The Kinzhal hypersonic missile… Russia’s new dagger

by. Brigadier Salahadden Al-Zedani 

The Kinzhal missile is a member of the Russian strategic weapons family, specifically designed for airborne deployment. It is officially designated as KH-47M2 Kinzhal and has been assigned the NATO reporting name “Dagger”. This advanced hypersonic weapon has gained significant attention during the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, being hailed as a formidable and unparalleled force. It has been described as a “perfect weapon” due to its exceptional capabilities.

Historical overview

Russian President Vladimir Putin first referred to the creation of this weapon during his speech to the State Duma (deputies) and the Federation (senators) of Russia on March 1, 2018, when he declared that Russia possesses a “high-precision airborne hypersonic missile system” that “has no equal in the world”.

Testing of the hypersonic missile system was successfully conducted by Russia, with experimental combat alert status declared at the airfields of the Southern Military District starting from December 1, 2017. President Putin showcased a video demonstrating the launch of a MiG-31 fighter jet carrying the Kinzhal missile, as well as computer-generated graphics illustrating its ability to destroy both terrestrial and marine targets.

The revelation of this hypersonic weapon surprised both Russian and foreign military experts, as there had been no official or unofficial indications of its existence before President Putin’s announcement.

On March 10, 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported that practical combat exercises of the Kinzhal missile system were conducted in the designated area.

During the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, 2018, two Russian MiG-31K fighters armed with Kinzhal supersonic missiles participated in an airshow over Red Square in Moscow.

On July 2, 2018, it was reported that the Kinzhal missile would undergo tests on a Tu-22M3 long-range bomber, potentially increasing its range to 3,000 km. This information was sourced from an official in the Russian Defense Ministry.

On July 19, 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense provided details about the trial operation of the Kinzhal missile system. It was revealed that MiG-31K fighters equipped with Kinzhal had completed over 350 flights, including 70 flights where in-air refueling was conducted. Since April 2018, these fighters had been routinely patrolling over the Caspian Sea.

On November 30, 2019, a source in the Russian defense industry confirmed that the Kinzhal missile was tested for the first time from a MiG-31K fighter in mid-November. The test launch took place towards the Pemboy test range northeast of Vorkuta, with the missile reportedly reaching a speed of Mach 10. The Russian Air Force did not provide an official comment on these reports.

During an expanded meeting of the Ministry’s board on December 21, 2021, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the creation of a dedicated air regiment consisting of MiG-31K fighters armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.

On February 19, 2022, the Russian Air Force successfully conducted test firings of the supersonic Kinzhal missiles as part of exercises involving the Strategic Deterrence Forces. On April 19, 2022, Defense Minister Shoigu reported significant improvements in target acquisition time for Kalibr and Kinzhal missiles due to the implementation of new signaling systems.

Description and design

Despite the limited availability of technical and tactical information, the Kinzhal missile is often described as an advanced hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile. It shares design features with the Russian 9K720 Iskander short-range ballistic missile, which has been in development since the late 1980s. It is speculated that the conventional version of the Kinzhal may carry a powerful warhead with over 1000 pounds of explosives and have nuclear capabilities.

The Kinzhal missile is specifically designed for air launch and is deployed on modified MiG-31 Foxhound heavy interceptors. It represents a significant advancement in Russian missile systems, with a range of approximately 2,000 km and a speed of Mach 10. It has the ability to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. To put its speed into perspective, commercial Concorde planes, which fly at twice the speed of sound, have a maximum speed of Mach 2.04, while the Kinzhal missile operates at a speed at least three times faster. This acceleration allows the missile to penetrate missile defense networks with ease.

During its flight, the Kinzhal missile follows a zigzag path at a low altitude, utilizing its high speed to penetrate and strike heavily fortified targets. Its speed enables it to bypass detection radars of current air defense systems, ensuring accurate strikes on enemy concentrations before being detected or identified.

The missile can reach speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound and has a maximum destruction range of two kilometers when launched from a MiG-31 launcher and three kilometers when launched from a Tu-22M3 bomber. There are plans to adapt the Tu-160 and Sukhoi-57 aircraft to carry the Kinzhal missile as well.

The Kinzhal missile first made headlines on August 18, 2022, when the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the deployment of MiG-31 aircraft armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles at the Chkalovsk base in the Kaliningrad region. This region is located between Lithuania and Poland, both of which are members of the EU and NATO.

The first combat use of the Kinzhal missile was reportedly in a special military operation targeting an underground ammunition depot of the Ukrainian armed forces in the village of Dlyatin near Ivano-Frankivsk.

Strategic Implications

The missile is designed as a deterrent measure against US and NATO warships that pose a threat to Russia’s missile systems and is designed to fly at supersonic speeds within seconds of launch and perform maneuvers at any time during flight, allowing it to defeat any air defense systems or Known missiles in the United States including the MIM-104 Patriot system, and the Terminal Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) are also known.

The missile can be launched from unpredictable locations, which may strain cross-sectional radars such as those used in the Patriot system. Since there are no means of defense against it at present, it mainly threatens and endangers the region, thus providing significant strategic leverage for Russia.

It is important to note that the usage of these missiles by Moscow may not be indiscriminate. However, the Kinzhal’s long-range capability places several European capitals within its reach, particularly with its deployment in the Kaliningrad region. This increases Moscow’s ability to conduct powerful missile strikes against opponents, including capitals like Berlin, which is approximately 600 km away from Kaliningrad.

Kinzhal projection

During the ongoing war operations, the Ukrainian leadership claimed to have shot down a Kinzhal missile. However, many experts questioned the veracity of the Ukrainian version, considering it a myth without substantial evidence, apart from some pictures of missile wreckage with Russian lettering. At that time, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense refuted the Ukrainian allegations, saying “The fact is that the flight speed of the Kinzhal missile exceeds the maximum known combat modes of anti-aircraft missile systems supplied by the West to the Kiev system, including the Patriot.”

Therefore, the claim seems false, especially if we know that the “Kinzhal” missile, in the last stage of its flight, performs an anti-missile maneuver and adopts a vertical position when it falls on the target, which excludes the possibility of interception by the anti-aircraft missile systems currently operating in the combat zones.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed that the Kinzhal missile was used three times during special operations, demonstrating its remarkable capabilities. However, the specific targets struck by the Kinzhal were not disclosed by the defense minister.

The specifications of the Kinzhal missile

-Designed and produced by: the Russian Defense Ministry.
-Speed: Mach 10.
-Range: 2000 km
-Type and weight of the warhead: nuclear – conventional – 500 kg
-Guidance System and Precision: Inertial Satellite Navigation with Terminal Seeker.
-Circular error rate: 10 m.
-Fuel type: Single-stage solid fuel.

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