New cruise missiles could make the Sukhoi PAK FA a 'ship-killer'

The Harpoonsky cruise missiles would give the PAK FA a major edge over its rivals.

The Harpoonsky cruise missiles would give the PAK FA a major edge over its rivals.

Pavel Novikov
The AS-X-20 Harpoonsky cruise missile is Russia's answer to the American Harpoon missile, but is lighter, shorter and may be deployed on land, jets and helicopters, and is nearly invisible for anti-missile shields. With that missile on board, the PAK FA (T-50) may become a universal fighter.

Russian media outlets have reported that the advanced AS-X-20 Harpoonsky cruise missile was included into the armament of PAK FA - Russia’s first fifth generation fighter aircraft, which is undergoing a series of tests and may come into service in 2017-18.

Independent naval analyst Prokhor Tebin says the missiles in question are an analogue of the U.S. Harpoon missiles, but adds, “Russia has always had an edge over the U.S. in developing anti-ship missiles.”

He agrees with the ‘ship-killer’ label, given by the Russian media to the PAK FA equipped with it. Tebin, however, cautions that the Yakhont supersonic missiles (a variation of the Indo-Russian BrahMos) would be more effective against heavy military ships.

“In this respect the AS-X-20 Harpoonsky is meant to deal with simpler tasks and may be prepared for export,” Tebin told RBTH.

A universal cruise missile

The Harpoonsky has a range of seven to 260 kilometers and can be fired as a volley with an interval of three seconds.

According to open sources, its size allows the launching of the missile from a vast range of carriers, including helicopters (one of the latest is Ka-52), ships, drones, and fighters. It may also be launched using the universal launcher used for Klub cruise missiles and Zircon hypersonic missiles.

After being launched, the Harpoonsky flies at an altitude of 15 meters and dives to just 2-4 meters when it is closer to the target. It is directed both by satellite data and its own passive radar system.

The missile does not scan the area but catches the pulses emitted by radars of target ships. This makes the Harpoonsky completely invisible.

Andrey Frolov, editor of the Arms Export magazine, was quoted by vz.ru as saying the integration of the Harpoonsky would allow the PAK FA to fully replace aircraft of the previous generations, and make of it a multi-task fighter that is able to fight with any air, land or sea rivals.

What is the PAK FA?

The Sukhoi PAK FA (T-50) is Russia’s first fifth generation fighter aircraft.

Its main rivals are the American F-35 and F-22, and China’s Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31. A T-50 aircraft costs about $50 million.

Russian Defense Ministry officials say six T-50 aircraft are undergoing tests.

The aircraft will most likely be inducted into the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2017-18.

Many components of the new fighter are used on the Su-30SM and Su-35S.

In the early 2020s, the PAK FA could get a radar system that enables it to view stealth aircraft from longer distances.

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