Ukraine ‘Flashes’ Downed Kinzhal Hypersonic Warhead Intercepted By Patriots; Expert Puts ‘Dagger’ Into Media Claims

Days after Ukraine was said to have intercepted all ten Kinzhal hypersonic missiles fired by Russia, there is a new set of claims regarding the recovery of a downed but unexploded Kinzhal warhead by Ukrainian specialists on January 5.

According to reports, the warhead of the Kh-47M missile, which was shot down on January 2, was neutralized by the explosive ordnance disposal unit of the State Emergency Service (DSNC) of Ukraine, stationed in the Shevchenkivskyi, Kyiv.

It also released images of the massive crater being excavated and the bomb disposal crew carefully taking out the enormous warhead. As soon as the photos were published on social media, they took the internet by storm and triggered a heated discussion between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian military watchers, with one side pooh-poohing the claim and the other side hailing it.

Earlier, the Ukrainian Air Force stated that its air defense troops had managed to shoot down all ten Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles launched from MiG-31K aircraft in a massive aerial attack launched on January 2. This attack was aimed at military, industrial, civilian, and critical infrastructure locations, with the primary objective being Ukraine’s capital.

Some pro-Ukrainian military commentators and military watchers said the recovery of an undamaged Kinzhal warhead means that it will most likely be disassembled and analyzed to learn more about its capabilities, sourcing, and production procedures, as well as to get ideas on how to strengthen the efforts to intercept this hypersonic missile that has been touted as “invincible” by Moscow since 2018.

Some experts also predicted that If the United States and its allies aren’t already spearheading the effort, then a large portion of the data found will probably be shared with them.

The transfer of classified and sophisticated missile technology to its arch-rivals in the West may not augur well for Russia. Several military systems, including advanced battle tanks, have been captured by both sides in the ongoing conflict.

This is not the first time that Ukrainian officials have claimed the downing of Kinzhal missiles. Days after the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) had downed a Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile using the PAC-3 Patriot missile defense system in May 2023, a video of the wreckage of the Kinzhal and its fragments went viral on social media.

The footage showed Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, showing off what appeared to be the remains of the Kinzhal missile, which the nation’s air defense systems had supposedly shot down on May 6, as reported by EurAsian Times.

“Through the Patriot systems, we have now been able to show what is possible with modern defense systems. This air defense makes our lives safer,” Klitschko could be heard saying in the video at the time. There have been multiple reports of Ukrainian Patriot missile defense systems downing the Kinzhal since then. However, the interception of all ten Kinzhals fired in a day by the Patriots has raised several eyebrows.

Countering claims, Indian Air Force veteran Squadron Leader Vijainder K. Thakur (Retired), an avid military watcher of Russia Thakur said, “If that is indeed a Kinzhal warhead – it could well be an Iskander-M warhead – it is an unexploded warhead, not a downed warhead.”

The Kinzhal, also known as the “Dagger,” is a Russian hypersonic missile that can reach speeds greater than Mach 10 and travel from 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers while carrying a conventional or nuclear payload. It can also alter its course away from the traditional ballistic arc, making it challenging to intercept it. 

Thakur disagrees with the claims of the missile being intercepted by the Patriot at all, let alone the retrieval of its unexploded warhead. He believes — there is no AD system capable of shooting down a Kinzhal missile unless it is very close to the launch point. You (Ukraine) could claim that the Patriot system can shoot down a Kinzhal. However, in that case, too, you would only be embarrassing yourself because the PAC3 is a hit-to-kill missile. It would not leave a warhead intact.

Thakur added, “The patriot system is the only air defense system capable of shooting down a Kinzhal if it is nearby. The patriot interceptor PAC–3 is a hit-to-kill interceptor. “In the case of a successful interception, the Kinzhal warhead would have been smashed. The photos published by Warzone and others show a distant view. The warhead could well have been a dummy for a photo op. There is no other corroborating evidence.”

Patriots ‘Incapable’ Of Downing Kinzhal Missiles?

As claims started to swirl, both sides posted videos. Pro-Russian military bloggers published videos showing the Kinzhal in action and hitting the targets. They questioned Ukrainian claims about intercepting 100% of the missiles. In contrast, the pro-Ukrainian military bloggers published videos and images demonstrating that the rocket was intercepted.

Pro-Ukrainian and Western military watchers have gone so far as to question whether the Kinzhal is hypersonic at all. The other side, however, argued that a missile defense system that could intercept the Kinzhal does not exist at all.

Some military experts observed that the existing technology could not intercept the moving hypersonic Kinzhal missile. In an analysis piece written for EurAsian Times, Vijainder K. Thakur refuted all claims regarding the interceptions, essentially referring to them as “bogus.”

Thakur based his argument on the Russian arsenal’s small number of MiG-31K fighters. More than two dozen MiG-31K aircraft now have the RuAF, according to an Izvestia report in December. The expert noted that once upon a time, Ukraine would have known about a potential Kinzhal attack just by seeing a MiG-31K launch. Now, it is vulnerable to sudden Kinzhal strikes.

The targeting information, often acquired using a radar imaging satellite, can be transmitted to the MiG-31K directly from the satellite or via ground control.

The next point he made was that an air defense system must determine the coordinates of an airspace interception location where the target and the interceptor missile will arrive simultaneously to intercept a target successfully.

Mig-31 Foxhound
File Image: MiG-31

He observed that a successful interception depends on the interceptor missile’s acceleration capabilities, the target missile’s speed, and the radar’s target detection range. The aiming point is always far ahead of the target missile’s present position along its trajectory.

“If the target detection distance is short and the target speed is very high, as would be the case in a Kinzhal interception, there may be no possible aiming point,” he stated. 

He added, “In case of very early detection, it would be possible to compute an aiming point, but it would be based on the current trajectory of the target missile. If the target missile continuously changes trajectory, the aiming point must be recomputed ad infinitum. Closing in on the target missile, the inertia of the interceptor missile would rule out accurate tracking of the target.”

With current technology, intercepting a maneuvering hypersonic missile during its terminal phase is almost impossible, he noted emphatically.  If a Kinzhal is not maneuvering and is climbing to the stratospheric border after being released from a MiG-31K, it is possible to intercept it.

However, that would necessitate placing the AD system—Patriot in this instance—very near the Kinzhal’s launch site. And, with the Kinzhal’s 2,000-kilometer range, it seems unlikely that a Patriot battery would be found within 30 kilometers (the range of a PAC-3 interceptor missile) of the Kinzhal launch site.

The expert concluded his arguments: “Ukraine has never presented any physical evidence of a Kinzhal shootdown claim.” That brings us to the latest images published by Ukraine, which have been tagged as bogus or fake by Thakur, like many other military commentators on social media.