What are Hypersonic Missiles? Why is Russia using them in Ukraine?

All you need to know about Hypersonic Missiles. Explore why Russia is using hypersonic missiles in Ukraine along with 5 key highlights of Russia’s Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missiles.
Updated: Mar 21, 2022 16:26 IST
A Kinzhal hypersonic missile launched from MiG-31K jet Source: AP
A Kinzhal hypersonic missile launched from MiG-31K jet Source: AP

During the early morning hours of February 24, 2022, Russia launched its attack on Ukraine which has turned out to be the largest conflict since World War II. Over 3.3 million Ukrainians have fled their country. Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles against Ukraine has marked a new shift in the strategy of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On Saturday 19th March 2022, Russia’s Ministry of Defense informed that the Russian Military has launched ‘Kinzhal (Dagger)’ hypersonic missiles which hit a Ukrainian fuel dept in Kostiantynivka near the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv in Ukraine. These strikes would mark the first-ever use of the nuclear-capable advanced weapon system in the Russian-Ukraine conflict. Let us know what are hypersonic missiles? Why is Russia using them in Ukraine?

What are Hypersonic Missiles?

Hypersonic missiles can travel at more than 5 times the speed of sound or Mach 5 (3,836 km/h). These can travel at lower atmospheric-ballistic trajectories than conventional ballistic missiles. Hypersonic Missiles are classified into the spectrum of invincible weapons. They are can manoeuvre mid-flight and penetrate traditional air defense systems or evade anti-missile defense systems. These can be launched from submarines, airplanes, or grounds.

Hypersonic Missiles – Types

Hypersonic Missiles are classified into two types:

(i) Hypersonic Cruise Missiles: These are propelled by a high-speed jet engine, unlike the traditional ballistic missiles which are powered by gravitational forces.

(ii) Hypersonic Glide Missiles: These are propelled back through Earth’s atmosphere. The missile is launched into high trajectories into space where the warheads attached to a glide fall back at its targets while harnessing the aerodynamic forces at hypersonic speed through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Why is Russia using hypersonic missiles in Ukraine?

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President has described Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missiles as an 'ideal weapon'. Defence experts have cited that hypersonic missile systems offer an edge over supersonic or subsonic missiles and would certainly create a propaganda effect. These hypersonic missiles offer a greater level of penetration along with higher destructive power due to their extremely high speed. Experts also stated that the Russian Forces might be running short of Iskander short-range ballistic missiles which it has reportedly fired more than 1,000 missiles since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

In December 2021, Putin announced that Russia was leading the world in hypersonic missiles. The first usage of a hypersonic missile by Russia was cited in 2016 during Russia’s military drills in Syria.

5 Key Highlights of Russia’s Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missiles:

(i) Putin had announced the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system in 2018 among the several latest next-generation strategic weapons.

(ii) Launched by MiG-31K fighter jets, it is an Air-Launched Ballistic Missile (ALBM) that is capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads.

(iii) With a payload of 480 kgs, it can fly 10 times the speed of sound or more than 6,000 km per hour. It is reportedly capable of flying between the range of Mach 4 (4,900 km/h) and upto Mach 10 (12,350 km/h).

(iv) The missile system has been designed to go undetectable by European Radars. It is capable of neutralizing targets upto 2,000 km (1,250 miles) away and

(v) They are highly maneuverable mid-flight & making it harder for air-defence systems to track and intercept.

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