When is the potent Kh-32 NOT a Kh-32?
OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) to the rescue. Russia has deployed maritime bombers to Syria as part of drills (read Ukraine build-up). The Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE-C and MiG-31K FOXHOUNDs add to Russia's considerable anti-carrier / anti-ship assets in the Mediterranean. They are widely reported to be equipped with the latest Kh-32 and Kinzhal missiles respectively.
This appears to be incorrect. While the FOXHOUNDs do have Kinzhal (and Russian MoD statements affirm this), the BACKFIREs have older weapons.
Analysis of available images suggests that they are carrying the Cold War legacy Kh-22 missile. The Kh-22 (AS-4 KITCHEN) anti-ship missile was first produced in the early 1960s. Designed to take out aircraft carriers it has a respectable range of 600 km (320 nm) and a speed of Mach 4.5. It also has a massive 1,000 kg (2,205 lb) warhead, which can be swapped for a tactical nuke.
But the Kh-22 is old. It is being replaced by the outwardly similar Kh-32 missile. This new weapon has a longer range and is generally much more potent in the modern environment.
So it is natural that many observers jumped to the conclusion that the BACKFIREs would have Kh-32s. But they do not appear to.
The main visible difference between the two missiles is the size of the radome. The older Kh-22's is larger, extending further down the fuselage.
We cannot rule out that some Kh-32s may be present, but it seems less likely. While slated as drills, this can be viewed as an operational deployment, the real thing. And the Kinzhals do seem real.
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