In March of 2022, Russia’s Ministry of Defence announced the first operational use of the nation’s new Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile in a strike against a weapons depot in Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region. While this is the first operational use of this new Russian weapon, it’s not exactly the historic occasion it may seem. Russia’s Kinzhal may be hypersonic, but it’s certainly nothing new.
The announcement was soon followed by alleged footage of the strike.
Hypersonic is a term used to describe platforms that can travel at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or about 3,836 miles per hour, but the term has been adopted for advanced new weapons systems being developed all around the world. The Kinzhal does travel at hypersonic speeds, but it is not one of these advanced new weapons.
The truth is, the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile is actually little more than a conventional air-launched ballistic missile with a design that dates back to the 1980s. It has benefited a great deal from both intentional and less-than-intentional misconceptions about this new class of weapons, often cited as a reason the United States is lagging behind Russia in a hypersonic arms race (that, as we’ve discussed before, isn’t quite what it seems either).
Hypersonic speed isn’t actually all that special, but there are new weapons that leverage hypersonic speeds to achieve objectives in new or different ways. The Kinzhal, however, just isn’t one of them.
Related: Is America really losing the hypersonic arms race?
Hypersonic just means “faster than Mach 5,” but it’s commonly associated with advanced new weapons.
The word hypersonic has a cutting edge connotation to it and recent media coverage of these technologies has treated the realm of hypersonic flight like it’s right out of a science fiction movie. But hypersonic platforms have actually already been around for decades, and you’re almost certainly already familiar with a number of them.
At hypersonic speeds, air itself becomes the enemy as it impacts the vehicle, creating enough friction and pressure to damage or even incinerate most common aircraft and missile materials. The space shuttle, however, regularly exceeded Mach 25, or more than 17,500 miles per hour, during reentry. The Air Force’s current (and secretive) X-37B can also reach these blistering speeds. In fact, practically every ballistic missile and spacecraft mankind has ever launched had been and still is hypersonic in nature.
That means all of the ICBMs in America’s nuclear stockpile, all of Russia’s Kinzhal missiles, and even Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 reusable rockets all share the distinction of being hypersonic… and in fact, Russia’s Kinzhal missile has more in common with those applications than it does with the new slew of “hypersonic weapons” nations like Russia, China, and the United States are competing to field.
Related: The groundbreaking hypersonic missiles America has in the works
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is an Air-Launched Ballistic Missile based on weapon from the ’80s
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (Russian for Dagger) entered operational service in 2017, according to Russian statements made in 2018. It is not a new weapon, so much as a modified version of the ground-launched 9K720 Iskander—a short-range ballistic missile—with a new guidance system designed specifically for air-to-ground operations.
The 9K720 Iskander’s development began in 1988, but prolonged delays, brought about initially by the fall of the Soviet Union, prevented the first full flight test until 1998. A total of 13 test launches of the missile were conducted at Russia’s Kasputin Yar test range between 1998 and 2005, with the weapon finally entering operational service the following year, in 2006.
Like the Kinzhal, the Iskander missile achieves hypersonic velocities through a quasi-ballistic flight path that never departs the atmosphere, and it can maneuver throughout its trajectory to avoid being intercepted. The 9K720 Iskander ballistic missile and Kh-47M2 Kinzhal are indeed capable ballistic weapons, but they’re a far cry from the cutting-edge technology usually referenced in conversations about hypersonic missiles. The premise behind the Kinzhal missile is a pretty dated one—so much so that it shares a great deal in common with a 2006 NASA effort to leverage the Navy’s stockpile of retired AIM-54 Phoenix missiles for hypersonic flight testing.
The AIM-54 Phoenix missile was a smaller weapon than the Kinzhal, with a smaller single-stage solid-propellent rocket motor and less fuel on board, resulting in a top speed of Mach 4.3 when working as an air-to-air weapon. But by adjusting its flight trajectory into a dramatic ballistic flight path and launching it at high speed, NASA believed they could reliable achieve hypersonic velocities greater than Mach 5 with the Phoenix missile.
Their efforts, however, weren’t aimed at fielding an advanced new weapon, however, their intentions were strictly scientific (studying the nature of hypersonic flight). Russia’s Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, while larger and carrying a more powerful solid-fuel rocket motor, works using the very same premise: using traditional rocket propulsion and a suppressed ballistic flight path.
There have been a number of other air-launched ballistic missile efforts over the years, including one 1974 U.S. Air Force program that successfully air-launched an actual Minuteman I ICBM from the back of a C-5 cargo plane. However, because it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between a nuclear ballistic missile and a conventionally-armed one, there have been few efforts to field an air-launched ballistic missile out of concern over nuclear escalation.
Related: America really launched an ICBM from the back of a C-5 cargo plane
Modern “hypersonic weapons” usually come in one of two categories (and the Kinzhal doesn’t fit into either)
Today, when people talk about new hypersonic weapons, they’re usually referring to one of two kinds that are currently in development or in service with China, Russia, and the United States: hypersonic glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles.
Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs) aren’t all that different than the warheads on traditional long-range ballistic missiles, at least in the early stages of their flight path. They are carried into the atmosphere via high-velocity rocket boosters just like traditional ICBMs, though often not quite as high. The missile then deploys one or more glide vehicles that rely on momentum and their control surfaces to manage their high-speed descent as they close with their targets.
Russia does have a hypersonic boost glide-vehicle reportedly in service in their Avangard weapon system slated to be carried aboard their forthcoming nuclear ICBM, the RS-28 Sarmat. China’s DF-ZF anti-ship weapon also falls within this category, as do America’s Conventional Prompt Strike weapon and AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), both in development.
Hypersonic cruise missiles, on the other hand, rely on an advanced propulsion system called a scramjet. A scramjet, or supersonic combusting ramjet, is a variation on longstanding ramjet technology, but allows combustion to take place while air flows through the engine at supersonic speeds. Because scramjets are really only efficient at these high speeds, these missiles are often deployed from fast-moving aircraft or rely on a different form of propulsion in the first part of their flight path (like a rocket).
From there, hypersonic cruise missiles operate much like traditional cruise missiles–at least in theory. They follow a much more horizontal flight path than boost-glide vehicles or ballistic missiles and maneuver using control surfaces just like an aircraft would circumvent or defeat defenses. In practice, these platforms are far more difficult and expensive to build than traditional cruise missiles, however—and to date, no nation has successfully fielded a scramjet-powered weapon.
Related: The US Navy may soon have a way to shoot down hypersonic missiles
Russia bills the Kinzhal as “hypersonic” to help sell weapons
Russia’s defense budget tends to hover at around $60 billion per year, which places them on fairly equal footing with nations like the UK, despite maintaining a significantly larger force than that of its spending peers. As a result, Russia has been forced to make hard decisions regarding the allocation of its meager budget.
As we’ve covered in the past at Sandboxx News, Russia has chosen to devote a lot of resources to converting its defense apparatus into a marketing machine for foreign weapons and equipment sales. The nation’s stagnating economy, already struggling under international sanctions, has severely limited Russia’s ability to modernize its military force. But Russia has continued to fund the development of new weapons and systems aimed at garnering a great deal of attention, rather than focusing on maintaining or improving its existing equipment fleets.
Russia just can’t afford to mass-produce advanced aircraft like the Su-57 stealth fighter or tanks like the T-14 Armata without foreign interests footing the bill. And in order to attract those foreign buyers, Russia must present the image of a nation capable of developing weapons that are on par or even superior to that of powerful nations like the United States and China.
So by taking advantage of the general public’s misconceptions when it comes to things like the term “hypersonic,” Russia is able to convey an image of a 21st-century military power for a real bargain. In other words, Russia hopes to secure the funding it needs to actually develop and field advanced, cutting-edge tech by presenting the Kinzhal and other dated or poorly-functioning weapons as advanced cutting-edge tech.
While it’s technically accurate to call the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal a hypersonic missile, it’s accurate in the same way we might call Hitler’s V-2 rocket a hypersonic missile. Modern hypersonic weapons like China’s DF-ZF or America’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) (still in development) belong to completely different classes of weapons.
This article is pure cope lol.
Who cares how it works. They cant stop this missile. And it travels so fast that people dont have enough time to evacuate and run into shelters. It’s perfect for assassination.
Incisive One says
Re the use of ancient weapons, check this out:
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Hqhahhq bs. You dont have what ru has.
Make his day says
Fuck around and find out. Talk is cheap.
Fox Two says
Very good, I’m so fed up to read the usual junk.
Just one point : The V-2 was almost hypersonic, its max speed was just a tad below Mach 5, but that’s close enough.
It would be pretty obvious if they really hit an arms bunker too wouldn’t it?
From what I can tell the Russians are good at killing women and children, making asses of themselves, and lying about it?
Who do they think they are fooling? I could tell by looking at the thing it wasn’t hypersonic in the traditional “next generation” sense of the world … but thank you so much for clearing it up… I wasn’t aware that v-2 were M-5…. that’s rich!! Even I could duck tape a v-2 to a donkey and blow up a church or art school…. anything with women and children in it and call it an underground weapons depot!! (but, I would never do that!! But it feels good to know that anyone is better than….😂
LIke..who killed 1.5 million iraqis… 400,000 yemenis in the last 2 years alone!!!
was that the russians…???
Who destroyed Libya and Syria..
nope,…Uncle Sam did that..
He is also directly responsible for instigating this war….
dont take one sided media narrative to heart without first some self education…. 🙂
lol Nice whataboutism.
1. No sane or reputable source posts Iraqi deaths after the US invasion at 1.5 million. Of the number actually killed though, how many were killed by Americans? How many by Sunni-Baath insurgents?
