Ukraine confirms downing Kinzhal hypersonic missile using U.S.-made Patriot missile system

Kinzhal hypersonic missile debris collected by Ukrainian troops. Ukrainian PAC3 missile shot down Russian hypersonic missile. Photo Ukrainian MoD.

Ukraine says it downed a Russian hypersonic missile over the capital Kyiv using a newly acquired U.S.-made Patriot defense system in what would be a first in its ability to intercept one of Moscow’s most modern weapons.

The Kinzhal missile is one of the latest and most advanced Russian weapons. Its military says the air-launched ballistic missile has a range of up to 1,000km and flies at 7 times the speed of sound, making it hard to intercept.

Commander of the Air Force of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Mykola Oleshchuk confirmed on Saturday the shooting down of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile over Kyiv by the Patriot air defense system on May 4.

“I congratulate the Ukrainian people on a historic event! Yes, we have shot down the “unparalleled” Kinzhal,” Oleshchuk said.

Oleshchuk claims that the Kinzhal missile was launched by a MiG-31K fighter jet from Russian territory.

A combination of hypersonic speed and a heavy warhead allows the Kinzhal to destroy heavily fortified targets, such as underground bunkers or mountain tunnels.

Patriot missile launchers acquired from the U.S. are seen deployed in Warsaw, Poland, in February. Michal Dyjuk/AP

“I congratulate the Ukrainian people on the historic event. Yes, we shot down the ‘unique’ Kinzhal,” Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said in a Telegram post on Saturday. “It happened during the nighttime attack on May 4 in the skies of the Kyiv region.”

It was the first time Ukraine is known to have used the Patriot missile defense system.

Oleshchuk said the Kh-47 was launched by a MiG-31K aircraft from Russian territory and was shot down with a single Patriot missile. The Ukrainian military has previously admitted to lacking assets to intercept the supersonic weapon.

The Kinzhal, which means “dagger” in Russian, is one of six weapons unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in 2018 when the Russian leader boasted it cannot be shot down by any of the world’s air defense systems.

The air-launched ballistic missile can reach speeds of up to Mach 7 and is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads.

Ukraine took its first delivery of the Patriot missiles in late April. It has not specified how many of the systems it has or where they have been deployed, but they are known to have been provided by the US, Germany and the Netherlands.

Germany and the US have acknowledged sending at least one system, and the Netherlands has said it provided two, though it is not clear how many are currently in operation.

Ukrainian troops have received the extensive training needed to be able to effectively locate a target with the systems, lock on with radar, and fire. Each battery requires up to 90 personnel to operate and maintain.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he first asked for Patriot systems when visiting the US in August 2021, months before Russia’s full-scale invasion but seven years after Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

He has described possessing the system as “a dream” but said he was told by US officials at the time it was impossible.

Missile Segment Engament

The Patriot system uses three types of missiles, all of which could “conceivably take out those Russian bombers that are hovering over Belarus airspace,” said Reuben Johnson, an expert on U.S. military hardware.

But only one of the missiles — the Missile Segment Enhancement, or MSE — is designed to take out the Kinzhal. It can also intercept ballistic missiles carrying chemical or nuclear payloads at a “keep out” altitude, Johnson said, destroying an incoming missile outside the atmosphere so that the weapons don’t contaminate areas on the ground.

It was previously unclear if Ukraine received the MSE from Western allies — but now that a Kinzhal has been destroyed, Johnson said, it was “a safe bet that Ukrainian batteries have them.”

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