What are the hypersonic missiles Russia is using in Ukraine? | Explainer News

Russia bombarded Ukraine with Kinzhal missiles, which fly many times faster than the speed of sound, and are impossible to shoot down with ground defences.

Russia unleashed a barrage of high-precision missile attacks on Ukraine that triggered a wave of power cuts and temporarily caused Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant to lose power.

According to Ukraine’s military, Russia is believed to have used six Kinzhals – hypersonic missiles which fly many times faster than the speed of sound.

President Vladimir Putin regularly touts the Kinzhal, which means “dagger” in Russian, as a weapon for which the NATO alliance backing Kyiv has no answer.

Here is what you need to know about the weapon:

What are hypersonic missiles?

  • Hypersonic weapons travel in the upper atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound – or about 6,200kmph (3,852mph) – and they can evade advanced radar systems.
  • There are two major types of hypersonic missiles. One is the hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), which leaves the Earth’s atmosphere and then plunges back into it.
  • The second is the hypersonic cruise missile (HCM) which, while not as fast, flies low and at extremely high speeds, giving opponents little time to react. They can also carry a nuclear warhead.
The Kinzhal is capable of striking targets 2,000km (1,250 miles) away at a speed 10 times the speed of sound [File: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters]

What are the key features of Kinzhal missiles?

  • Kinzhal is an air-launched ballistic missile that is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads.
  • It has a reported range of 1,500-2,000km (930-1,240 miles) with a payload of 480kg. The missiles may reach speeds of up to Mach 10 (12,350kmph or 7,674mph).
  • President Vladimir Putin says Russia is the global leader in hypersonic missiles whose speed, manoeuvrability, and altitude make them difficult to track and intercept.
  • In Ukraine, the missiles were first used in March 2022 to destroy a fuel depot, according to Moscow.
  • On Thursday, Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for Ukraine’s air force, said his country did not have the capability to “counter” the Kinzhals.

Who else is developing hypersonic missiles?

  • The United States has actively pursued the development of hypersonic weapons – manoeuvring weapons that fly at speeds of at least Mach 5 – as a part of its Conventional Prompt Global Strike programme since the early 2000s, according to a congressional report.
  • In April 2022, Australia, the United Kingdom and the US – a grouping known as AUKUS – agreed to cooperate on hypersonic weapons and electronic warfare capabilities.
  • China is also aggressively developing the technology, according to the US Congressional Research Service (CRS).
  • Iran, Israel and South Korea have conducted basic research on the technology, the CRS has said previously.

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