Russia's KINZHAL missiles and the lessons for Air Defence

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HYPERSONIC HYPE? RUSSIA’S KINZHAL MISSILES AND THE LESSONS FOR AIR DEFENSE​

Peter Mitchell | 05.23.23

Hypersonic Hype? Russia’s Kinzhal Missiles and the Lessons for Air Defense

The May 4 interception of a Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile by one of Ukraine’s Patriot air defense systems in Kyiv has caused a significant stir in the international missile defense community. The ensuing saturation attack against Kyiv on May 16, which according to Russian sources was specifically aimed at knocking out a Patriot system, has only further underscored the significance of advanced missile defense systems in today’s evolving security landscape. This dramatic first-ever engagement between modern Western air defense systems and the hypersonic weapons specifically designed to defeat them was marked by contrails streaking the skies over Ukraine, literally and figurately underlining the significance of this latest technological revolution.

The Kinzhal: Overhyped and Underperforming

The Kh-47 Kinzhal (Russian for “Dagger”) air-launched missile, first unveiled in 2018, has been described by Russian state media as a “uniquely capable” next-generation hypersonic weapon capable of penetrating any and all enemy air defense systems and hit London in nine minutes. Hypersonic weapons are generally defined as long-range, maneuvering, air-breathing systems that travel in excess of Mach 5. The Kinzhal is reported to have a range of around 1,500 kilometers (930 miles), which is relatively short for a hypersonic missile, especially one benefiting from the increased range that comes from being launched from an aircraft. For context, the US Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon currently in development has a planned unclassified range of 1,725 miles. Hypersonic missiles typically employ a scramjet engine or other advanced propulsion to allow for maneuverability while maintaining hypersonic speed. The Kinzhal instead uses a solid-fuel rocket engine, likely derived from the SS-26 Iskander, which—like most solid rockets—likely can’t be shut down or throttled in flight. Once the rocket motor has burnt out, the missile then coasts to its target. This raises significant doubts about whether the Kinzhal can actually maintain a sustained speed of Mach 10 throughout its flight as Russians has claimed. Air resistance would slow the Kinzhal down just as it reaches the most critical, terminal stage of its attack, leaving it vulnerable to interception. This propulsion method and meager reaction control systems along with the sheer mass of the missile (approximately one thousand kilograms) raises questions about its actual agility and maneuvering capabilities. The missile is not capable of making sharp turns or rapid changes in direction, which is a critical aspect that makes hypersonic weapons so potentially difficult to intercept. In terms of maneuverability, the Kinzhal is more akin to a giant lawn dart loaded with explosives.
With this technical analysis in mind, it appears the Kinzhal is likely to join the Su-57, T-14 Armata, and BMPT Terminator in the dustbin of vaunted Russian weapons that have severely underperformed on the battlefield.


Saturation Attack: The Patriot’s Worst-Case Scenario

The truly impressive takeaway from the Patriot systems in Ukrainian service is not the singular takedown of the first Kinzhal but the Patriot’s performance under saturation bombardment. The May 16 air raid on Kyiv featured every category of long-range precision munition in the Russian arsenal: unmanned aerial vehicles as well as cruise, ballistic, and hypersonic missiles were all used in a coordinated saturation attack intended to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses and destroy their systems. The saturation attack works through filling the three-dimensional airspace with more incoming targets than the defense can handle using a combination of land-, sea-, or air-launched missile platforms, a coordinated impact time, varied altitudes and azimuths of approach, decoys and countermeasures, and sheer numbers.
The ability of the Patriots donated by the United States and Germany to detect, track, and defeat this saturation attack coming from all different directions showcases the impressive advancements and upgrades that the venerable system has experienced since the Patriot was first updated for use against tactical ballistic and cruise missiles in the 1990s after its less-than-impressive showing against those threats during the Gulf War. Modern air defense systems have never faced a threat on the level of the current Russians air raids against Ukraine. Even during the height of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, around twenty-three ballistic missiles were fired against coalition forces, of which only nine were deemed targets for interception. The Ukrainian success in utilizing Patriot systems to counter a saturation attack from modern weapons from a near-peer enemy demonstrates the remarkable evolution of defense technology and its ability to adapt to emerging challenges.

