Russia fired nuclear-capable Kh-55 missile at Kyiv after simply unscrewing ‘nuclear warheads’

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Russia fired several missiles at Ukraine this week as part of its large-scale bombardment aimed at destroying its critical infrastructure. At least one of those missiles was a Kh-55 nuclear-capable missile shot down over Kyiv on Nov. 17, according to Ukrainian reports.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces Strategic Communications Center (StratCom) said in a November 18 Telegram article that “the orcs took at least one Kh-55 missile from their ‘nuclear arsenal’, ‘unscrewed’ the nuclear warhead and replaced her with a dummy before shooting it over Ukraine.

Stratcom’s Telegram message was based on claims by Ukraine-based outlet Defense Express that a Kh-55 missile shot down over Kyiv on November 17 contained a “screwed-on” block that acted as a dummy mimic of a nuclear warhead. .

The Kh-55 nuclear-capable cruise missile

The Kh-55 is a Soviet-era cruise missile developed in the 1970s and officially commissioned in 1983. Notably, the missile was manufactured in Ukraine.

It was based on the American BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile, nicknamed the “Tomahawk-ski”. Although it is an air-launched missile, unlike the Tomahawk, a surface/under-launched weapon, it is similar to the Tomahawk in many ways.

Kh-55 at the Ukrainian Air Force Museum (Wikipedia)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia took over these missiles. Ukraine also ended up with 1612 missiles, but in the late 1990s many of these missiles were transferred to Russia. Currently, the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) remains the sole operator of the Kh-55.

The Kh-55 was supposed to carry a nuclear warhead with a blast yield of 50 kT, while some sources also suggest that the warhead has a blast yield of 200 kT. However, some reports suggest that the VKS no longer uses this missile.

Instead, the VKS used a conventionally armed version of the Kh-55SM, called the Kh-555, which had improved guidance systems and increased range and could carry a 400 kilogram conventional warhead. The types of warheads used by the missile include high explosives, penetrating high explosives, or cluster munitions warheads.

The Kh-555 was tested in 1999 and adopted by the VKS in 2004.

Russian Kh-55 missile

According to Defense Express, the missile in question was the nuclear-capable Kh-55, which, as previously reported, is widely believed to be no longer in use.

Defense Express explained that conventional and nuclear warheads are structurally different and therefore easy to recognize. However, the Kh-55 shot down in Kyiv contained neither a nuclear nor a conventional warhead, but a dummy warhead.

The wreckage of the downed Rashist Kh-55
Wreckage of the downed Kh-55 missile. (Ukrainian Armed Forces via Defense Express)

Ukrainian media suggested that the Russian military may have run out of stock of the conventional Kh-555 missiles and decided to use the Kh-55 instead or that the unarmed Kh-55 was just being used as a cheaper lure to deceive the Ukrainian. air defense systems.

Is Russia hinting at possible use of nuclear weapons?

Meanwhile, Western media suggest that the use of the Kh-55 nuclear-capable missile could also be an attempt to signal nuclear power from Moscow to the West, given President Vladimir Putin’s bellicose rhetoric since the start of the war. war in Ukraine in February.

Since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, there has been much speculation that President Putin may use nuclear weapons in Ukraine if the ongoing war does not go well for Russia.

Lately, concerns about the use of nuclear weapons have escalated following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the city of Kherson in southeastern Ukraine, as Kyiv and its Western partners may soon face to a decision on whether to launch a full-scale assault on Russia. forces in Crimea.

In recent months, battlefield gains in southern and eastern Ukraine may have given Kyiv confidence that its forces could retake the Crimean Peninsula, a red line for Russia.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based in Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city and an important Black Sea port, since 1783, when the Turks ceded control of the peninsula. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimea was the only Ukrainian region with a majority of ethnic Russians.

A 2018 independent poll by Levada Center found that 86% of Russians in Crimea supported the annexation of the peninsula in 2014. President Putin calls Crimea “an inseparable part of Russia”.

Also, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council and former President Dmitry Medvedev said an attack on Crimea would bring about “Judgment Day”.

Strategic and tactical nuclear

As EurAsian Times has previously said, the risk in Ukraine is not the use of giant “strategic” nuclear weapons, but “tactical” nuclear weapons with smaller warheads that will cause localized devastation.

Strategic nuclear weapons break the enemy’s will by destroying their ability to wage war by targeting strategic assets such as key cities where a country’s top leadership is based or key manufacturing sites, sources of materials raw materials, stocks, transport, communication systems, etc.

While tactical nuclear weapons are deployed to quickly win in the battlefield against opposing forces, hence they are limited to the realm of military operations.

The two types of weapons also differ in terms of delivery systems. Strategic weapons are delivered using long-range missiles, while tactical are deployed using shorter-range delivery systems such as artillery, short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or airplanes.

The size of the nuclear warheads of these tactical weapons can vary between 1 kiloton or less – equivalent to one thousand tons of explosive TNT – and 100 kilotons.

The air-launched Kh-55 can carry a nuclear warhead with a blast yield of 50 kT, so it could very well be used by the Russian military in case they decide to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Russia can use tactical nuclear weapons to drive deep and wide holes in Ukrainian defenses by destroying key targets such as airfields or critical staging areas.

Furthermore, it may be difficult for the United States or NATO to even detect preparations on the Russian side for a nuclear attack, since many weapon systems used by Russian forces in Ukraine, such as the Iskander land-based missile , ship or submarine. launched Kalibr cruise missiles or even conventional artillery systems such as the “Malka” self-propelled gun are “dual-capable”, meaning they can deliver both conventional and nuclear weapons.

There are various estimates of the Russian arsenal of tactical nuclear warheads. A most recent estimate from experts at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) suggests that Moscow has about 1,912 tactical nuclear warheads slated for air, sea and land delivery.

Iskander-M
The Russian SRBM Iskander-M. (File photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Of these, the authors calculate that the Russian Navy maintains about 935 warheads. The Air Force can have about 500; the army can have 70 warheads for short-range missiles and artillery; and some additional warheads for the dual-capability 9M729 intermediate-range missile.

Additionally, some 380 warheads may have been assigned to the Russian air and missile defense forces.

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