Russia has launched two hypersonic missiles at targets in Ukraine. And significant news: here’s why. Marco Orioles’s article
What lies behind the apparently disturbing Russian move to use hypersonic missiles for the first time in the history of an armed conflict The attacks on Delyatin and Mykolaiv
As confirmed now also by the US, on Friday and Saturday the Russian army launched two Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles which respectively hit a large arsenal of Ukrainian missiles and aviation ammunition in the locality of Delyatin, in the region west of Ivano-Frankivsk (just one hundred kilometers from the border with Romania), and – as announced by the Russian Defense Ministry on its Telegram channel – a fuel and lubricant depot in the Mykolaiv region.
Great was the initial amazement of intelligence and observers to the point that the news had to wait 48 hours to get out of the fog and find definitive confirmation. The incident was made official by President Biden himself, who remarked not without bitterness that the weapon used by the Russians is “practically impossible to stop”. What are hypersonic missiles
These are vectors that have the main characteristic of being maneuverable while they travel at a speed between five and ten times that of sound (Mach 5 or 10); they travel a mile per second or even more. Both conventional and nuclear warheads can be installed. What makes them special is also the ability to withstand prohibitive atmospheric conditions, to travel at low altitudes, preventing radars from tracking their movements as well as – as mentioned – from changing trajectory during the journey; all this makes their interception by anti-missile systems almost impossible.
In a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recalled by CNBC, it is stated that “hypersonic weapons combine the speed and range of a ballistic missile with the low altitude and maneuverability of a cruise missile”. The Russian and Chinese advantage
Both Moscow and Beijing have long since started ambitious programs to develop these weapons without the US being able to keep up.
The American delay is overt: as recalls, the Air Force was unable to complete the tests of the AGM-183, a hypersonic missile model developed by Lockheed Martin, defeating the goal of having the system already operational by ‘year.
With some urgency, therefore, the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Biden this year allocates $ 2.5 billion for the dedicated program, significantly increasing the funds available for research and development.
Russia, on the other hand, has been sporting its hypersonic missiles since 2018. It was Putin himself that year who revealed to the world the existence of the Kinzhal and other next-generation strategic weapons in his State of the Nation address, pompously stating that the Russia now had an “invincible” missile prototype, “capable of reaching any point on the planet” and of evading any anti-missile defense system.
“Hypersonic”, however, is an umbrella term that encompasses different technologies: a fact that makes it difficult to compare the military capabilities of countries. There are two types of hypersonic weapons: hypersonic cruise missiles (launched from an aircraft while in flight) and glide vehicles, which are more complex. The latter detach from the rocket which carries them upwards to a distance of about 50-100 kilometers from the ground; after which they glide (hence the name) towards the chosen target at hypersonic speed, guaranteeing the possibility of a change of trajectory until just before impact. – Read Startmag Insights: The United States Really Fears China’s Military Overtaking Characteristics of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal
Eight meters long, the Kinzhal (“stiletto”) has a range of 2,000 kilometers and can reach a speed of Mach 10. As Deutsche Welle observes, if such a device were launched from the Russian territory of Kaliningrad it could reach the greatest part of the European capitals in no time.
The missile was designed to be carried and launched by Mig, ships and submarines. The Russian army believes that, due to its characteristics, the Kinzhal is an infallible weapon; Putin himself took pride in it when I stressed in 2018 that this type of missile provides “a substantial advantage in a conflict”, since “its speed makes it invulnerable against current missile and air defense systems, given that interceptor missiles they are, to put it briefly, not fast enough “. Why use the Kinzhal
The debate triggered by the Russian use of this type of missile in the conflict in Ukraine was lively. The most immediate explanation was also given by CNBC according to which it was “an opportunity for Russia to show off weapons that it has claimed to be developing for several years” with a clear intimidating effect aimed at both Ukraine and NATO.
To seek other points of view, CNBC asked the opinion of James Bosbotinis, a British defense and international affairs specialist, who said he was not surprised by the two attacks and that they should be interpreted as an attempt to “signal how Russia has options to resort to an escalation ”.
Similar hypotheses are formulated by a Western politician and by a senior member of the Pentagon heard anonymously by Politico: Putin’s game is to acquire strong positions at the negotiating table but also to send a message to the West so that it does not dare to interfere with the its military operations. And if it were only frustration
Without prejudice to the roar of the two missiles and the clamor raised by their unprecedented use in the battlefield, there are those who have some doubts about the actual military significance of Putin’s latest move.
Take as an example the assessment of the Deputy Marshal of the Royal Air Force Michael John Smeath, who, in a press release from the British Ministry of Defense, says he is convinced that Russia has used the hypersonic missile to reinforce the morale which is certainly not skyrocketing. troops at a time when the invasion is stalled and the Russian army is blatantly demonstrating that it does not live up to the status of a great world power that Putin has always aimed for.
Moreover, it was Biden himself in the speech in which he officially admitted that Russia had launched the Kinzhal to argue that it was in fact an action due to the growing Russian frustration with the surprising anti-missile defense capacity demonstrated by Ukraine. Putin running out of ammunition
But another explanation has made its way into the discussion of these days and it is not at all positive for Putin and his army. As the two sources mentioned by Politico did not hesitate to point out, the truth could simply be that the army deployed in Ukraine ran out of precision ammunition and therefore, as the two sources comment, “the main reason why they used this bomb and that they had little else to shoot “. Far from being a sign of strength, but in reality “a significant sign of weakness… throwing this weapon means being desperate”.
According to this hypothesis, therefore, having so far launched about 1,100 missiles in Ukrainian territory, according to the estimate of the Pentagon, the Russian army, paradoxically, would have had no other option than to resort to a sophisticated device to hit a target located a few hundred kilometers away. and above all expensive.
The same doubts are expressed by Dave Deptula, a former general of the US Air Force who today chairs the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, according to whose opinion reported by, “a missile and a missile even if it travels at hypersonic speed, in terms of destructive there is no big difference and one therefore wonders why to destroy a trivial building, Russia has recourse to such expensive weapons “.
But it was even n. 1 of the Pentagon Lloyd Austin to endorse this hypothesis when, speaking at the Sunday program of CBS “Face the Nation”, he recognized that, although the Russians have certainly used the missile to restore momentum to a limping invasion, it cannot be excluded that Moscow is actually running out of ammunition. “It is normal to wonder – underlined Austin – why he does it. It is not that it is running out of precision weapons
The luck, if we can say so, of the Ukrainian people is that the Kinzhals will soon run out, of which the Russian army certainly does not have an unlimited supply. The other side of the coin is that, unfortunately, in his obstinacy to continue military operations, Putin does not hesitate to drop the classic “Dumb bombs” on his targets, that is, devices that are not at all intelligent or precise.

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