Strategic Implications

The interception serves as a reminder of the growing importance of robust defense capabilities in an era of evolving threats. As nations around the world invest in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and hypersonic weapons, the need for effective missile defense systems becomes even more crucial. These recent successful interceptions underscore the necessity for partner nations to continually enhance their air defense capabilities to counter advanced threats. Additionally, it is vital to not allow the recent successes over Kyiv to create complacency in the missile defense community. Policymakers cannot afford the luxury of assuming future hypersonic missiles will be plagued by as corrupt and inept a development as the Kinzhal.
As noted previously, the donation of Patriot systems to Ukraine was only the beginning of increasing strategic integration of Ukrainian and NATO forces. As the war rages on, increasingly capable offensive weapons such as long-range cruise missiles with stealth capabilities are being delivered as well as training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighters. This month’s attacks have firmly reestablished Western military technology, doctrine, and missile defense as a formidable force capable of countering sophisticated threats. It has also shown that NATO must continue to reassess their defense strategies, placing a renewed emphasis on developing and acquiring advanced missile defense systems. The performance of the Patriot and IRIS-T in Ukraine will lead to a strategic reevaluation by other nations of their offensive arms programs designed to defeat these systems, potentially reshaping dynamics not only in Eastern Europe, but around the world. This advantage, like all technological advantages, is only kept as long as innovative processes are encouraged by the West. As the proliferation of effective small unmanned aircraft systems has shown, the United States and its allies could just as quickly lose their edge in the missile defense sphere.

Capt. Peter Mitchell is an air defense officer and strategic studies instructor at West Point.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

 

Afif

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@Gary It seems these quasi balistics missiles with hypersonic speed, depressed trajectory and 'limited' maneuverability is not going to be as big of a challenge for highly advanced AD systems (like MIM-104 PAC-3, David's sling or SAMP/T NG) as it was initially anticipated.

(These missiles were always touted as very difficult to intercept by 'experts'.)

Not very promising for the Chinese or Iranians who substantially relies on These (of various ranges from SRBM to MRBMs) to defeat/overwhelm adversaries AD systems. Or for the countries that are trying to develop them recently.
 
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Gary

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I am not surprised AT ALL
The Kinzhal instead uses a solid-fuel rocket engine, likely derived from the SS-26 Iskander, which—like most solid rockets—likely can’t be shut down or throttled in flight. Once the rocket motor has burnt out, the missile then coasts to its target. This raises significant doubts about whether the Kinzhal can actually maintain a sustained speed of Mach 10 throughout its flight as Russians has claimed. Air resistance would slow the Kinzhal down just as it reaches the most critical, terminal stage of its attack, leaving it vulnerable to interception. This propulsion method and meager reaction control systems along with the sheer mass of the missile (approximately one thousand kilograms) raises questions about its actual agility and maneuvering capabilities. The missile is not capable of making sharp turns or rapid changes in direction, which is a critical aspect that makes hypersonic weapons so potentially difficult to intercept. In terms of maneuverability, the Kinzhal is more akin to a giant lawn dart loaded with explosives.

This is my argument back from March, far before the May interception of the Kinzhal I've made it clear why the hype doesn't match the physics. @Afif @Knowledgeseeker if you find interesting.

NP : Please do forgive my mistake , I was actually refering to the Kinzhal, but somehow manages to write Zircon all the time....Kinzhal is solid fueled, while Zircon is scramjet
Yes true, but the fundamental problems remain...
  1. it's mainly a solid fueled aircraft that can't control the optimal thrust during entire flight
  2. once the rocket motor is out, its all the kinetic energy that left, there's no more propulsion left
  3. the energy would bleed fast in those maneuvering sequence, especially when the missile is maneuvering in a CONSTANT and high G manner throughout flight
  4. and many more questionable claims
in a fighter jet, when you pull 9G you lose energy much more quickly than <9G, to compenaste this fighter jets
  1. apply max thrust through out the maneuver (thrust is constant here)
  2. level flight
  3. dive
all 3 of which is missing in the Zircon...

Anyway this is not the 1st time Russia failed to met its hype and it will not likely be the last. But you could fool yourself if you want.


In the end research needs two important thing, money and talent. Which Russia is not on par with the States. Russia has a lot less money and talents aren't flocking towards Russia, instead its now leaving Russia.

