Weapons

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why the Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile is not unstoppable and why the PAC-3 Patriot can shoot it down although the Kinzhal is Mach 10 capable

‘The Russian claim that the Kinzhal missile is “unstoppable” is false. It has already been shot down by a Patriot PAC-3 interceptor in Ukraine. In fact six of them, in a single volley, were shot down over Kyiv, recently.’ Eric Wicklund, former US Navy Operations Specialist.

The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (in Russian: Х-47М2 Кинжал, “Dagger”, NATO reporting name Killjoy) is a Russian hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile. It is claimed to have a range of 2,000 km (1,200 mi) and Mach 10 speed. It can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads and can be launched by Tu-22M3 bombers or MiG-31K interceptors. It has been deployed at airbases in Russia’s Southern Military District and Western Military District.

The Kinzhal entered service in December 2017 and was one of the five new Russian strategic weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018.

The Kremlin has called these weapons “unstoppable” but what are the real capabilities of Kinzhal missile?

Eric Wicklund, former US Navy Operations Specialist, says on Quora;

‘First of all, the Russian claim that the Kinzhal missile is “unstoppable” is false. It has already been shot down by a Patriot PAC-3 interceptor in Ukraine. In fact, six of them, in a single volley, were shot down over Kyiv, recently.

‘The Kinzhal is an air-launched version of the aged Iskander short-range ballistic missile. It can reach speeds of Mach 10 (at 59,000ft—18km) and has a range of 2,000km (1,200mi). Russia likes to include the range of the launching aircraft, for the purpose of increasing the range to make it a little scarier. It follows a predictable ballistic trajectory, and therefore it is possible for the PAC-3 interceptor to destroy.

MiG-31K carrying Kh-47M2 Kinzhal

‘The term “hypersonic” has been tossed around a lot lately, causing fear and confusion. To be clear, “Hypersonic weapons” have existed since WW2 with the development of the V-2 missile. Any system which can fly at Mach 5 or faster, is a hypersonic weapon. Every ICBM that anyone has made, was a hypersonic weapon.

‘In current military parlance, “hypersonic weapon” is referring to something very specific. That is something that is hypersonic, yet is able to maneuver and still hit a target. By that, much more strict definition, the Kinzhal doesn’t even qualify as a hypersonic weapon. It’s just another, run of the mill, ballistic missile.’

He continues;

‘Now I’ll say some things many people will disagree with.

‘When measuring the capability of aerial weapons, we tend to look at its top speed. It’s a crude measurement that never tells the whole tale. The MiG-31 is capable of Mach 2.83 (at high altitude). The F-15 is capable of Mach 2.5 (at high altitude). The F-22 is capable of Mach 2.2 (at high altitude). Note: only the F-22 is able to reach that max speed…while armed with missiles. Yeah, missiles on the wings slow these airplanes down…a LOT.

Carrying missiles internally means the F-22 hits max speed, even while armed, a rare thing among modern fighters.

‘Did you notice that in the above paragraph “high altitude” gets mentioned…every…single…time? That’s because the max speed of a weapon is only possible in the thinner air at… (dramatic pause) … high altitude. At sea level, in much thicker air, none of these weapons hits its max possible speed. It’s physics, and physics doesn’t give a damn if it is inconvenient.’

Wicklund concludes;

‘So, the Kinzhal is designed to hit ground targets. It isn’t going at Mach 10 when it hits the target near sea level. It cannot go that fast. Physics can be a real b**ch about this, but there it is. So, that scary number of Mach 10 (only possible at 59,000ft), will NOT be the speed of the Kinzhal when it hits its target. I don’t know that speed is. The Kremlin refuses to answer my queries. Go figure.

‘This is another reason why the Kinzhal is not as “unstoppable” as Russia claims. When in final approach to its target, the Kinzhal ain’t doin’ no Mach 10. It’s slower than that, and that’s where the PAC-3 Patriot missile can destroy it.’

Debris presented by Ukraine in May 2023, claimed to be from a Kinzhal missile.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, The Presidential Press and Information Office and Kyiv City State Administration via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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