The Russian Defense Ministry claims to have used Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to attack targets in Ukraine this weekend. The use for the first time in a conflict of this type of weapon, whose launch has been confirmed by the United States, represents a new step in the escalation of warfare due to the capabilities of these missiles, which can reach targets at a distance of up to 2,000 kilometers and transport nuclear charges.
This is the weapon that Russia has used for the first time:
What is a Kinzhal missile?
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (dagger, in Russian) is a Russian-made air-launched hypersonic ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and can maneuver at all stages of its trajectory. It can hit targets at a distance of between 1,500 and 2,000 kilometers and reaches a speed of Mach 10, that is, 10 times the speed of sound (from Mach 5 the speed is already considered hypersonic). These missiles are eight meters long, have a diameter of one meter, weigh 4,300 kilograms and are capable of carrying a conventional or nuclear payload of up to 480 kilograms, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A report cited by the TASS news agency in July 2018 suggested that it could exceed 3,000 kilometers launched from a Tupolev Tu-22M bomber.
Can they be intercepted by anti-missile systems?
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Once launched, the Kinzhal missile rapidly accelerates to Mach 4 (4,900 kilometers per hour) and can reach speeds of up to Mach 10 (12,350 kilometers per hour). This high speed coupled with the missile’s erratic flight path and high maneuverability makes interception difficult.
When did Russia develop them?
The Kinzhal was one of six “new generation” weapons that Russian President Vladimir Putin presented in his speech on March 1, 2018. This weaponry was, he said, Moscow’s response to the US decision to abandon in 2002 the 1972 ABM treaty on ballistic missiles, a bilateral document between the USSR and the United States considered to be the cornerstone of the system of mutual containment. At that time, the Russian president pointed out that these missiles were already installed in the southern military district, an area that includes the Black Sea. A few days later, on March 11, Russian media published footage of a test launch of a Kinzhal missile from a modified MiG-31 fighter. Although the video did not show the final impact, the Russian Defense Ministry called the test a “success.”
Have they been used in combat?
The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Saturday that Moscow had used a Kinzhal hypersonic missile for the first time to destroy “a large underground repository of missiles and aerial ammunition” in the town of Deliatin, in western Ukraine. This Sunday, the Kremlin stated that it had once again used Kinzhal missiles to destroy a military base in the Yitomir region, in northwestern Ukraine and bordering Belarus, where, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, there were “more than a hundred members of the Ukrainian special forces and foreign mercenaries”.
▫️Destruction of a weapons depot of the Armed Forces of Ukraine by high-precision missile weapons strike. We can see the exact hit of an underground hangar with weapons and ammunition. pic.twitter.com/sKTF46Tdb0
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) March 19, 2022
US officials quoted by CNN have confirmed that Russia has used these missiles for the first time in combat. “It is likely that they intended to test the weapons and send a message to the West,” they said.
What implication does the use of the Kinzhal have in warfare?
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ruled out this Sunday that Russia’s use of Kinzhal missiles represents a “turning point” in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, although Saturday’s missiles fell very close to NATO territory, about 300 kilometers from the Polish border. “I don’t see it as a turning point. I think Russia uses them to gain momentum. We have seen them attack towns, cities and civilians. We think they’ll keep doing it, but I don’t think that’s going to change the rules of the game,” Austin said in an interview with CBS. What, from his point of view, would be a “very serious step” would be the use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. In the event that Russia used them, Austin assured that Moscow would receive “a forceful response from the United States and the international community.”