Russia’s largest airstrike in weeks struck targets across Ukraine on Thursday, using a complex barrier of weapons.
The Ukrainian Air Force said it has included six of Russia’s air-launched hypersonic missiles, known as Kinzhalso Daggers – the most used in a single wave since the war started a year ago.
Here are the main questions raised by the use of the new missiles.
First of all, what are hypersonic missiles?
Hypersonic missiles are highly maneuverable long-range munitions capable of speeds of at least March 5th – five times the speed of sound, or more than 1 mile per second.
That speed virtually makes traditional air defense systems uselessbecause when they’re picked up by ground-based radars, they’re nearly on target.
China and the United States they compete to develop and deploy hypersonic missiles.
Other countries are also working on this technology: Germany, Australia, Brazil, North Korea, South Korea, France, India, Iran, Israel and Japan.
How does Kinzhal work?
The typical hypersonic vehicle carries its warhead to the lower edge of space above a traditional long-range missile.
After separating, it uses gravity to gain tremendous speed in its descent towards Earth.
The vehicle can be a glider ship without an engine or a cruise missile that uses gravitational acceleration to drive a special engine scramjet that takes you hundreds of miles further.
Kinzhal is a little different.
It’s a modified versiona Russian Army Iskander short-range ballistic missile, designed to be launched from ground-mounted truck-mounted launchers.
Launching the missile from a warplane at high altitudes, rather than from the ground, leaves it with more fuel to reach higher speeds.
Aside from its ability to reach hypersonic speeds when launched, the Kinzhal is believed to behave like a ground-launched Iskander, meaning it is capable of maneuvering to make interception difficult.
Some Iskanders can even therethrow baits before impact, designed to further confuse air defense radars.
Conventionally armed Iskanders are believed to carry some 1,500 kilos of explosives.
What else is known about Kinzhal?
Russia originally developed the Kinzhal to hack US missile defense systems and claims it reaches speeds of Mach 10 and higher.
The Pentagon said it was launched by MiG-31 warplanes.
Moscow first said it deployed the Kinzhal to Ukraine nearly a year ago in an attack on an underground weapons cache, and has regularly claimed responsibility for its use ever since.
There is another hypersonic missile that Russia claims it has in its arsenal:
He Zircon, a cruise missile that can be launched from ships.
However, Russia did not report testing launches of the Zircon during the exercises announced by the president. Vladimir Putin in January, and is not known to have ever been used in combat.
Why are the Kinzhals so worried about Ukraine?
Ukraine he has no weapons capable of shooting down Kinzhals, according to Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force.
And their use on Thursday significantly increased the percentage of Russian missiles hitting targets.
Of the 81 missiles fired by Russia during the night and in the morning, Ukraine said so 47 achieved their goalsa higher percentage than usual.
Ukraine noted that Russia has also fired more ballistic missiles and fewer cruise missiles than usual, a possible factor in the increase in successful strikes.
What are the limits of Kinzhal?
Target coordinates are loaded into the missile’s operating system prior to launch, and due to the enormous speed it reaches in flight, any small deviation, such as a wing control surface moving too much or too little, can result in a significant deviation from the goal.
That may explain why a Kinzhal appears to have hit a car in Kiev on Thursday, rather than a more militarily significant target.
And like any hypersonic missile, the Kinzhal’s flight path reaches the highest regions of Earth’s atmosphere before returning to Earth for more precise maneuvering.
It can be detected by space sensors, although US defense officials say such systems are insufficient against hypersonics.
Why would Russia use so much of its hypersonic arsenal in one wave?
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency estimated that Russia, before the barrage fired on Thursday, had no more than 50 Kinzhal, Ihnat said.
It is not clear why Russia decided to shootr six of thempotentially more than a tenth of your total arsenal.
“For one reason or another, they needed a result” this time, Ihnat said.
But it is possible that Russia will be able to replenish the Kinzhals relatively easily.
Since the Kinzhal is simply a modified version of an already existing missile, it may be easier to produce than, for example, making more cubic zirconiawhich must be built from scratch.
Will the war change the use of Kinzhal?
Not necessarily, although Russia can produce more Kinzhal relatively quickly.
Although more Russian missiles than usual passed Thursday, only air warfare it will not be decisive.
By comparison, Russia causes far more destruction with the thousands of artillery shells it fires at Ukraine.
And the ground war remains in a stalemate.
Many analysts say Russia’s long-awaited spring offensive is already underway, but it’s having little impact because their troops and arsenals are very depleted.
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Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.