The 9M729 super cruise missile is likely to be deployed on the Ukrainian battlefield instead of launching Kalibr from a warship or submarine.
Currently on the Ukrainian battlefield, the Kalibr surface-attack cruise missile launched from a warship or Kh-101 deployed from a strategic bomber is proving to be much more effective than ground forces’ Iskander-M ballistic missiles.
Due to their high frequency of use, the Russian cruise missile arsenal is running out. Moscow has to take advantage of the old generation Kh-22 anti-ship missiles, or anti-aircraft ammunition of the S-300 complex for ground attack missions. In the arsenal of the Russian Army, there is still another extremely powerful cruise missile, the 9M729, which is considered by military experts to be going to war in the near future.
The platform’s capabilities remain something of a mystery, and have thus been cause for much speculation. The 9M729 was developed to be deployed from the Iskander-K weapons platforms – a variant of the Iskander system developed to launch cruise missiles where the better known Iskander-M deploys ballistic munitions.
The Iskander has gradually come to replace the ground based tactical missile arsenal Russia inherited from the Soviet Union, comprised mainly of Scud-B and OTR-21 Tochka ballistic missiles, which have since been phased out of service in favour of the newer platform. While the Iskander-M has long been hailed as a major threat to the Western Bloc’s assets in the event of a potential war, and has been deployed to the Crimean Peninsula in growing numbers in light of escalating tensions there, the Iskander-K is increasingly emerging as a leading threat in the eyes of the NATO’s military leadership in light of its cutting edge capabilities – namely the speculated capabilities of the 9M729.
The 9M729 is speculated to be a land based variant of the Russian Navy’s Kalibr cruise missile – which depending on the variant have ranges of either 300km and speeds over Mach 2.5 or ranges over 2000km and subsonic speeds. Taking Russian claims at face value that the ground based missile does not violate the Intermedia range Nuclear Forces Treaty which prohibits the deployment of tactical missiles with ranges over 500km, the 9M729 is likely to have capabilities resembling the shorter ranged Kalibr variant.
This gives the missile a high supersonic speed and high manoeuvrability capable of penetrating enemy air defences, and a high level of precision allowing it to strike targets near the limits of its range within 3 meters and a with a warhead of up to 500kg. The missiles can also deploy nuclear warheads, and are ideal delivery vehicles for tactical nuclear strikes and the penetration of enemy fortifications.
The 9M729 is equipped with an inertia-based navigation and control mechanism with a Doppler sensor that adjusts the angle of attack according to the Russian-developed GLONASS satellite navigation system. When entering the final stage, the optical self-guided or visual radar on the missile will be activated, automatically searching and attacking the target.
According to US accusations at the time of 2018, Russia secretly put the first 9M729 medium-range cruise missile complexes on combat duty, but it was not until the INF Treaty was no longer valid that Moscow confirmed this information. When deployed from a self-propelled launcher, the 9M729 missile can hit the westernmost target of Ukraine, which is an effective and much cheaper solution than having to mobilize warships or strategic bombers.