Exposed! Russia’s Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile Lacks Advanced Targeting System As It Hits Russian Town

In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry's official website on Sunday, March 11, 2018, a Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile flies during a test in southern Russia. There is social media speculation that an object found crashed in Stavropol, Russia, on September 14, 2022, was one of the hypersonic missiles that have been touted by Moscow. Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Social media users have speculated that an object that crashed in a Russian city around 220 miles from the Ukrainian border may have been a stray Russian hypersonic missile.

The incident took place in the Turkmen district of the Stavropol region on Wednesday according to the Ukrainian military center, which said that when emergency responders tried to control the flames, an explosion took place on the ground, injuring six people.

Russian media channels said the object was a Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drone, but the Ukrainian military center said that the wreckage found at the site of the explosion “does not support this version.”

Images of the aftermath of the incident led Twitter users to note similarities between the wreckage of the aircraft and the Russian Kinzhal missile, in particular, the winglets and the separation mechanism of the weapon’s booster, according to online publication Aerotime

“Anyone wondered what #crashed today in #russian Stavropol’ region injuring 6 firefighters, you’d be very much surprised to know that it wasn’t a ‘Ukrainian UAV,’ but a russian #Kinzhal missile,” tweeted user LotA.

In a follow-up tweet, the user suggested that the “booster” or the nozzle’s aerodynamic cover had not separated from the missile, “which would probably mean that the main engine didn’t ignite…my guess would be a failed launch towards Ukraine.”

The thread was shared by open source user OSINTtechnical who wrote to their 618,000 followers, “In the last 6 months, Russia has hit Ukraine with three Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ‘hypersonic’ missiles and itself with one.”

Aerotime reported that the presence of a booster on the wreckage likely indicated that the missile either misfired or was accidentally dropped by an aircraft.

The Kinzhal missile is a hypersonic weapon that is among a new generation of weaponry that Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly touted as a sign of Moscow’s military might. Russia says that it can reach up to 12 times the speed of sound.

Ukrainian officials said that Russia had used the same missile to target the dam of the Karachunivske Reservoir in Kryvyi Rih, a city in the center of the country which is the birthplace of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the city’s military administration, said Russia had also used Iskander missiles to target the reservoir, The New Voice of Ukraine reported, although it is not clear if the incidents are related.

The strikes destroyed a water pumping station and flooded the embankments, forcing some residents’ evacuation, CNN reported.

In his nightly address, Zelensky condemned the strikes, saying they had “no military value at all” and by trying to impact “hundreds of thousands of ordinary civilians” was another reason “why Russia will lose.”

About Kinzhal hypersonic missile

In March 2022, the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile, developed by Russia, was first used in a strike against a weapons depot in western Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk area. 

Kinzhal is a modified air-launched variant Iskander tactical ballistic missile designed to be carried by the MiG-31M interceptor fighter jets. The first stage of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is the basis for the 9K720 Iskander-M ground-launched missile, which also has a booster attached.

Since Kinzhal is a modified ballistic missile using a passive radar seeker, the missile must be fired from a high-altitude aircraft that can fly at high speed to avoid collision with the launch aircraft itself.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies notes, for instance, that “Russia’s designation of the Kinzhal as a ‘hypersonic’ missile is somewhat misleading, as nearly all ballistic missiles reach hypersonic speeds… at some point during their flight.”

The concept of air launching a ballistic missile is not new. It was explored by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Today, along with Russia, China is also pursuing these systems. Beijing has two ALBM projects in development, including one believed to be referred to by the US as the CH-AS-X-13. This missile is associated with the Xian H-6 medium bomber.

ALBMs possess both very high speed and a challenging flight trajectory, coupled with the flexibility and increased range offered in combination with an aircraft. Because of this, the renewed interest in ALBMs may in part be driven by the requirement to counter improving missile defences. Kinzhal is described as hypersonic, capable of exceeding Mach 5 in flight, and having anti-ship and land-attack roles. Ballistic missiles generally are hypersonic, given the nature of their flight paths. In contrast, developing a hypersonic cruise missile is far more demanding, given challenges including the need to sustain combustion for their air-breathing motors at such high speeds.

The Kinzhal guidance kits come from Kh-31P air-to-surface missile that uses ARGSN-31 passive radar guidance system capable of operating in a broad band of frequencies. Its seeker can operate in several homing modes, including automatic search and external control modes from passive electronically scanned radar. Since Kinzhal uses a broadband seeker, the seeker can be disrupted by electronic warfare systems and intercepted by an anti-air missile such as Barak-8 and Arrow 3 missile.

The Kinzhal’s trajectory has been modified to use cruise missile-like characteristics using inertia navigation systems and a modified TVC nozzle of the missile.

Lack of radar seeker and proper TVC control were two reasons the Kinzhal was hitting shopping centres, and Kinzhal even hit a Russian town.

The weapons may not be perfect, nor it is accurate. Nevertheless, it is still a vital weapon in Russia’s arsenal.

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