The accompanying excerpted articles from Russian military and defense weekly Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer and pro-Kremlin daily Izvestiya discuss two different Russian programs that are developing long-range air-to-surface cruise missile systems. If the military fields either of these systems, they will significantly increase Russian capabilities to deliver conventional and presumably nuclear munitions.
Currently, the Kh-101 (non-nuclear) and Kh-102 (nuclear) long-range cruise missiles fill this niche. The newer Kh-95 program, as described by Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, has a longer range (probably greater than 4,500 km) and higher speed (hypersonic) than the subsonic Kh-101/102 missiles. Russia views this extended range and higher speed as essential for the evasion of a potential adversary’s air and missile defenses. The ‘Item 506’ program, as described by Izvestiya, describes a different long-range air-to-surface cruise missile program, with a different focus than the Kh-95. Russia intends ‘Item 506’ to be a smaller, subsonic cruise missile that relies on some type of stealth technology to penetrate enemy air defenses. An additional advantage of the ‘Item 506’ program is its substantially smaller size, which permits the possibility the aircraft can carry more missiles. As noted by Izvestiya, the Kh-101 demonstrated that Russian Long-Range Aviation was no longer just a nuclear delivery capability but also a credible nonnuclear strategic deterrent.
Source: Vitaliy Orlov, “«Циркон» – это только начало: О новейшей российской разработке в области ракетного гиперзвука (The Tsirkon Is Just the Beginning: About the Latest Russian Development in the Field of Hypersonic Missiles),” Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer (Russian weekly focusing on the military and defense industry), 8 November 2021. https://vpk-news.ru/articles/64569
In article published in August Colonel General Vladimir Zarudnitskiy, chief of the Military Academy of the Russian Federation Armed Forces General Staff, made mention in passing of the latest homegrown development in the field of hypersonic weapons — the Kh-95 air-launched missile.
Unsurprisingly, many members of Russia’s expert community and not only they wanted to know: Why does a country that is already successfully flying the Tsirkon and Kinzhal need yet another hypersonic missile?
…First we need to look at the cardinal differences (if they exist) between the Kh-95, Russia’s newest hypersonic missile, and the slightly earlier advanced developments in this field. The Kh-95’s principal divergence from the Kinzhal and Tsirkon was described by military expert and analyst Viktor Baranets: “Although precise data about the technical specifications and operational performance of the Kh-95 is at the present time unavailable, as a basis for comparison we can use open-source information about the performance of the Kh-101 air-launched ultralong-range cruise missile. Discussing this missile’s guaranteed target engagement range, Army General Sergey Shoygu gave the figure of 4,500 kilometers.
So it is logical to assume that the Kh-95 is ‘duty-bound’ to fly further. In this case, the Russian Federation is acquiring a fearsome aerial weapon with an extended kill zone. In the contemporary warfare environment, this is something really serious. The ability to attack an adversary without entering his air defense or missile defense zones means greater safety for the strategic missile carrier.”
According to information that occasionally seeps into the press about the specifications of the Tsirkon and Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missiles, their effective ranges are 400-1,000 (depending on source) and 2,000 kilometers respectively. But modern air defense assets are constantly extending their coverage zones. This is true especially of fighter-interceptors, which can now reach ranges of 2,000 kilometers or even further with in-flight refueling.
So, the use by strategic (long-range) bombers of missiles with a range not beyond 2,000 kilometers comes with no guarantee of success. The requirement now is for air-launched cruise missiles to have effective ranges in the order of 5,500 kilometers. And precisely this is the kind of capability that the Russian Air Force has in service today, in the form of the Kh-101 strategic air-to-ground cruise missile and its thermonuclear version, the Kh-102.
