The first Su-34 multipurpose bomber aircraft crew to have fired a Kinzhal, air-launched hypersonic missile, on Ukraine in the ongoing war is set to receive the state award for achieving this unique feat.
An informed defense official told Russian state news agency TASS, “The Su-34 fighter jet used the Kinzhal hypersonic missile in the special military operation. The first crew who accomplished such a task will receive state awards.” The official did not, however, disclose the time and location of the attack.
Russia’s aero-ballistic hypersonic missile in question is called Kinzhal, which has seen repeated use in the course of the war. The hypersonic missile, also known as Dagger, is generally carried by the MiG-31K fighter-interceptor aircraft designed to carry the missiles.
This is why firing this missile by the Su-34 bomber is a significant development for the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). Although the Kinzhal hypersonic missile has been operational in service with the VKS since 2017, it was first used in combat against Ukraine in March 2022.
The Su-34 Fullback is a twin-engine, twin-seat, all-weather supersonic medium-range fighter-bomber/strike aircraft deployed extensively by the VKS to carry out air-to-ground strikes and bombing runs on Ukrainian forces. In a recent incident, a Su-34 annihilated an entire air defense post of Ukraine’s S-300PS with guided munitions.
Some pro-Russian military bloggers, who took to social media to celebrate it as a win, noted that the Tu-22M3 bomber was the only other carrier for this missile besides the MiG-31K. Some others also noted that the Tu-160 strategic bombers were also in line to be equipped with the Kinzhal hypersonic missile. However, the EurAsian Times could not independently verify that information.
Indian Air Force veteran and military expert Vijainder K. Thakur said, “The MiG-31K are deep modifications. They likely have a lot of life. The most significant advantage of the Su-34 Kinzhal’s launch capability for Russia will be a surprise. Ukraine is alerted as soon as a MiG-31K with Kinzhal takes off!”
Military experts believe integrating these missiles into the Su-34 could lead to an uptick in their use and more trouble brewing for Kyiv’s forces. A local Russian publication said in a report that there had been recurrent instances of a general alarm being sounded whenever Kinzhal-carrier MiG-31K took to the skies.
The publication added that now, with the emergence of Su-34 as a Kinzhal carrier, a general alarm in Ukraine will have to be announced with any appearance of these bombers since it seems each of these aircraft may turn out to be the carrier of the missile.
It is widely known that hypersonic missiles that travel at five or more times the speed of sound and take an unpredictable trajectory are generally immune against conventional missile or air defense systems. Russia unveiled the Kinzhal in 2018 as one of six “next-generation” weapons.
However, the repeated use of the missile and the claims made by Ukrainian forces about intercepting and shooting down Russia’s formidable and invincible missile have questioned the efficiency and potency of this much-hyped missile by military watchers.
Russia’s Use Of Kinzhal In Ukraine
Shortly after the launch of the military offensive last year, the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) announced in March that the hypersonic ballistic missile destroyed a big underground arms depot in western Ukraine. Russian officials have since maintained that the Kinzhal can hit a target up to 2,000 kilometers away and fly faster than 6,000 kilometers/hour.
Moscow conducted a massive missile attack on Ukraine on March 9, 2023, employing 81 missiles of various types, including six Kinzals. This marked the first instance when many Kinzhal missiles were employed in a single attack.
A few days later, Yuriy Ihnat, the spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, claimed that the Russian military possessed about 50 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles meant to strike “decision-making centers.”
At the time, the spokesperson observed that while Ukraine did not have the defense against these weapons, the country hoped it would soon get the first batches of Patriot air defense systems. The Patriots arrived in the country just over a month later.
In May 2023, Ukraine claimed that it had shot down a Russian Kinzhal missile with the help of the Patriot missile defense system transferred to it. In a tweet, the MoD said: “@KpsZSU (Ukraine Air Force) confirms that Ukraine’s air defenders shot down Kinzhal, a hypersonic aero ballistic Russian missile, for the first time since the attacks began. Operators of the Patriot air defense system did this.”
However, Russia has continued to assert that the Patriot couldn’t shoot down a Kinzhal. A senior source in the RuMoD told state media that the US Patriot anti-aircraft missile system could not shoot down the Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile due to its technical characteristics.
The source explained that the Kinzhal performs an anti-missile maneuver and makes an almost vertical approach to the target during the final stage of the flight, eliminating the chance that anti-aircraft missile systems will shoot it down. He referred to the claims concerning the shot-down hypersonic missile as a fabrication and wishful thinking.
Ukraine, in contrast, remains steadfast in its claims. “It turned out that the Patriots could shoot down Kinzhals. So goodbye, invincible weapon, I would say so,” a Ukrainian military expert, Oleg Zhdanov, said of the direct clash between the Patriot air defense system and Kinzhal missile.
In July, days after Kyiv’s forces began an unprecedented attack on Crimea using the UK-supplied Storm Shadow long-range missiles, the Russian military reportedly fired Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to strike the Ukrainian Su-24 fighter fighters. West-based military experts have constantly downplayed the significance of using the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in Ukraine.
However, despite calling its significance in question, military watchers are concerned about another Russian fighter equipped with a hypersonic missile. The Russian service has more Su-34 bombers than MiG-31K interceptors.
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