Kh-22 Missile: evolution, advancements, and strategic capabilities

The Kh-32, an upgraded version introduced into service in 2016, represents a modernized conventional variant of the Kh-22. Notable improvements include an enhanced rocket motor and an advanced seeker head, enhancing its overall performance against naval threats.

The Kh-22 “Storm,” also known as the AS-4 ‘Kitchen’ by NATO, is a sizable, long-range anti-ship missile created by the Soviet Union’s MKB Raduga. Specifically engineered to target aircraft carriers and their battle groups, this missile is versatile, accommodating both conventional and nuclear warheads.

The Kh-32, an upgraded version introduced into service in 2016, represents a modernized conventional variant of the Kh-22. Notable improvements include an enhanced rocket motor and an advanced seeker head, enhancing its overall performance against naval threats.

Development

After a thorough analysis of naval battles and engagements during World War II, particularly in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Soviet military strategists reached a significant conclusion. They determined that the era of large-scale naval confrontations was coming to an end. In response to this assessment, the Soviets adopted a strategic shift towards stand-off attacks, recognizing the effectiveness of neutralizing and incapacitating large enemy battle groups without necessitating a confrontation.

This strategic evolution led to the conceptualization of employing cruise missiles as a substitute for traditional air attacks. To implement this approach, commanders within the Soviet Air Forces and Soviet Naval Aviation embarked on a mission to convert heavy bombers into “raketonosets,” or missile carriers. These modified aircraft were designed to launch missiles against approaching enemy fleets, offering the capability to strike from coastal or island airfields.

The development of the Kh-22 “Storm” missile traces back to 1958, coinciding with the final stages of the Tupolev Tu-22 medium-range bomber’s development. This missile was initially intended for deployment on the Tu-22 bomber. During its introduction, the Kh-22 was considered a long-range weapon with a primary mission of targeting US aircraft carriers and carrier battle groups, utilizing its nuclear warhead.

As time progressed, various versions of the Kh-22 emerged, expanding its capabilities beyond anti-ship roles. Some versions were adapted to engage surface targets, including bridges, dams, and other strategic installations. In the early 2000s, the Kh-22 missiles were decommissioned and placed in storage. However, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, there was a resurgence in the use of Kh-22 air-launched missiles equipped with conventional warheads against Ukrainian targets.

The Kh-22N variant appears to be the most widely used version at present. It is noteworthy that these missiles are primarily carried by Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 medium-range bombers. Despite their age and reliance on outdated guidance systems, Russia continues to operate these cruise missiles, showcasing their enduring role in contemporary military operations

Design

The Kh-22 missile is equipped with a Tumansky liquid-fuel rocket engine, utilizing TG-02 (Tonka-250) and  (inhibited red-fuming nitric acid) as propellants. This configuration allows the missile to achieve an impressive maximum speed of Mach 4.6 and a range of up to 600 km (320 nautical miles). The missile is versatile and can be launched in either high-altitude or low-altitude mode, offering different attack profiles.

In high-altitude mode, the Kh-22 climbs to an altitude of 27,000 m (89,000 ft) before executing a high-speed dive into the target, reaching a terminal speed of approximately Mach 4.6. In low-altitude mode, the missile climbs to 12,000 m (39,000 ft) and executes a shallower dive at about Mach 3.5. The guidance system of the Kh-22 relies on a gyroscope-stabilized autopilot in conjunction with a radio altimeter. The Kh-22 missile is propelled by liquid fuel and comes in various versions with a range spanning from 80 to 330 km. The initial versions of the missile were equipped with active radar guidance.

The Kh-22 is armed with a nuclear warhead with a variable blast yield ranging from 350 kilotons to 1 megaton. The missile’s design and performance characteristics make it a formidable weapon for engaging a variety of targets with high precision.

Soviet tests indicated the destructive capability of the Kh-22, especially when equipped with a shaped charge warhead weighing 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). The resulting impact created a hole with a diameter of 5 m (16 ft), an area of 19.6 m² (210 sq ft), and a depth of 12 m (40 ft).

