Another result of the post-Cold
War catch-up in the Russian air force is the appearance, hanging from a Tu95
heavy bomber, of the stealthy Kh-101 cruise missile. This weapon has been in
development for nearly two decades, but most work was halted in the 1990s
because of money shortages. Five years ago, there were reports that work had
been resumed on the Kh-101.
Currently, Tu-160 and Tu-95MS heavy bombers are
equipped to carry a dozen Kh-555 cruise missiles each. These missiles are
upgrades of the Cold War era AS-15 nuclear cruise missile. The Kh-555 is 20
feet long, weighs 1.5 tons and has a range of 3,000 kilometers. An 800 pound
conventional warhead appears to be a cluster bomb type (carrying bomblets). The
missile uses inertial and satellite supplied guidance, and can hit within 100
meters of its aiming point. Russia says it will use these missiles to attack
terrorist bases in foreign countries.
The Kh-101 has a new shape, and a radar absorbing
skin, to make it more difficult for radar to detect it. Otherwise, the Kh-101
appears to have the same weight, range and payload of the Kh-55. Apparently,
the Kh-101 isn't going to replace Kh-555 missiles, but complement, at least
until the Kh-555s are too old to maintain, and are retired. That's a process
that could take a decade or more.