These Are The Standoff Missiles Russia Used To Open Its War Against Ukraine
Russia used its growing arsenal of precision standoff missiles to hit key targets at the start of its invasion of Ukraine.
The opening stages of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, which began this morning in the contested Donbas region and has since extended to objectives across the country, has seen extensive use of standoff missile attacks. In the recent past, Russian military campaigns have not seen anything like as extensive use of precision-guided missiles as those of their Western counterparts. However, there are signs that Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is employing a wider variety of more advanced missiles than we have ever seen before. At the outset, at least, standoff missiles strikes have clearly been favored as the most effective, lowest-risk option, of achieving Russia’s initial objectives that would allow for other types of forces to be employed with diminished peril. This is known as ‘kicking the door down,’ and it follows an established method of operations developed and deployed by the United States during Desert Storm over 30 years ago.
The military operation that began at 5.00 AM local time this morning involved an initial wave of standoff missile attacks launched from land, sea, and air. These targeted command and control facilities, air defense sites, around a dozen airbases, facilities in the Black Sea port city of Odesa, and other key targets, with the objective of degrading Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and to deprive its commanders of situational awareness and communications channels. You can read our minute-by-minute coverage of the ongoing war in Ukraine here.
The following article examines the different land-attack cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, as well as other air-launched standoff missiles that we have identified so far.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the opening Russian assault included 30 examples of the 3M14 Kalibr land attack cruise missile (LACM). This is a weapon that has been previously employed by the Russian Navy during Moscow’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War and which has established itself as one of the most important in the service’s arsenal.
Known in the West as the SS-N-30A Sagaris, the subsonic 3M14 Kalibr is thought to have a range of between 930 and 1,550 miles, carrying a high-explosive warhead weighing 990 pounds.
Incredible footage of a (presumed Kalibr) cruise missile strike on Ivano-Frankivsk Air Base in western Ukraine:
The 3M14 is actually just one part of the larger Kalibr family that also includes anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-submarine missiles. Their versatility comes from the fact that they are all fired from a common vertical launch system (VLS) that can be fitted to a variety of surface warships and submarines. Warships as small as corvette-size can be armed with Kalibr, providing them with an impressive punch. This is all part of the Russian Navy’s increasing focus on fixed ground targets, at long ranges, using conventional warheads.
Russian Navy submariners launch Kalibr missiles during naval exercises earlier this year:
The 3M14 Kalibr missiles launched against targets in Ukraine so far would have been fired from vessels in the Black Sea. Home-ported at Sevastopol, Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet includes three Project 11356R/М Admiral Grigorovich class frigates that feature VLS for these and other missiles, four Project 21630 Buyan-M class corvettes also with VLS, plus three or four Project 22160 that can be fitted with containerized Kalibr launchers.
The Black Sea Fleet also has six Project 636.3 Improved Kilo class diesel attack submarines that can also launch Kalibr missiles, in this case, the submerged-launch 3M14K subvariant.
The Kalbir is loosely analogous to earlier variants of the Tomahawk land attack missile.
Air-launched cruise missiles
So far, we are not absolutely certain that any of the cruise missiles employed by Russia so far were launched from aircraft, although there are indications of that being the case. However, a U.S. defense official has said that the opening wave of strikes included 75 fixed-wing heavy and medium bombers. The heavy bombers presumably refer to Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear-H bombers, and possibly Tu-22M3 Backfire-Cs. If that’s the case, the so-called medium bombers are likely Su-24 Fencer and Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft. Of these, the Tu-160 and Tu-95MS are capable of carrying air-launched cruise missiles, and the former type, at least, seems to have been employed.
Currently, the Russian Aerospace Forces have two different types of conventionally armed air-launched cruise missiles.
The Kh-101 (AS-23A Kodiak) is a modern, stealthy, subsonic cruise missile, with a reported maximum range of between around 1,870 and 2,480 miles. The Kh-101 was first used in combat during Russia’s campaign in Syria, launched by both Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers.
