Russia’s Hypersonic Missiles “Fall Flat” In Ukraine; Kyiv Says All 10 KH-47 Kinzhal Missiles Shot Down

The year 2024 began on a tumultuous note for Ukraine, as it came under a massive attack on the first two days, with the capital Kyiv targeted with an array of Russia’s cutting-edge missiles, including hypersonic Kinzhal, on the morning of January 2.

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At around 8 am, the Ukrainian Air Force reported: “Several more Kinzhals heading towards Kyiv!” Within half an hour of this first announcement, the Air Force said the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal aeroballistic missile launch was recorded again and warned they were flying towards Kyiv, according to reports. 

According to a statement from the Ukrainian Air Force, all ten Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles fired from MiG-31K aircraft were intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses. If these claims are true, this may be an incredible milestone for the Ukrainian military, given that Moscow has projected the Kinzhal as an invincible weapon that can easily penetrate enemy defenses. 

This January 2 missile attack targeted military, industrial, civilian, and critical infrastructure locations, with the main objective being the capital of Ukraine. Besides Kyiv, several other oblasts were targeted in the early morning missile raid as Russia has intensified its aerial attacks on Ukraine once again.

According to Serhii Popko, the chief of the Kyiv military administration, Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles were fired from around ten Tu-95MS bombers after the drone strike. However, it did not end there as Russia once again decided to fire its “invincible” Kinzhal hypersonic missiles on Ukraine.

Popko told the reporters that more than ten MiG-31 aircraft launched Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ballistic missiles toward Kyiv while the cruise missiles were striking the capital. He also noted that all ten Kinzhal missiles and 60 Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses. EurAsian Times, however, could not verify the claims.

Although Russia has employed the missile several times in the ongoing war, it was the second time the Russian Air Force fired Kinzhals on Kyiv in less than a month. Earlier, in mid-December, the spokesperson of the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuriy Inhat, announced that the Ukrainian forces shot down an X-47M Kinzhal ballistic missile over Kyiv in one of the aerial strikes conducted by Russian troops on December 14.

On December 14, the takeoff of MiG-31K fighter jets resulted in the announcement of four air raid alarms in Ukraine. The Air Forces announced that X-47 Kinzhal missiles had targeted Kyiv, Starokostiantyniv, Khmelnytskyi Oblast, and Sumy Oblast.

At the time, the spokesman went on to warn that Russia might use the Kinzhal missile once more to target locations inside the capital, Kyiv, which has been attacked several times in recent days. Even on January 2, the city was abuzz with air raid alarms as the MiG-31K, the designated carrier of the Kinzhal missile, was spotted taking off from the airfields. 

Russian Hypersonic Missle Falls Flat In Ukraine?

The Kinzhal is a hypersonic missile that could reach speeds greater than Mach 10 and travel 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers while carrying a conventional or nuclear payload. It is fired using the MiG-31K aircraft of the Russian Air Force, although the Su-34 has also reportedly test-fired a Kinzhal earlier this year.

Russia has employed the missile in the conflict due to its speed and ability to reach anywhere within minutes of launching, which should ideally mean less time for the air defenses to act. For instance, the Ukrainian spokesperson had earlier told the news outlet that the Russian Kinzhal missile could reach Kyiv in under two minutes.

The recurrent use of hypersonic weapons has not particularly augured well for the Russian Air Force. The reported interception of the missile has led to the erosion of its reputation with several military analysts mocking Russia’s tall claims. 

Russia has so far used its Kh-47M2 Kinzhal and Kh-22 missiles to strike high-value hardened targets such as underground depots and command centers. Military analysts have questioned the decision by the Russian Air Force to use the Kinzhal when it is, in fact, the Kh-22 missile that has been the real hero in the battle.

Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, recently said on a TV show that since the start of the SMO, Russia had launched 300 Kh-22 missiles at Ukraine, none of which were shot down by air defense systems.

Elaborating on the infallibility of the Kh-22, he said: “The Kh-22 missile flies at a speed of four thousand kilometers per hour; it enters its target mostly along a ballistic trajectory, so special means are needed to intercept it. We need air defense systems like the Patriot, so it’s not so easy with these missiles. The enemy has used more than 300 of these missiles since the full-scale invasion. In addition to the Kh-22, they also have a modernized version of this missile – the Kh-32. Probably, these missiles were also used today.” 

In an analytical piece written for EurAsian Times recently, an avid watcher of Russian military affairs and Indian Air Force veteran Vijainder K. Thakur explained why the Kh-32 was way more difficult to intercept than the supposed Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.

“The Kh-32 is designed to elude adversary air defense (AD) systems by flying beyond their speed and altitude engagement envelopes to the extent possible and then diving onto the target at steep angles. (AD radars are not able to track a target overhead or near overhead.)

The Kinzhal is similarly designed to elude adversary AD systems by flying beyond their speed and altitude engagement envelope. Despite being a significantly smaller and lighter missile than the Kh-22, the Kinzhal has a longer range,” Thakur explained. About Kinzhal, he noted that its ability to fly at hypersonic speeds and maneuver allows it to use a flatter approach trajectory that increases range.

He further said that while AD radars cannot engage any of the Kh-22 or Kinzhal flight characteristics, they might nevertheless try engaging and see how things work out. Consequently, it is important to consider rather than completely discount Ukrainian allegations that they had shot down Russian Kinzhal missiles.

A MiG-31K armed with Kh-47M2 Kinzhal
The Kinzhal hypersonic missile being carried on the belly of a MiG-31 fighter-bomber of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS)

Explaining why the Kh-32 was more indestructible, Thakur said that the Kh-32 missile can reportedly sustain strikes from an air-to-air missile or a 20 mm rotary cannon, rendering it entirely impervious to opponent interceptors and air defense systems.

The Kh-32’s purported capacity to communicate target information in flight with another Kh-32 is arguably its most notable feature. The Russian media reported that the capability was included to defeat enemy air defense when launching an assault on a carrier battle group (CBG).

By turning off their seekers, other missiles in the attack package—which might be approaching from different directions—remain in the dark. He highlighted that another missile in the package may assume control of the role if the missile with the active seeker is shot down.

“In the Ukrainian context, operating in pairs, one missile fitted with radar emission sensors could act as a decoy. It would present itself as a target just to pinpoint the location of the AD radar. Having pinpointed an AD radar, it could relay the coordinates to the other missile of the pair, which would then dive down almost vertically from very high altitudes and destroy the AD radar,” Thakur emphatically stated in his article.

In conclusion, the expert noted that Ukrainians probably fear the Kh-32 more than the Kinzhal because Russian forces have used a lot more Kh-32s than Kinzhals; the Kh-22 variant is more destructive with its 900 kg warhead; and Kh-32s are harder to shoot down than hypersonic missiles like the Kinzhal and Iskander-M.