Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an address that included details regarding a number of new missile systems being developed within his nation. New ICBM platforms, nuclear powered missiles, and even nuclear “doomsday” torpedoes were touched upon, but none of these platforms pose as direct a threat to American defenses than the new Kinzhal hypersonic weapon system.
The Kinzhal, which translates to “dagger,” is a hypersonic missile, capable of achieving speeds in excess of Mach 5. It’s based on a land based variant, the Iskander-M , that was developed with one very specific goal in mind: to defeat the American missile defense apparatus and successfully deliver a strategic nuclear payload.
Unlike the RS-28 Sarmat (also known as the Satan II) which boasts multiple potentially hypersonic capable payloads as well as chaffe and even dummy warheads intended to overwhelm and confuse missile defenses while annihilating a patch of territory the size of “Texas or France” (according to Moscow), the Iskander-M is a short range ballistic missile that would see use places like the Baltics, where NATO and Russian forces have engaged in a decades long standoff.
This new footage of the Kinzhal missile platform based on the Iskander-M shows it mounted beneath a Russian made Mig-31, which despite being in service since 1981 remains one of the fastest fighters ever to take to the sky. Rumors surrounded the Mig-31 for years, in large part because it was never exported and has been used primarily in a defensive role in Russian territories. In recent years, it has been confirmed that the Mig-31 is technically capable of exceeding Mach 3, placing it in rare company with the likes of the unarmed American SR-71 – though it’s important to note that reaching that velocity actually requires pushing the Mig’s engines beyond their heat tolerances, making any such effort a one way trip.
The video shows the Mig-31 launching a Kinzhal missile, though it does not continue to show it in flight or actually hitting a target, though, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, “The launch went according to plan, the hypersonic missile hit its target on a testing ground.”
Unlike the scramjet technology Russia, China, and the United States are working to develop in order to routinely achieve hypersonic speeds, the Kinzhal, like its Iskander predecessor, do so through good old fashioned brute force, using a solid chemical propellent rocket to achieve such massive acceleration.
Theoretically speaking, by mounting the Kinzhal platform on an extremely fast fighter like the Mig-31, it would be almost impossible to defend against using the systems we have in place. The aircraft could maneuver in such a way as to make it too difficult to track using systems like THAAD, then, when launched at close range, traveling at a nearly horizontal flight path and quickly reaching hypersonic velocities, the Kinzhal missile could engage a target almost before anyone even realized the missile had been launched.
It would be possible for short range missile defense systems like the Patriot PAC-2 and PAC-3 to intercept Kinzhals on the approach, but would not be a guarantee. With a claimed range of over 1,200 miles, the Kinzhal missile system poses a legitimate threat not only to land based assets, but could very easily become a carrier-killer in the Pacific.
Watch the hypersonic Kinzhal missile launched from the belly of a Mig-31 in the video below:
Image courtesy of YouTube