Tu-95MS conduct airstrikes with Kh-101 cruise missiles against supposed ISIS targets in Syria:
An older-generation weapon is the Kh-555 (AS-22 Kluge), which comprises a Kh-55SM (AS-15 Kent) subsonic cruise missiles, with its original nuclear warhead replaced with a conventional example. The missile can be fitted with conformal fuel tanks to extend its range to around 1,860 miles.
You can read more about Russia’s air-launched cruise missiles, and the aircraft that carry them, here.
As well as the much more easily identified footage of cruise missiles, unconfirmed videos reportedly show ballistic missile launches targeting Ukraine in the first hours of the operation. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has said it assesses that as many as 100 ballistic missiles were launched by Russia in the first hours of fighting today.
In the lead-up to the war, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense noted that the Iskander-M, in particular, was a critical weapon system that would likely be used to “destroy vital objects.”
The Iskander-M system launches 9M723 ballistic missiles that, according to official figures, have a range of 310 miles, although there is evidence that they can fly further than that. Each missile can carry a payload of up to 1,500 pounds that normally comprises a high-explosive or submunition warhead; other options reportedly include fuel-air explosives and bunker-busters. Although understood to be held by special munitions units rather than being issued on a regular basis, nuclear warheads are at least available for the Iskander-M.
A launch of an Iskander missile during exercises:
The 9M723 missile can be employed using depressed quasi-ballistic trajectories and is reportedly capable of maneuvering in flight, presenting significant challenges even for opponents with more robust missile defense capabilities. These missiles will likely have been used against the most highly defended and hardened targets.
Using a common transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) and support vehicles, the Iskander system can also fire the 9M728 cruise missile, in which form it is also known as the Iskander-K (SSC-7 Southpaw). According to official Russian accounts, the missile has a range that keeps it within the 500-km (310-mile) limit of the now-defunct 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
There are unconfirmed reports that examples of this weapon may have been used in the campaign, which would make perfect sense as it is ideally suited for hitting key targets over shorter ranges in the open stages of a war.
Developed during the Cold War, the Tochka, or SS-21 Scarab, is a mobile short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) designed for battlefield deployment as a replacement for the Free Rocket Over Ground (FROG) series. It can carry various types of warheads up to a weight of around 1,000 pounds over a range of up to 75 miles in its most recent Tochka-U version.
Practice launches of the Tochka-U SRBM:
Evidence from the latest fighting suggests that Russia has employed the Tochka armed with a 9N123K submunition warhead.
A supersonic anti-radiation missile, with a standoff range, the Kh-31P (AS-17A Krypton) is not definitively known to have been used in combat before now but was among the weapons used in the early phase of the latest Ukrainian campaign, likely to knock out radar sites.
Video and photos showing the remains of a Kh-31 missile in Kyiv:
The Kh-31P was originally tailored to defeat Western air defense systems, including the Patriot, but it can accommodate a range of passive radar seeker heads, presumably including those that home in on Soviet-era radar systems like those operated by Ukraine.
The missile is primarily employed by the Su-24 and Su-34 strike aircraft, as well as advanced members of the Flanker family, including the Su-30SM and Su-35S. The Krypton missile is also available in an anti-ship variant.
In its original Kh-31P form, the missile has a maximum range of just under 70 miles and flies at a speed of up to Mach 3.5, thanks to its ramjet propulsion. The more modern Kh-31PM version, in service since 2012, has its maximum range increased to around 150 miles when launched from high altitude and high speed.
While the above report includes the standoff missiles identified so far as having been employed by Russia in its large-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon does not believe the full scope of the Kremlin’s military capabilities has yet come into play. With that in mind, there remains a strong possibility we will see more and different types of missiles employed, especially as damage to targets hit on the first night has likely been assessed and the campaign continues into its second night.
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