Tuesday, June 20, 2023

"Is Russia’s Hypersonic Missile Vulnerable?"

From IEEE Spectrum, June 17:

Perhaps the right question is whether it’s really hypersonic

The first reported use of a hypersonic weapon in combat was on 18 March 2022, when a Russian Kinzhal missile destroyed an alleged underground weapons depot of the Ukrainian armed forces in Deliatyn. Another such attack came the next day, then more in April and May, and still more eight months later. The largest salvo was fired on 9 March 2023 as part of a barrage that included other missiles and drones.

There is some dispute as to whether the Kinzhal qualifies as a true hypersonic weapon, namely, one that can fly faster than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) while maintaining the ability to maneuver—a combination of features that supposedly makes the missile immune to existing countermeasures. But just this month the world discovered that the Kinzhal was not immune. It seems, in fact, far from it.

On 6 May Ukrainians shot down a Kinzhal outside Kiev using a Patriot air-defense system, supplied by the United States just weeks before. It was reported that the Kinzhal was specifically targeting that system when it was shot down. Three days later, the Russian military reportedly launched a series of six Kinzhal missiles at Ukrainian sites; the Ukrainians shot down five of the six. The sixth Kinzhal damaged, but did not destroy, a Patriot battery.

The matter is being closely scrutinized not only in Ukraine but throughout the world, because hypersonic missiles now figure prominently in the military calculation of great powers. Over the past five years, China and Russia have introduced them into their arsenals, prompting the United States and other nations to develop their own hypersonic weapons and enhanced air-defense systems to counter this threat. Each move and countermove shaves away the time available for leaders to decide how to respond to a possible nuclear strike. This destabilizes nuclear deterrence, without doubt the cornerstone of military competition....