Sukhoi’ T-50 (PAK FA)
Sukhoi’ T-50 (PAK FA)

Russia’s new Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fighter jet has just been given another capability – the means to destroy surface warships. Sputnik spoke to military expert Andrei Golovatyuk to find out whether it’s now appropriate to add ‘ship slayer’ to the fifth-generation aircraft’s list of capabilities.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported that the Kh-35UE tactical cruise missile, an upgrade of the Kh-35 jet-launched subsonic anti-ship missile, has been incorporated into the Sukhoi T-50’s array of potential armaments.

The weapon, capable of targeting and destroying everything from landing craft to aircraft carriers, as well as ground targets, including hard points, warehouses and even mobile military equipment, is able to bypass missile defense interceptor systems, as well as advanced electronic jamming, thanks to its dual-band active/passing homing guidance system.

It is the ability to target an array of ground-based targets, along with a shorter intake and folding wings, which distinguish the Kh-35EU from its predecessor.

Experts speaking to Izvestia said that the Kh-35UE’s successful incorporation into the T-50’s arsenal effectively turns it into a ‘multifunctional fighting machine’ whose characteristics go far beyond those of a mere fighter aircraft.

Nikolai Vasilyev, chief designer of the Kh-35UE at the Korolev-based Tactical Missiles Corporation, told Izvestia that testing of the cruise missile on the T-50 has already been completed, with the weapon proving fully compatible with the plane’s onboard equipment. When deployed, the cruise missile will be mounted underneath the T-50’s wings.

Vasilyev also reminded the newspaper that the Kh-35UE has demonstrated itself effectively on the carrier-based variants of the MiG-29K and MiG-29KUBR fighter planes, and on the Ka-52 attack helicopter.

Asked to comment on this development, Andrei Golovatyuk, a retired colonel and respected Russian military analyst, told Radio Sputnik that he found it unsurprising that the Kh-35UE, a universal cruise missile, has found its way into the T-50’s arsenal.

The military analyst recalled that Russia’s fifth-generation fighter uses the latest stealth and avionics technology, “and, accordingly, more modern armaments, both those that exist and those being developed by our engineers.” Overall, “this is an airplane that’s entering a new, fundamentally more advanced level,” he said.

“As for the [Kh-35UE], it is simply unique,” Golovatyuk added. For one thing, “this is a universal cruise missile, and can be placed on a variety of platforms –from ships, to airplanes, to helicopters, to coastal defense missile systems. In other words, the T-50 is considered as one of most promising platforms for this missile.”

“What is the special know-how of this missile in combination with the T-50?” the analyst asked. “They can enter the target’s zone of destruction without entering the perspective enemy’s zone of air defense. The missiles are used according to the principle that upon launch, the missile instantly finds its target and independently directs itself toward it.”

“In other words, the methodology here is ‘launch it and forget about it’; the missile itself finds its target. Therefore, the name ‘slayer of ships’ is in this case fully justified,” Golovatyuk concluded.

Planned to be introduced into service with the Aerospace Defense Forces next year, the T-50, officially designated as a stealth air superiority fighter, is meant to eventually replace the Sukhoi Su-27 fourth-generation multirole fighter, in service with the Soviet and Russian militaries since the mid-1980s.

  • M&S

    If you want out of the mirror game of RFCM, you have to either go to severely broadband (X-M or even W) with simultaneous waveform transmissions within a very low carrier background rise. Or move towards LiDAR/IIR.
    Since both the chief seeker designer and the software engineer for the seeker were killed/kidnapped under suspicious circumstances, presuming that the weapon's present seeker configuration remains secure against RFCM and is sufficiently LPI not to cue terminal defenses is wishful thinking.
    Uran is basically otherwise Harpoonski which, while it has advantages in reduction in size as a means to push small turbine vs. rocket or ramrocket as with prior Soviet designs, doesn't match the defensive firepower densities of the Horizon, Type-45 or Burke class with their multizone Aster and ESSM/SM-2 overlaps.
    With a range of only 130-160km (60-86nm) the missile system is quite capable of narrow littorals function in areas like the Formosa Strait, Yellow Sea or PG but falls short of extended range ICD in conditions where the threat is operating in a 200-400nm standoff from the green water as it's speed limits reactivity while it's convention design (high charge D/A warhead with tungsten cubes) means it cannot reach distances where it's capacity for singe-hit overmatch on the hull matters.
    If you take the next step, with highly simplified organic composite engines and 50-100lb warheads, you come up with a missile the size of the MASSM which can literally saturate threat defenses with a 'wall of missiles' approach that concentrates on mission kills by sensor aperture, bridge, turbine uptake stacks and possibly VLS hits rather than trying to compromise sailing integrity.
    Particularly on jets like the PAK-FA, the small diameter (5-8") and very long range (up to 200nm) of such weapon's classes provide a real ability to use rollback tactics with persistent hold in the mission between sequential salvos or even on the fly redirects as single (pickets, AAW/ASW escorts etc.)to followon targets exploit the T-50s presumed MSI ability to collect ESM data on downed radars and perhaps exploit the AESA' ability to do ISAR classification of specific ship classes. In sorting to morting for the weapons from altitude and standoff which only a Stealth air vehicle can expect to achieve.
    As is, even with the -35UE's range and folding fin improvements, I doubt seriously if the PAK-FA an carry enough rounds to be useful in penetrating the escort group's defenses, particularly against ADS-18 equipped E-2D.
    It is Ironic that the USN' next step is the other direction: towards a 2,500lb class LRASM-B. This is also wrong because while the admittedly better (JASSM-ER based) airframe takes the threat further out on the targeting radial, the dependence on short range SH-60 class helos for primary targeting, together with the very slow transit times which is ridiculous if you are facing USCV with perhaps 1-2 shot missiles in swarm conditions as the hull may well be stealthed and range may be one-way extensive (see: PT boat evacuations of the PI, ending up in Australia).
    With the next step in naval air defense against particularly RFLO systems is undoubtedly the SSL and high density flak rockets (APS) to defeat late acquisition threats from the horizon, it's pretty clear that the next step in AShM design is equally headed towards variable cycle or boosted supersonic skimmer and hypersonic diver platforms, probably with self-ID target sharing between elements of a missile swarm.
    If you're not _well over_ a thousand knots in that last 10-15nm, in a flock of 10-20 shots for attrition redundancy, you're never going to reach the hull.