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Ukraine is said to have scrapped 423 Kh-22 large anti-ship ('carrier killer') cruise missiles in the 1990s, together with some 60 strategic bombers that could carry & launch these. (This was due to an agreement with the US.)

I'm curious what the original Soviet plan for using these missiles was. If the Soviet sources on this are still classified, from Western source then: how did they think the arsenal was going to be used? Did they intend to target ships in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea? The number of missiles seems pretty overkill for the number of carriers the US could expected to deploy in range of Ukraine I suspect, so maybe they were intended for other ships, more broadly?

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    – MCW
    Apr 18 at 12:28

2 Answers 2

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Taking a look at a map of NATO before the collapse of the USSR, we can see a few obvious things:

NATO map

  • The USSR has a long northern coastline, but it is defended by the formidable Northern Fleet equipped with icebreakers that NATO would lack. Additionally, there are few strategic objectives in the north. Olenegorsk and Lakhta airbases had planes armed with these missiles.

  • The Baltic coast has a lot of valuable strategic objectives, but it is a long way to go from Denmark to Leningrad.

  • The Pacific coast is so far away that it does not even fit on the map. The 444th bomber fleet flying out of Vozdvizhenka against US carrier groups used experimental Tu-16K-22 planes designed specifically for this missile, and there was another airfield at Mongokhto that flew planes armed with the Kh-22. However, Siberia provides a lot of strategic depth...

  • The USSR has a big Turkey problem.

As a result, three heavy bomber wings armed with these missiles were stationed in Ukraine in the 60s: the 341st at Ozernoeye, the 121st at Machulishi, and the 203rd at Baranovichi.

But that was just the Air Force. The Black Sea Fleet also needed some toys. So in the 70s, more missiles would be stationed at Kulbakino, Oktyabrskoe, Veseloye. In the 80s, the long-range aviation arm stationed in Poltava finally got theirs.

All of these planes could also strike at targets in North-west and Central Europe - but they would be able to respond very quickly to American and British carriers suddenly showing up in the Mediterranean or Black Sea.

But why do you need so many? Because they can't be aimed worth a damn. The original idea was to take out carrier groups by mounting nuclear warheads, so they didn't need to be accurate beyond plus-minus 300 meters With conventional explosives, saturation is the only way to ensure that something reaches your target.

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  • Hmm, the 1945-website article talking about their use against ground targets (in Ukraine since 2022) raises a couple of issues: we don't know if they were this imprecise against ships (not sure if they were ever used like that, i.e. in the original/intended role) and I guess it's also possible that the anti-ship role was more of a cover for other potential uses, especially if armed with a nuclear warhead. Apr 17 at 19:32
  • The 'scaled down' Kh-26/KSR-5 appears to have been designed from the get go with a dual role in mind. Apr 17 at 20:00
  • In anti-ship role, the missile would use its radar to get to the target. However its radar can only tell it "ship / not ship" - so for ground attack, it's limited to inertial guidance.
    – Therac
    Apr 18 at 7:57
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    You need so many because carriers are guarded by AEGIS cruisers, frigates and destroyers, their own F-14 fighters (now F/A-18), SM-2s and finally CIWS... It's a floating fortress that very much shoots back.
    – Therac
    Apr 18 at 8:08
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    You surely wanted to write " a map of NATO in the 80s". Apr 18 at 8:33
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Carriers and their whole fleet have some pretty tough air defenses and most of their magazines will be empty before missiles get through. And I doubt anyone knows just how well the SM-2 will perform against the Kh-22.

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    This is a good point - but the answer could be expanded with references to the capabilities of American point defense systems from the 60s-90s.
    – SPavel
    Apr 18 at 2:04
  • @SPavel Anything like that is almost certainly classified. Apr 18 at 2:09
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    @LorenPechtel The Grim Reapers have done a sim reenactment: youtube.com/watch?v=ObOKmPHwFfA - with a conclusion that bombers would take heavy losses, but do their job.
    – Therac
    Apr 18 at 7:23
  • @Therac I'm not at all convinced about the accuracy of the game in modelling such things. They were getting strange results modeling stealth missiles vs Chinese ships that look to me like the game allowing a radar seeker to work on something that the plane could not see by radar, only by infrared. And, of course, the game is inherently limited by the fact that the real world performance of weapons is almost certainly secret. Apr 19 at 14:21

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