The Kinzhal is NOT a hypersonic missile in the modern sense (which requires at least Mach 5, manoeuvring, and an air-breathing scramjet.) It is just a reworked Iskander-M with a new guidance system to allow it to be used as air-to-ground. It is just a standard solid-fueled ballistic missile that Russian propaganda makes false claims about. (note all ballistic missiles are “hypersonic” — speed alone does not make a hypersonic missile.)
“We are not planning to fight a war with anyone, our goal is to create a perception so nobody thinks to fight us.”President Vladimit Putin
The Zircon may be a hypersonic missile, but it is not deployed and, because of sanctions, will, like the Su-57 and T-14, never be deployed in serial production and the field. Russia may produce several prototypes of Zircon missiles.
Russia has a long history of creating amazing one-off prototypes of weapons that it cannot manufacture because of its expense or reliance on western technology. For example, Russia’s Zircon and Kalibr cruise missile components come from Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan and America.
Propaganda, lies and deceptions
Hypersonic missiles can be stopped; this is just Russia’s hypersonic hype peddled by people who don’t understand the technology.
The current ballistic missile defence complex will struggle with hypersonic weapons; Hypersonic glide vehicles specifically do substantially complicate mid-course interception by ballistic missile defence systems because of their altitude (100 kilometers) and their ability to manoeuvre.
Although terminal-phase missile systems will still be effective, specific defensive systems optimised to shoot down hypersonic weapons are being developed now and already available, such as Israeli Arrow-3, Barak-8 missile, American PAC3 and SM-6 interceptor and Eurosam SAMP/T missile system.
The UK, Australia and the United States jointly work on a high-speed missile defence system.
Hypersonic systems’ main advantage is that they compress reaction time, even more so than ballistic missiles (which are already “hypersonic missiles”).
Russia convert anti-ship or ballistic missiles into hypersonic missiles
A 3M44 “Progress” anti-ship missile is land-based with a static or mobile truck launcher in that big cylindrical launching canister. Its wings are about to unfold as the two boost rockets get it out of the launcher, similar to the one in the 2nd picture. This was the late 1950s and early 1960s missile design. It has been modified to a limited degree over the years, but it had a top speed of up to Mach 0.9. Its body diameter is close to 3 feet.
Those VLS launchers fit in a P-800 Oniks or 3M-14 Kalibr missile. The P-800 Oniks is 2.2 feet in diameter, while the Kalibr variants are 1.75 feet in diameter. As previously mentioned, the missile in the 2nd photo (the 3M44 progress) is almost 3 feet in diameter (not counting folded or unfolded wings). In comparison, the X-51 photocopy has a booster motor (from the MGM-140 ATACMS) that is 2 feet wide, while the X-51’s main body is a little bit wider because of the air intake and along with non-folding fins at the rear. All the proposed images of it would require some modifications to get it to fit, which they haven’t shown or proven.
SM-3 is a hypersonic interceptor
A hypersonic missile is a missile that can fly over Mach 5 and simultaneously manoeuvre horizontally and vertically.
In 2014 the US Navy started deploying the SM-3 Block IB anti-missile missile for operational use.
The SM-3 Block IB is a Mach 8.3 missile with a minimum 500-mile range that is designed to intercept incoming missiles. It has done so successfully numerous times in tests.
In one real-world situation, an SM-3 took out a satellite in low earth orbit that was about to crash back to the earth. Satellites move fast!
The SM-3 Block IIA is now under test. It is at least Mach 16. In November 2020, in a test, it successfully destroyed an incoming ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile).
When the US Air Force has a Mach 5 missile that can hit a stationary target the size of a large office building, I can’t say. The US Navy is cheating by shooting at relatively small targets moving at high speed.
AGM-183 hypersonic missile
They would tell you that it is the AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). The US has tested “hypersonic” systems for years now, ignoring that all ICBMs and SRBMs at their highest altitudes reach hypersonic speeds around Mach 14, which means that “hypersonic” weapons are nothing new and are usually just weapon systems that attempt to spend more time at those higher altitudes for their mission profile.
The difference between Kinzhal and the AGM-183 is that the Kinzhal is a repurposed tactical SRBM that is now air-dropped to extend its ballistic flight path range. The AGM-183 is not a ballistic missile. The intent is to deliver a hypersonic glide weapon up to high altitude, to fly a flatter and faster trajectory instead of arcing up and diving down. One is more impressive than the other.
SM-6 can intercept Mach 16-speed missiles
For multi-purpose uses, the Navy can use the RIM-174 SM-6, which can be used to engage aircraft and missiles and, to limited ability, strike ships/surface targets. It is a 3,300-pound missile at its fastest speed, going Mach 3.5 while reaching a maximum engagement range of over 230 miles with various data link options and active radar homing in terminal phase.
For an ABM-specific role, you have the RIM-161 SM-3 missile. This similarly sized missile can reach 1,500 miles and a maximum altitude of 932 miles. At higher altitudes, the top attainable speeds are near Mach 16. GPS, INS and active radar with terminal IR are used. As for operational proving grounds go, it shot down a satellite over 200 miles in altitude with a closing velocity of over 30,000 mph.
Barak-8 shot down Iskander hypersonic ballistic missile in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Armenia launched at least one Russian-made short-range Iskander ballistic missile at Baku in November during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Still, Azerbaijan shot it down, a senior official briefed on the incident told Middle East Eye.
Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on a Russia and Turkey-brokered ceasefire after six weeks of heavy fighting in November, following the Azerbaijani army’s seizure of the strategic city of Shusha (known as Shushi in Armenian).
According to the senior official, Russia encouraged Armenia to use Iskandar missiles and provided material support for their launch, in order to compel Azerbaijan, which was capturing territory at a fast rate, to give the ceasefire a chance.
‘It was concerning for Azerbaijani officials. But a missile defence system operated by the Azerbaijani military, an Israeli-made Barak-8, shot it down’– Senior official
“An Iskander ballistic missile was launched by Yerevan directly into the capital days before the ceasefire. It was concerning for Azerbaijani officials. But a missile defence system operated by the Azerbaijani military, an Israeli-made Barak-8, shot it down,” the official said.
Propaganda and spread of misinformation to keep Putin in power
The delay in development is expected in a weapon so technically complex. It requires developing so many new techniques and materials that it takes time for research, trial and error, and testing.
The real question is, “why did Russia over-promise its developmental readiness?”
If you read the Russian state news and troll factory posts, you would be misled that the production weapon is already being deployed.
I see only one reason for this misinformation: selling the Russian populace that Putin has to lead it to a position of might and invincibility. This appeals to Russians, who would then re-elect him and not demonstrate against him.
The state’s control of Russian news media and troll farms makes this possible. In almost every other western country, a free and investigative press would discover and challenge these unfounded (and absurd) claims of Russian weapon readiness.
The rest of the world cannot be fooled by Russian propaganda.
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