Among the specifications for any missile is one more key parameter that substantially affects its vulnerability to air and missile defenses — flight speed. The subsonic speed of the Kh-101 (Kh-102) makes it relatively easy prey for not only air and missile defense systems but also fighter aircraft. This is why the Kh-95 is essential, to minimize the risk of reduced mission accomplishment or of mission failure by the Russian Aerospace Forces’ strategic bombers. A hypersonic missile with ultralong range has the potential to cancel out even the most modern air defenses that use both missiles and aircraft to provide what is assumed to be solid protection…
Previously our long-range aviation missile carriers were primarily oriented toward the use of nuclear weapons…The capability to engage long-range aviation in conventional conflicts emerged only with the delivery of nonnuclear cruise missiles into the inventory during the post-Soviet period…
Source: Anton Lavrov and Aleksey Ramm, “«Известия» разгадали тайну «изделия 506»(Izvestiya reveals the Secret of ‘Item 506’),” Izvestiya (large-circulation pro-Kremlin daily newspaper), 10 November 2021. https://iz.ru/1247452/2021-11-10/izvestiia-razgadali-tainu-izdeliia-506
This type of weapon does not yet have its own designation or agreed upon name. Moreover, it has not once been mentioned in official Russian military reports and speeches. But work on it is already underway and hundreds of specialists of the best enterprises are participating in this work. The topic of this discussion is the so-called “Item 506,” a miniature super-accurate stealth missile that is able to strike practically any target at a distance of thousands of kilometers. It cannot be excluded that in the very near future this stealth munition, which has no world counterpart, will augment the arsenals of new Tu-160M and Tu-95M bombers. Izvestiya has revealed all of the details of the implementation of one of the most covert domestic weapons programs…
Confirmation of the fact that “Item 506” is in fact a cruise missile (KR) can be found in one of the interviews given by Igor Kuznetsov, General Director of AO [Joint Stock Company] “GosNIImash,” in 2016… In the contracts for the “Item 506” the use of an “Item 37R” is mentioned on the state procurement website. According to the 2016 annual report of the Omsk Motor Construction and Design Bureau (OMKB), the company’s product line includes “Item 37-01” for the Russian 3M14 “Kalibr” cruise missiles. The enigmatic “Item 37” is mentioned in several open-source publications of the “Saturn” Science and Manufacturing Association. “Item 37” is the family of compact bypass TRDD-50 single-use turbojet engines. One can easily find information in open sources about the fact that the TRDD-50s are being used not only on the sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles, but also on aviation launched Kh-55 and Kh-101 missiles. It turns out that “Item 506” will acquire an especially upgraded engine of this family. The product line of these engines was developed by the Omsk Motor Construction Design Bureau, but the products themselves were produced by NPO “Saturn.”
In the opinion of Dmitriy Kornev, editor in-chief of the “militaryrussia” internet project, the main distinction of “Item 37” from other engines of the TRDD-50 family is the work done on its fuel. Instead of traditional aviation kerosene, a mixture of “Detsilin” and Detsilin-M” is used, which gives the missiles new characteristics. “This new more effective fuel mixture allows the flight range of the missile to be increased without expanding the sizes and volume of the fuel tanks,” Dmitriy Kornev explained to Izvestiya. “This yields the capability to create compact missiles with a great flight range. At the same time this supports the notion that the munition will be sub-sonic. Most likely, low-observable technologies will be used, such as those in the Kh-101/102, which will enhance the suddenness of the strike and invulnerability to air defense assets.”…It will be smaller in size than existing missiles used on strategic missile carriers. Therefore, “Item 506” will also possess similar characteristics. This will allow the number of munitions carried on the bomber to be increased, or the flight range with a full munitions load to be increased.
“Previously our long-range aviation missile carriers were primarily oriented toward the use of nuclear weapons,” Dmitriy Boltenkov related to Izvestiya. “The capability to engage long-range aviation in conventional conflicts emerged only with the delivery of non-nuclear cruise missiles into the inventory during the post-Soviet period. Modern long-range missiles can be used to strike key targets: headquarters, ballistic missile defense and antiaircraft radars, and the most important bridges and industry facilities. And the more of them that can be suspended under the aircraft the more dangerous each of our strategic bombers becomes for the enemy,” concluded the expert.