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Russia is actively working to rearm its air forces with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (Russian for “Dagger”) was one of the six new strategic weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018. The hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. Its reported range is upwards of 2,000 kilometers. The missile reaches speeds of above Mach 10 and has the capability to perform evasive maneuvers at every stage of flight.
The missile’s first stage is shared with 9K720 Iskander and the guidance section is specifically designed for this missile. It is capable of attacking stationary and moving targets such as aircraft carriers. It escalates to hypersonic speeds exceeding Mach 5 within seconds after being launched.
According to Russia, the missile as well as other hypersonic weapons revealed is capable of overcoming any known missile defense system. The Russian side describe the introduction of new hypersonic weapons as the retaliatory move needed to restore the strategic balance undermined by actions of the US and NATO.
The first operational unit, armed with the Kinzhal was formed in the Southern Military District of Russia in December 2017. As of February 2019, the number of training flights and patrols of MiG-31K jets armed with the Kinzhal was more than 380. Out of those, 70 were performed with mid-air refueling.
The first time the Kinzhal hypersonic missile was presented to the public was at the Aviadarts international contest in August 2019. The missile was also successfully launched in the Arctic in November 2019.
Currently, MiG-31Ks armed with Kinzhal missiles regularly conduct patrol flights over the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. At least 10 MiG-31Ks with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles are deployed at the Akhtubinsk airfield in the Astrakhan region. Work is ongoing to re-equip the 712th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment at the Kansk airbase that operates MiG-31Bs with MiG-31Ks armed with the Kinzhal.
In April or May 2020, the Kinzhal was also successfully test-fired from a Tu-22M3M long-range bomber. According to PJSC Tupolev, the missile carrier has an expanded combat potential. Former Commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces Viktor Bondarev, head of the Defense and Security Council Committee, previously reported that the Tu-22M3M will be able to carry hypersonic missiles, in addition to X-32 cruise missiles. The aircraft will have both weapons equipped.
Reports say that the Su-57 fifth generation fighter, which is now entering service with the Russian military, will also be able to carry Kinzhal missiles.
All of these developments come, as the United States is also hard at work on streamlining development on its own hypersonic weapons. On May 15, US President Donald Trump announced that his country is now at work on the new ‘super-duper missile’ that will be 17 times faster than Russia or China have right now. However, it remains unclear when the US will be able to put such weapons on experimental duty. In the current conditions, it appears that Russia has a lead to have the only Aerospace Forces around the globe widely modernized with hypersonic weaponry.