange targeting information with each other mid-flight.
The primary purpose of the Kh-32 and Kh-22 missiles is to destroy surface ships. The Kh-32 has improved characteristics for penetrating the air defenses of aircraft carrier groups, and it can destroy aircraft carriers, hence the moniker, ‘aircraft carrier killer.’
The 1000-kilometer range of the Kh-32 missile ensures that the Tu-22M3 bomber can strike at its target from outside the air defense of the aircraft carrying formation, considering the longest interception range of a seaborne US aircraft in the air is 700 kilometers from the carrier when aimed by AWACS (E-2S Hawkai and E-3 various modifications).
The US Navy’s Standard Missile-6 (SM-6), meant for air warfare, has a range of 240 kilometers and a maximum altitude of 33 kilometers with a speed of Mach 3.5 (4000 kph or 1200 m/s). The missile’s top speed for the attacked aerodynamic target is estimated at 800 m/s.
This means that the Kh-32 exceeds the maximum height of the SM-6 by seven kilometers and exceeds the SM-6’s top speed of aerodynamic targets by a substantial difference of 400 m/s.
Use Of Kh-32 Against Ground Targets In Ukraine
The Russian military is known to have been using the Kh-22 anti-ship missiles for strikes against ground targets in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian Special Military Operation, but this is the first time that a Russian state-owned media outlet has reported the use of the Kh-32 missile.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 31, 2022
The UK ministry of defense identified the Kh-32 as ‘highly likely’ to have been the missile that struck a shopping center in Kremenchuk on June 27.
(3/5) Analysis of CCTV footage shows the missile that impacted the Kremenchuk shopping centre on 27 June 2022 was highly likely a Kh-32. This is an upgraded version of the Soviet era Kh-22 KITCHEN.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) July 2, 2022
Reports suggest the Russian military may be employing the Kh-22 more frequently than the Kh-32, considering that the stocks of Kh-22 missiles left over from the Soviet era are large, the shelf life of these missiles is nearing the end, and it is cheaper to fire them into Ukraine than disposing them.
Meanwhile, the total stocks of the new Kh-32 missiles before the beginning of Ukraine were estimated at only around 100-150 units.
The moment of the Kremenchuk strike, as shared by Ukrainian authorities
The massive KH 22 missile is usually the type used to target ships pic.twitter.com/eDc6ITLDWK
— James Longman (@JamesAALongman) June 28, 2022
The primary purpose of the Kh-32 and Kh-22 missiles is to destroy surface ships, but the Russian Defense source explained to Ria Novosti, “today, the Kh-32, in essence, is no longer a specialized anti-ship missile, but a universal missile system, which is capable of hitting both surface and small-sized ground targets with equally high efficiency.”
Apart from surface ships, the Kh-32 is said to be capable of destroying military bases, power plants, bridges, etc.