Russia’s missile strike on Ukraine: What is the Kinzhal hypersonic weapon?

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Since the launch of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has bombarded Ukrainian cities targeting critical infrastructure and civilian areas with a barrage of missile and drone attacks. On Thursday, Kyiv’s Air Force reported that the Russians used three Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in an overnight attack.

What is the Kinzhal hypersonic missile?

The Kinzhal hypersonic missile is a cutting-edge weapon system developed by Russia. It is specifically designed as an air-launched ballistic missile, capable of being deployed from various platforms, including the MiG-31K fighter jet. It carries a conventional or nuclear payload of around 500 kilograms, which can be used to engage a variety of targets, including enemy aircraft carriers, military infrastructure, or strategic installations. Kinzhal, which translates to “Dagger” in English, represents a significant advancement in missile technology due to its hypersonic speed and maneuverability.

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How is the Kinzhal different from regular cruise missiles?

Unlike regular cruise missiles, which typically fly at subsonic or supersonic speeds, the Kinzhal missile is hypersonic, meaning it travels at speeds exceeding Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. This incredible velocity allows the Kinzhal to cover vast distances in a very short amount of time, making it extremely difficult for traditional air defense systems to intercept and engage. It can reach speeds of Mach 10 or approximately 12,000 kilometers per hour, enabling it to cover distances of up to 2,000 kilometers.

The maneuverability of the Kinzhal missile further sets it apart from conventional cruise missiles. Its ability to perform sharp evasive maneuvers during flight enables it to overcome enemy air defense systems effectively. The Kinzhal's agility and unpredictability make it a challenging target for interception, enhancing its combat effectiveness and ensuring its high probability of successfully reaching its intended target.

Additionally, the Kinzhal missile is equipped with advanced guidance and targeting systems, enabling it to engage a wide range of targets, including both land-based and naval targets. Its precision strike capabilities make it a potent weapon for conducting both conventional and strategic operations. The Kinzhal's warhead is designed to deliver a devastating impact upon detonation, ensuring maximum destruction of enemy targets.

How would the Kinzhal fare against the US Patriot anti-missile system?

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had hailed last month the US-supplied Patriot anti-missile systems which he said ensured his country’s forces had a 100 percent interception rate against Russia's long-range air strikes. However, the Kinzhal’s hypersonic capabilities and enhanced maneuvering make it a formidable challenge for existing air defense systems.

The Kinzhal hypersonic missile poses a significant challenge to the effectiveness of the US Patriot system. The Patriot system is designed to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, but it may face difficulties when dealing with the speed and maneuverability of the Kinzhal.

One of the main advantages of the Kinzhal is its hypersonic speed, which far exceeds the capabilities of traditional missiles. Its velocity allows it to cover long distances in a short period, making it challenging for air defense systems like the Patriot to track and engage effectively. The quick response time and rapid flight profile of the Kinzhal reduce the window of opportunity for interception, placing additional strain on the Patriot system's capabilities.

Furthermore, the maneuverability of the Kinzhal adds another layer of complexity. Its ability to perform sharp evasive maneuvers during flight makes it more challenging to predict and intercept. The Patriot system relies on tracking and engaging incoming targets based on their projected trajectory, but the unpredictable movements of the Kinzhal make it a difficult target to track and intercept successfully.

Additionally, the Kinzhal's advanced guidance and targeting systems enhance its ability to avoid interception. It can employ countermeasures, such as decoys and electronic jamming, to confuse and evade the Patriot system's interceptors, further reducing the system's effectiveness.

While the Patriot system is a highly capable air defense system with a proven track record, the hypersonic speed and maneuverability of the Kinzhal present significant challenges. The success of the Patriot system against the Kinzhal would depend on its ability to adapt and develop countermeasures specifically tailored to intercepting hypersonic threats. The evolving nature of missile technology necessitates continuous advancements in air defense systems to effectively counter hypersonic threats like the Kinzhal.

What did Putin say?

When the Kinzhal system was publicly revealed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, he stated that the missile's hypersonic speed and maneuverability rendered it virtually invulnerable to any existing air defense systems. He highlighted its ability to overcome even the most advanced missile defense systems and its potential to penetrate any defensive shield.

The public unveiling of the Kinzhal was a clear message to the international community, demonstrating Russia's commitment to advancing its military technology and maintaining its position as a global military power.

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