An evolved version, the Kh-32 cruise missile, derived from the Kh-22, was under development and testing by August 2016. Specifically designed for use by the Tu-22M3 bomber, the Kh-32 follows a trajectory that involves climbing to 40 km (130,000 ft) into the stratosphere after launch, transitioning to level flight, and then executing a steep dive toward the target. The Kh-32 is versatile and capable of targeting enemy ships, radars, and various high-profile targets such as bridges, military bases, and power plants. Equipped with an inertial navigation system and a radar homing head, the Kh-32 operates independently of GPS/GLONASS navigation satellites. It is estimated to have a range of 1,000 km (620 mi; 540 nmi) and a speed of at least 5,000 km/h (3,100 mph; Mach 4.1). The missile reportedly entered service in 2016, and plans were in place to modernize thirty-two Kh-22 missiles to the Kh-32 level between 2018 and 2020.

Accuracy and interception

Soviets claimed that initial versions of the Kh-22 had a hit probability of 80%. On newer versions, this reportedly increased to 97%. However, this missile only has an inertial guidance system. Since the beginning of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, Russia launched more than 210 Kh-22 missiles against Ukrainian targets by January 2023. These missiles were fitted with 1,000 kg conventional warheads. This missile proved to be very inaccurate, especially in an urban environment. Missiles were missing their targets by several hundred meters and were often hitting civilian targets. An error of several hundred meters would not be crucial for a missile with a nuclear warhead. However, once armed with a conventional warhead this missile is not suitable for precision strikes. Russians widely used these missiles in Ukraine mainly because of dwindling stockpiles of more accurate modern long-range weapons.

Interestingly in January 2023 Ukrainian Air Force commander reported that Ukrainian air defense systems were unable to intercept the Russian Kh-22 missiles. By that time not a single missile out of more than 210 launched was intercepted by Ukrainian air defense systems. He claimed that to intercept the Kh-22 missiles modern systems like Patriot PAC-3 or SAMP-T are required due to their high speed. It is unclear whether this statement was true. Some other sources claim that the ageing Kh-22 missiles are easy targets for modern air defence systems. Though it might be a tough nut for short-range air defence systems.

Variants

Kh-22: Baseline anti-ship version with active radar guidance.

Kh-22P: Anti-radiation missile designed to lock onto and home in on hostile radars. Tested in 1968.

Kh-22PG: Version with active radar guidance, specifically designed to engage point targets with significant radar signatures, such as warships.

Kh-22 PM: Improved version of the Kh-22P, is also fitted with an anti-radiation warhead.

Kh-22PSI: Version with passive radar guidance (some sources suggest inertial guidance) and fitted with a nuclear warhead with a blast yield ranging from 350 kt to 1 MT.

Kh-22N: Improved anti-ship version with the option for either conventional or nuclear warheads. It features active radar guidance and is currently the most widely used version, carried by Russian Tu-22M3 bombers.

Kh-22NA: Anti-ship missile with a nuclear warhead and inertial guidance.

Kh-22M: Anti-ship version with active radar guidance.

Kh-22MA: Version designed to strike area targets.

Kh-22MP: Improved anti-radiation variant.

Kh-32: The Kh-32 is a highly advanced iteration of the Kh-22 missile, specifically designed to overcome sophisticated air defence systems like the U.S. Aegis and Patriot, as well as long-range air-to-air interceptors deployed by the United States in the early 1980s. Despite sharing identical dimensions with the Kh-22, the Kh-32 boasts substantial improvements. These include an enhanced engine for extended range, improved guidance systems, and heightened resistance to electronic jamming.

The missile’s development began in the mid-1980s but faced setbacks in the early 1990s due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and funding challenges. After a hiatus, development resumed in Russia, with testing commencing in 1998. The Kh-32 was officially adopted in 2016, with its range significantly increased to 600-1,000 km and a reduced flight time of 7-9 minutes.

This versatile weapon can target both warships and ground installations, and plans include upgrading surviving Kh-22 missiles to the Kh-32 standard. It can be deployed by Tu-22M3 and the newer Tu-22M3M bombers, marking a significant advancement in Russian missile technology after more than 30 years of development.