Russia’s new weapons in the war in Ukraine: what are hypersonic missiles?

A Russian Air Force Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptor flies loaded with an air-to-surface ballistic missile "Kinjal" during the Russian military parade for Victory Day.

A Russian Air Force Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptor flies loaded with a 鈥淜injal鈥 air-to-surface ballistic missile during Russia鈥檚 Victory Day military parade.

Photo: Pavel Golovkin, AP, Picture Alliance/Deutsche Welle

Russia is using in its offensive against Ukraine part of its new generation of missiles, described by Moscow as 鈥渋nvincible鈥, 鈥渉ypersonic鈥, with unlimited range or invisible to radar, four years after they were presented by Vladimir Putin.

Hypersonic weapons: high speed and maneuverability

Hypersonic weapons are defined as anything that travels beyond Mach 5, or five times faster than the speed of sound. That is, about 6,100 km / h. ICBMs far exceed that threshold, but they travel on a predictable trajectory, making it possible to intercept them. The new weapons are maneuverable.

Current missile defense systems, including the US Navy鈥檚 Aegis system, would have trouble intercepting such objects because their maneuverability makes their movement unpredictable and their speed leaves little time to react.

Russia says it has ballistic missiles that can deploy hypersonic glide vehicles, as well as a hypersonic cruise missile.

Avangard missiles: 27 times the speed of sound

One of them, Russia鈥檚 Avangard (鈥渧anguard鈥 in Russian) hypersonic missiles, which are capable of changing course and altitude at very high speeds, making them 鈥渧irtually invincible,鈥 according to Putin, who likens scientific advancement and military of its development 鈥渨ith the creation of the first artificial satellite of the Earth鈥, the famous Sputnik.

Successfully tested in December 2018, its speed reached 鈥淢ach 27鈥, or 27 times the speed of sound, and it hit a target some 6,000 km away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Those missiles were commissioned in December 2019.

Used for the first time on Friday by the Russian military, hypersonic Kinjal (鈥渄agger鈥 in Russian) missiles allowed the destruction of an underground weapons store in western Ukraine.

This type of missile, very manageable, can circumvent anti-aircraft defense systems, according to Moscow. During the tests, they hit all their targets at a distance of up to 1,000 to 2,000 km. They equip the MiG-31 warplanes.

Unprecedented use of Kinjal hypersonic missiles

According to experts, the use of hypersonic weaponry in Ukraine is unprecedented. The Sarmat fifth-generation intercontinental heavy ballistic missile is supposed to evade anti-missile defenses.

Weighing more than 200 tons, it is more efficient than its predecessor 鈥 the Voevoda missile with a range of 11,000 km 鈥 and 鈥渉as practically no limits in terms of range鈥, according to Putin, who assures that it even serves to 鈥渢arget targets traversing both the North Pole and the South Pole.

Peresvet combat laser systems and the Poseidon underwater drone

The technical characteristics of the Peresvet (鈥渧ery clear鈥 in Russian) combat laser systems are classified as secret. They have been combat-ready since December 2019, according to the Defense Ministry.

The Poseidon, a nuclear-powered underwater drone, is capable of traveling more than a kilometer deep, at a speed of 60 to 70 knots, being invisible to detection systems, according to a source from the Russian military-industrial complex, quoted by the official agency TASS.

The first tests with this apparatus were carried out in the spring of 2020 from the Belgorod submarine. Putin insists on its 鈥渦nlimited reach鈥.

鈥淯nlimited range鈥 of Burevestnik and Zircon missiles

Again with 鈥渦nlimited range鈥, always according to the Russian president, and capable of overcoming almost all interception systems, the Russian Army is developing nuclear-powered Burevestnik (鈥渟torm bird鈥 in Russian) cruise missiles. Its technical characteristics are classified as secret.

The first official launch of the Zircon hypersonic missile (named after a mineral used in jewelry) dates back to October 2020. It flies at 鈥淢ach 9鈥 to hit sea and land targets.

In late December 2021, Putin announced a successful first test firing of a Zircon salvo. Other tests have been carried out since October 2020 in the Russian Arctic, in particular from the 鈥淎dmiral Gorshkov鈥 frigate and a submerged submarine.

The United States accelerates the development of hypersonic weapons

For its part, the US Navy, which trails Russia in developing hypersonic weapons, is rushing to install the first on a warship from the end of next year. The United States is in a race with Russia and China to develop these weapons.

The US weapon would launch like a ballistic missile, unleashing a hypersonic glide vehicle that would reach speeds seven to eight times the speed of sound before hitting the target.

In Maine, General Dynamics subsidiary Bath Iron Works has begun engineering and design work on the changes needed to install the weapons system on three Zumwalt-class destroyers.

Work would begin at an as-yet-unnamed shipyard sometime in the fiscal year that begins October 2023, the Navy said.

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