The Russian Navy will be deploying Sukhoi Su-30SM Flanker-H fighters to its Baltic Fleet in 2017.
The powerful multirole fighters will be equipped with the Kh-31 supersonic sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles—which would significantly boost Russian maritime anti-access/area denial capabilities in the region. In addition to the jets headed, to the Baltic Fleet, Moscow will be deploying the fighters to its Severomorsk-3 facility, where the aircraft will be able to provide air cover for Russian naval operations in the Barents Sea.
“Several more such planes will be provided for the Baltic Sea Fleet’s air group under the government defense contract in 2017,” according to a Russian defense ministry release provided to the Moscow-based TASS news agency. The first Su-30SM is expected to arrive in Chernyakhovsk in the Kaliningrad Oblast on Dec. 8.
The Russian Navy’s Su-30SM are being equipped with an anti-ship variant of the Mach 3.5-capable Kh-31 that has a range of roughly 120 miles. The Kremlin-owned Izvestia news outlet brags the even a single such weapon would be able to destroy a U.S. Navy ship. “Even one missile is guaranteed to send a Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser—currently in service with the U.S. Navy—to the to the bottom,” Izvestia columnist Alex Ramm writes.
While the Kh-31 (X-31 in Cyrillic) is a fearsome weapon, Aegis cruisers and destroyers are equipped with a formidable array of defenses to protect both themselves and the vessels they are escorting. It is not clear how the SPY-1 radar and the Aegis combat system in combination with Raytheon Standard SM-2 and SM-6 missiles would perform against the Kh-31—assuming the Su-30SM got close enough to launch a such a weapon at a U.S. Navy warship. An Aegis-equipped warship is also armed with Raytheon RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow missiles, RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) and Phalanx point defense systems.
That being said, U.S. Navy officials have expressed concerns about the capabilities of the latest Russian and Chinese supersonic anti-ship missiles—particularly the fearsome P-800 Oniks. The Mach 2.8 capable Oniks—and its Russian-Indian cousin the Brahmos—fly a particular profile that makes it difficult to intercept. However, the Navy has not been eager to share any details about exactly why that is the case for obvious reasons.
In any case, the addition of the Su-30SM and the Kh-31 to the Baltic Sea region means that that region—which was already very dangerous for allied naval forces—will become an even more challenging problem. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and we won’t have to find out how effective or ineffective these weapons might be.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.
Image Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr.