Russia said that it had unleashed hypersonic missiles against an arms depot in Ukraine, the first use of the next-generation weapons in combat.
Russia’s new Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile is a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile that flies at 10 times the speed of sound and can overcome air-defence systems. Kinzhal means ‘dagger’.
The missile has a range of approximately 1,500-2,000km and can carry a nuclear payload or conventional payload of 480 kg.
They are normally defined as fast, low-flying, and highly manoeuvrable weapons designed to be too quick and agile for traditional missile defence systems to detect in time.
Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons don’t follow a predetermined, arched trajectory and can manoeuvre on the way to their destination.
The term “hypersonic” describes any speed faster than five times that of sound, which is roughly 760 miles (1,220 kilometers) per hour at sea level, meaning these weapons can travel at least 3,800 miles per hour.
At hypersonic speeds, the air molecules around the flight vehicle start to change, breaking apart or gaining a charge in a process called ionization. This subjects the hypersonic vehicle to “tremendous” stresses as it pushes through the atmosphere.
There are two main types of these weapons — glide vehicles and cruise missiles. Analysts say Russia is leading the hypersonics race, followed by China and the U.S.