2. The US isn’t in Yemen.
3. The US wasn’t in Libya.
4. Other than attacking ISIS, the US played no role in Syria. Russia/Assad though did drop a lot of chemical weapons though. Funny you forgot to mention that.
5. You need to do better. Putin is paying you good money, you’d better deliver.
Mr Martin says
According to your logic, you blame France more for WW2 than Hitler.
@sean of course USA was in Libya Enforcing UNSC Resolution 1973:
NATO members Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States those countries did partake in the war in lybia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Libyan_Civil_War
in case of yemen, USA heavily supports saudia arabia in the war against the houthis
in case of syria USA play even today a role in the north stealing the oil
there never was shown evidence of chemical warfare agents, so it´s another USA lie like the WMD saddam was supposed to have, Nayirah claimed that after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die. a lie that was repeated infinitely by USA
i know sean reading and more importantly comprehending what you have read is not your strength, you better go back to school and stop embarrassing your fellow muricans
Russia killed 50 million people in Chechnya since we’re at making shit up lol
Pete Sanchez says
The Russians are taking lessons from the biden/harris rico. So what they present is exactly on the same level as U.S. fake news, and only to believed by democrats, with no functioning cause, and effect genes. The khinzal is pretty obviously a re-engined Russian copy of a Phoenix. Luckily, to date, the Russians haven’t fielded a version with the air to air intercept capability of the Phoenix.
,,The khinzal is pretty obviously a re-engined Russian copy of a Phoenix. Luckily, to date, the Russians haven’t fielded a version with the air to air intercept capability of the Phoenix.” first of all nice contradiction by the way you seem to have never heard of the R-33 or R-37 while the R-37 has more range and higher speed than the phoenix. USA has lots and lots of catching up to do in the field of missile tech
So you’re saying it’s a hypersonic missile but it’s not our kind of hypersonic missile.
“Russia does have a hypersonic boost glide-vehicle reportedly in service in their Avangard weapon”
it just said in the article that they have hypersonic glide vehicles..
btw …Soviets were always world leaders in ramjet and scramjet technology
How is the weather in Moscow today?
Mr Martin says
They may have come up with some early concepts but we actually got the SR 71 out there.
Louis Palmer says
It’s easy! Wait until the U.S. has overpaid the military industrial complex billions to develop a fancy sales broscure. Then watch for a function design. Then pay a democrat engineer $100k for the plans. Improve, and finish the plans for pennys on the dollar. Build the missile! Look at the actual cost of a Sparrow! $100 tube. $100 motor. $50 Cell phone equivalent, guidance system. $50 cell phone equivalent radar receiver.
Luis Rojas says
There is a very big advantage of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal over the “America’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM)”. It is there, and it works. It makes no sense to compare an existing weapon with something that it is still on paper. Using an analogy with “vaporware”, the latter is still “vapormissile”.
Yes. But an Air launched V-2 is really not big a deal, call it legacy-ware if you need a catch phrase. The Dagger is not much of an improvement over the V-2 either and it requires a modernized, legacy-ware FoxBat from Victor Belenko days.
Mr Martin says
The article is telling people to stop comparing them. That the Khinzal is hypersonic but it is not the Russian doomsday weapon the media makes it out to be.
Hou van tell what hou want nut the usa have no comparison on these rockets. The are Bert dangeres for Them. The van nog intercept them.
Why don’t you retake your ESL course and come back when you’re coherent.
‘n practice, these platforms are far more difficult and expensive to build than traditional cruise missiles, however—and to date, no nation has successfully fielded a scramjet-powered weapon.’
Zircon? What am I missing?
Joe Robinson says
The big deal about hypersonic weapons is the lack of a good defense against them and being very accurate. This weapon was not shot down and it did it’s mission unimpeded with high accuracy so the differentiation you are trying to make is moot. The US has thrown billions trying to create essentially this same weapon (or similar capability) and we aren’t there yet.
Pershing II had similar capabilities to this weapon but we destroyed them due to treaty. If we had just built to the Pershing drawings rather than started from scratch we would probably have a weapon but Lockheed wouldn’t have spent billions of dollars.
Mr Martin says
The main reason it wasn’t intercepted was due to lack of intercept ability on the part of Ukraine not due to missiles design.
Quite reasonable explanation.
Just one short note: air temperatures increase at the square of speed near stagnation points.
1a. So the heating is NOT DUE TO FRICTION!!
2a. The problem with a scramjets is that over M = 5 the air can heat up to more than the combustion temperature (assuming subsonic combustion). So the trick, which is not yet working well, is to develop a supersonic combustor without major losses (due to shock waves).
How does the conclusion in 1a (that heating is not caused by friction) follow from the statement that air is heating up at the square of speed near stagnation points and, not being fluent(!) in fluid dynamics; how close to a stagnation point are we talking here?