What are the Russian Kh-59s and how hard are they to take down

Last night, in a noteworthy act of aggression, Russia deployed five Kh-59 cruise missiles against Ukraine, as reported by the Air Force on October 16, 2023. Ukraine claims that successfully intercepted two of these missiles. 

'Non-classical' Su-57s are using Soviet-made Kh-59M ASM in Ukraine
Photo credit: Wikipedia TASS

The incident stood out for two reasons: the simultaneous utilization of the missile strike and Shahed strike, and the uncommon sight of Russia launching such a large number of Kh-59 missiles at once. Because of these factors, it’s worth delving into the specifics of this particular Russian missile. 

Primarily associated with tactical aviation, the Kh-59 is compatible with the Su-24M, Su-30, Su-34, Su-35, and Su-57. It exists in three main variants—Kh-59, Kh-59M, and Kh-59MK2 [with two sub-variants]—each possessing a distinct launch range of 45 km, up to 110 km, and up to 285 km, respectively. 

Given its considerable launch range and an improved guidance system that’s devoid of the shortcomings noted in the Kh-59 and Kh-59M, the Kh-59MK2 variant was likely the missile of choice for the Russian strikes against Ukraine. 

Specific characteristics of the Kh-59MK2 include a fuselage length of 4.2 meters, a wingspan of 2.45 meters, a take-off weight of 770 kg, and a warhead weighing 310 kg, either in penetrating or cluster form. 

Worth mentioning is the use of the TRDD-50B engine in the missile, a version of the same engine used in long-range cruise missiles like the Kh-101 and 3M-14 Kalibr. 

Since the onset of the full-scale invasion, Russia has been employing Kh-59 missiles on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. 

Instances include the mid-April 2022 Su-57 aircraft launching the Kh-59 at the port of Odessa and the Kirovograd region; and in March 2022, Russian Su-35s attacked oil facilities in the Rivne region with Kh-59 missiles, gradually inflicting significant destruction. 

Despite its size [a fuselage length of 4.2 meters as compared to the 7.45 meters of Kh-101], the small-scale Kh-59 poses a considerable challenge to intercept. Achieving this feat is a testament to the exceptional skill of Ukrainian air defense soldiers. 

Recall also that a successful attack was carried out on October 1, 2023, against the Smolensk Aviation Plant, a key player in the production of Kh-59 aviation missiles. This establishment forms an integral part of Russia’s military industry.

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