Russia has for the first time publicly displayed one of the most lethal weapons in its arsenal – the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (meaning Dagger) air-launched hypersonic nuclear missile. Kinnzhal was part of Russia’s Victory Day parade in Moscow on Wednesday and is one of its President Vladimir Putin’s strategic weapons which he announced in March 2018.
One Kinzhal missile each was mounted on two MiG-31BM (NATO codename Foxhound) fighter jets which flew during the Victory Day parade.
The solid-fueled Kinzhal is an air-to-surface strike missile and Russian defence experts claim it is highly manoeuvrable. Kinzhal can reach a top speed of Mach 10 making it almost impossible to be intercepted by any known anti-missile system. The missile has a range of 1,200 miles (approximately 2,000 kilometres) and is capable of taking out targets at sea too. The 8-metre long and 1-metre wide Kinzhal can carry a payload of 480 kg which can be either a conventional warhead or a nuclear one.
Kinzhal was test-fired from a MiG-31BM in March 2018. The MiG-31BM has an unfueled range of 1,860 miles (approx 2993 km) and Kinzhal fired by the fighter has a potential intercontinental strike capability. The missile is basically a modified version of Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile, which too is highly manoeuvrable and can hit targets 500 km away.
However, western experts and NATO commanders have voiced their apprehensions about Kinzhal’s capabilities. They say the Iskander-M reaches hypersonic speed only during the final phase of flight and since the Kinzhal is modelled on it, this air-to-surface missile will have similar features. Kinzhal is unlikely to be highly manoeuverable during the terminal phase, they say.
At present Brahmos, developed jointly by India and Russia, is the only supersonic cruise missile in active service in the world. The two countries are already working on developing Brahmos-II, which will be hypersonic and have a scramjet engine in place of ramjet. Scramjets allow combustion to occur in a supersonic airflow, thereby expanding the operating range above Mach 4, giving hypersonic capabilities.