Hypersonic missiles: Why is Russia using them in Ukraine?

Russia is now the first nation to test this kind of missile, described as “unstoppable,” in battle.

In the ever-expanding quest for weapons that allow a nation to have the capability to destroy its enemies and a new kind of weapon has been developed hypersonic missiles that are ultra-fast and can strike targets from anywhere on Earth within an hour.

Utilizing cutting-edge technologies that are just being developed, these weapons are described to be “unstoppable”.

Today Russia has announced that it began firing the Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic weapon to amongst other targets, an ammunition depot in the western part of Ukraine making it the first nation to test this type of weapon in battle.

What are these different types of missiles, and what is their significance?

How do you define hypersonic weapons?

The term “hypersonic” refers to anything that travels at a speed five times that of sound. 6,174 km/h (3,836mph) or more or, in other words, extremely rapid. Speed is crucial because it provides a player with little warning and allows for a shorter time to respond.

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The majority of ballistic missiles move at this speed; what distinguishes hypersonic missiles is that they move in the upper atmosphere and are extremely maneuverable. Ballistic missiles, once fired are unable to change their course, just like a ball is thrown.

The new missiles are available in two different forms. The second is hypersonic glide vehicle (HGVs) that exit the atmosphere of Earth and sink to the bottom of it sliding over the layers of the atmosphere in the form of a shallow, random set of turners and curves meant to fool an enemy’s radar into thinking they are their intended goal.

The other includes the hypersonic cruiser (HCM) which, though not as efficient, however, is designed to travel low, but at very high speeds, astonishing the adversaries and giving them only a few seconds to react.

The technical challenges facing both kinds of aircraft are enormous. When flying at such high speed through the air friction is the primary issue, and temperatures can rise to as high as 2,200 degrees Celsius (3,990 degrees Fahrenheit). In order to understand this the melting point of titanium is 1670C (3,040F). The missiles must be designed and constructed using the most advanced materials to withstand extreme temperatures.

Communication is a challenge for these weapons of high value as the extreme heat creates an extremely charged cloud that surrounds them. This is known as plasma, which is difficult for radio communications of normal quality to be able to penetrate. The same problem is present in spacecraft that are re-entry into the atmosphere and, during these moments communications are typically blocked out.

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Maneuverability at these speeds is a major characteristic of these guns, putting significant stress upon the structural integrity of missiles. The early models have literally broken apart as they tried to take a different path. These issues mean that the new weapons have not yet been developed to their fullest extent as the designers are battling to create practical test models that could be put into operation.

In spite of all the challenges, the use of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile ensured that Russia was the first nation to deploy one in battle. The question is what is the point of using such a costly weapon when a conventional ballistic missile can do the same job and with less chance of failure?

Conflicts serve as testing areas for new weapons under real-world conditions. The normal test data may be altered, however, during combat, there is only one way to succeed or fail. It’s this type of testing that is valuable because success can be leveraged, and failures are easily repaired. Whatever the case, anticipate the systems of weapons to soon be part of the arsenals of nations around the world.