U.S. Tomahawk missiles vs. Russian Kalibr missiles – which is better?
It is considered an essential capability for a naval power to have the ability to strike long-range strategic targets on land, far from shore. Until 2015, it was thought that only the US and Britain had this capability, as they had Tomahawk cruise missiles. However, on October 7, 2015, the Russian frigate Dagestan and three Buyan-class corvettes launched 26 Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea, which flew over Iranian and Iraqi territory before crashing into 11 targets in Syria of ISIS and Free Syrian Army rebels.
Kalibr missiles are currently deployed, among others, on Russian Navy Kilo-class submarines (exported to India, China and Algeria, among others), as well as on frigates and corvettes.
According to a comparison prepared by the Naval Post website, there are more than a dozen variants of the Kalibr family of missiles, which vary in terms of launch platform, range, target profile and speed. They also vary in length from six to nine meters, but all possess either a warhead of about 450 kilograms or a nuclear payload.
The ground-attack variants, the 3M14T and 3M14K would lack the boost to Mach 3 on terminal approach. In compensation, the inertial guided missiles have a range of between 1,000 and 1,500 km. They have GPS, digital scene matching area correlation (DSMAC), whereby an onboard camera takes in-flight images for comparison with stored images. The Russian Navy has been planning to upgrade the 3M14 “Kalibr” with a longer-range variant: up to 4,500 km.
As for the Tomahawk missiles, it is a long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile used primarily by the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy. It is capable of navigation using an inertial navigation system, GPS-enabled precision strike , flies at very low altitude and is reprogrammable during flight to change targets.
The TERCOM system (terrain contour matching navigation) compares the terrain below the cruise missile with mapping data stored inside the missile to detect deviations from its nominal trajectory. Alternative preprogrammed targets can be maintained prior to flight or acceptance of a new target in flight, delay and loiter option, battle damage assessment via a two-way data link.
It can, in addition, take reconnaissance photographs after arriving at a designated area and send them to headquarters via SATCOM and await their instructions. It can even loiter around a target until it receives the order to attack or checks that the necessary conditions are met. With its DSMAC (Digital Scene Mapping) system, it can upload an image of a discrete target in a confined region and have the Tomahawks find and hunt them down.
The early Kalibr was designed to outperform the veteran Tomahawk but today’s Kalibr 3M14 and Tomahawk Block IV would tie in performance. The Kalibr-M outperforms its U.S. counterpart in some respects: 4,500 kilometers maximum range versus 1,700 for the Yank. The most significant advantage of the 3M14T and its family is that they can be fired from a wider variety of smaller ships than the U.S. ones, making them easier to deploy. It is also being worked on to be fired from fixed land bases, vehicles and aircraft.
The Kalibr, on the other hand, lacks some of the advanced interactive data link and loitering capabilities of the current Tomahawk, which greatly increases its targeting capabilities and the precision with which it attacks targets.
In addition, the Tomahawk likely surpasses the Kalibr in ECM capability. The revised Block IV Tomahawk included electronic countermeasures, while the Kalibr family is relatively susceptible to jamming techniques. With the Block V modification, Tomahawk has improved its performance and its network capabilities go beyond most operational cruise missiles by a wide margin.