Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles poses a difficult challenge for Ukraine’s air defences

Analysis: Such missiles travel at many times the speed of sound and can only by tackled by counter-hypersonic systems

Kim Sengupta
World Affairs Editor
Thursday 09 March 2023 19:29 GMT

Ukraine: Aerial view shows aftermath of Russian missile strikes on Lviv Oblast

The Russian airstrikes across Ukraine are the latest in a series aimed at damaging infrastructure and are part of a pattern to emerge in the last five months.

They are, however, the largest attacks for a while and included hypersonic as well as cruise missiles in their number. The former, in particular, poses great challenges for the Ukrainian air defences which have become increasingly adept at coping with swarms of drones used in previous raids.

Hypersonic missiles can travel at nine times the speed of sound or more, are extremely difficult to track, can only by tackled by counter-hypersonic systems, and can destroy an aircraft carrier even without a warhead.

The Kinzhal – or Dagger – was among the supposedly “invincible” weapons which Vladimir Putin first spoke about in an national address five years ago. Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced the deployment of the hypersonic missile system in Ukraine at the end of last year and US officials have subsequently charted their use in combat in the country.

Six Kinzhals were fired overall in the barrage of 81 missiles and eight drones. According to Nato estimates Russia’s arsenal has around 40 Kinzhals, so this was a significant proportion of them to be used in one assault.

The mix used by the Russians is aimed at gauging Ukrainian anti-aircraft and missile capabilities at different locations; a tactic which is likely to continue with both sides deploying increasingly sophisticated weapons in the conflict.

“The attack is really large-scale and for the first time using such different types of missiles. We see that this time as many as six Kinzhal were used. This is an attack like I don’t remember seeing before,” said Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for the Air Force Command of Ukraine.

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