Russia unleashed a barrage of high-precision missile attacks on Ukraine that triggered a wave of power cuts and temporarily caused Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant to lose power.
According to Ukraine’s military, Russia is believed to have used six Kinzhals – hypersonic missiles which fly many times faster than the speed of sound.
President Vladimir Putin regularly touts the Kinzhal, which means “dagger” in Russian, as a weapon for which the NATO alliance backing Kyiv has no answer.
Here is what you need to know about the weapon:
What are hypersonic missiles?
- Hypersonic weapons travel in the upper atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound – or about 6,200kmph (3,852mph) – and they can evade advanced radar systems.
- There are two major types of hypersonic missiles. One is the hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), which leaves the Earth’s atmosphere and then plunges back into it.
- The second is the hypersonic cruise missile (HCM) which, while not as fast, flies low and at extremely high speeds, giving opponents little time to react. They can also carry a nuclear warhead.
What are the key features of Kinzhal missiles?
- Kinzhal is an air-launched ballistic missile that is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads.
- It has a reported range of 1,500-2,000km (930-1,240 miles) with a payload of 480kg. The missiles may reach speeds of up to Mach 10 (12,350kmph or 7,674mph).
- President Vladimir Putin says Russia is the global leader in hypersonic missiles whose speed, manoeuvrability, and altitude make them difficult to track and intercept.
- In Ukraine, the missiles were first used in March 2022 to destroy a fuel depot, according to Moscow.
- On Thursday, Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for Ukraine’s air force, said his country did not have the capability to “counter” the Kinzhals.
Who else is developing hypersonic missiles?
- The United States has actively pursued the development of hypersonic weapons – manoeuvring weapons that fly at speeds of at least Mach 5 – as a part of its Conventional Prompt Global Strike programme since the early 2000s, according to a congressional report.
- In April 2022, Australia, the United Kingdom and the US – a grouping known as AUKUS – agreed to cooperate on hypersonic weapons and electronic warfare capabilities.
- China is also aggressively developing the technology, according to the US Congressional Research Service (CRS).
- Iran, Israel and South Korea have conducted basic research on the technology, the CRS has said previously.