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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Kalibr: Russia’s Deadly Accurate Cruise Missile

Kalibr Cruise Missile
Kalibr cruise missile. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Just a few days ago, the Russian military announced it had used a long-range Kalibr cruise missile to target and destroy a weapons and ammunition depot in the Lviv region of western Ukraine. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said the depot was housing NATO-supplied weapons: 1,200 MANPADS, about 1,500 anti-tank missile systems, at least 30 pieces of artillery, and tens of thousands of ammunition.

This isn’t the first time the Russians have used the Kalibr in Ukraine since February 24. Although Putin’s war aims have now shifted strictly to the east, Russian forces continue to use high-precision weapons like the Kalibr in other regions to disrupt the international supply of weapons to Ukraine and to destroy military – and often civilian – infrastructure.

The 3M14 Kalibr (NATO: SS-N-30A) is a land-attack cruise missile (LACM) and an improved version of the 3M-14E “Club” LACM. It has an estimated range of somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 kilometers and is today a focal point of the Russian Navy’s ground-strike capabilities.

Either ship or submarine-based, the Kalibr carries a 450-kilogram warhead able to be armed both conventionally and nuclear. The missile is 6.2 meters long and features turbojet propulsion.

One Part of a Family Component

In service since 2015, the 3M14 is really part of a larger family of Kalibr missiles despite its portrayal in media reports of being a “single” missile. This family includes the SS-N-27 (Sizzler) anti-ship missile and the 91R anti-submarine missile. Despite differences, the key commonality in the missiles is the sharing of common vertical launch system (VLS) tubes.

Becoming a focal point of the Russian Navy’s cruise missile launch capabilities, the service is planning on deploying the Kalibr to all new nuclear and non-nuclear submarines, corvettes, frigates, and larger surface ships. According to a “high ranking Russia defense industry official” cited in a US Office of Naval Intelligence report, this deployment will give significant offensive capabilities to even smaller platforms such as corvettes. Because of the Kalibr’s range and precision, these ships can put distant targets at risk, allowing the Russian military to deter, threaten, and destroy such targets more easily.

Outside of Ukraine, use of the Kalibr has been relatively limited. In October 2015, Russia launched 23 at anti-Assad regime forces in Syria, firing these from Russian naval assets in the Caspian Sea. Demonstrating the missile’s ability to fly long distances with precision, these missiles flew 1,800 kilometers before reaching their targets. As NORTHCOM Commander William Gortney described the event, “There’s no operational or tactical requirement to do it. They’re messaging us they have this capability.”

Most recently, reporting has suggested that Russia is further upgrading its Kalibr technology. Though details are scant, the Kalibr’s producer Almaz-Antey has said the improvement will increase “combat efficiency.” However, it remains unclear if any changes will match the power and versatility of the roughly comparable U.S. Tomahawk missile. Modern Tomahawks are sophisticated weapons, often able to utilize two-way data links to share target details in flight, to “loiter” near targets before receiving additional targeting information, and strike moving enemy ships.

A lot of noise has been made about the Kalibr’s use in Ukraine, and some of it is justified. The missile is capable of precision strikes from great distances. With Russian naval assets positioned around the globe in some of the world’s most strategically relevant locations, this is a weapon that will remain a threat for years to come.

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review

Written By

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

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