Its actually questionable how countries that is late in the research of hypersonic field this thing in the first place. The HTV-2 might be a failure in flight but the data of HTV 2 and 3 test is the more important one here, cause it is the basis of further development and improvement.. So how come Zircon etc does success in an instant without any data to improve upon


No surprise though, this is the country that labels its non AESA Su-35 as 4+++++ gen fighter lol. 😂

And here's another one where i correctly type Kinzhal instead of Zircon, I correctly forecasted the PAC missile at the time

As for the Kinzhal doing 20+G, because its a solid fueled rocket that burned out too quickly, once you maneuver doing high G moves, you lost energy pretty quickly and speed too, probabaly reducing it to supersonic or even subsonic speed. The U.S try to fix this problem with the HAWC air breathing hypersonic missile giving more sustained thrust during flight and 3 already tested in '21,'22 and '23 but not yet operationally fielded. Again another question need to be raised on how Russia field such thing so fast and without hiccups.

There's alsoa question if the missile body could bear the extremely high G load. 30+G in a mach 5 plus flying object is a lot, especially if they're doing it multiple times in the air.

The only reason why Kinzhal is yet to be intercepted is the simple fact that no high altitude interceptor that is yet to be fielded to counter these. IRIS-T, AIM-120 and RBS-70 aren't designed for very high speed, very high altitude target.

Things would get pretty interesting once PAC-3 enters the battlefield.


The Kinzhal is based on the Iskander TBM, here's a few details of what we know. The Iskander is

  • Solid fueled, that means that once ignited there's no way to control the amount of thrust until its fuel is all burned out.
  • Thrust is estimated at 200kN
  • .
  • .......
  • View attachment 54849
  • Burn time is at 20 second, speed 2.1km/s= Mach 6.1 at 12-15km (50.000 ft)
....
  • View attachment 54850
  • .
  • We also know that in that altitude, surface control no longer work, especially that Iskander fins are too small to force evasive maneuver, using TVC control doesn't help much, especially once thrust is all lost after all fuel is used. Iskander and its Kinzhal buddy will lose all thrust after 25 seconds = 52km passed. Add the "evasive maneuver" and the more energy is lost which equates even shorter range fro the Kinzhal
  • View attachment 54851
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • Another Russian propaganda weapons maybe ?





YEs, but the closest the soviets has ever been to the U.S is in the 60s where Soviet overall economy is 40% of the U.S...modern Russia isn't even 2% the U.S economy.
 

Afif

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@Gary my argument exactly.

Also, zircon isn’t going to be radically different either.

You can’t take sharp turns while scramjet is running. (It is not like solid fuel motors)
Obviously, Zircon ditches it’s booster in early stage after reaching the scramjet’s ignition speed. But interestingly, it also ditches its scramjet in terminal phase.


The best chance to defeat Modern ADS is HGV launched at Mach 20. After travelling hundreds of miles and taking some sharp turn, it would still retain low hypersonic speed (Mach 6/7).
 

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@Gary when it comes to better manuaverablity and sustaining heavy G load, I think Iranian concept of Fateh-313 or RAAD-500 is better than Iskander-M Due to their detachable warheads.
 

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@Gary my argument exactly.

Also, zircon isn’t going to be radically different either.

You can’t take sharp turns while scramjet is running. (It is not like solid fuel motors)
Obviously, Zircon ditches it’s booster in early stage after reaching the scramjet’s ignition speed. But interestingly, it also ditches its scramjet in terminal phase.


The best chance to defeat Modern ADS is HGV launched at Mach 20. After travelling hundreds of miles and taking some sharp turn, it would still retain low hypersonic speed (Mach 6/7).
Zircon's movements in its 90-degree rotation...:sneaky:(y)

 

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Afif

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Don't you wish Bangladesh had a missile like this? :D :p

It is not Zircon in your clip buddy.

Also, this 90-digree turn right after launch with altitude control thrusters is not what I am talking about here.
 

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The problem with supersonic missiles are hitting the target. Like ther supersonic antiship missiles are not attacking with ther max speed.
 

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1685236196665.png

Geez I had no idea Klitcko was taller than a kinzhal missile when there are already size specifications of the missile that already exist.

speaking of Patriots. I think to whatever SAM fired those missiles some bright explosions happened later in that location.

@Afif thanks for the laugh bro, just don't delete the thread out of embarrassment.
 

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