Moscow has long hyped its hypersonic weapons, labeling them invincible. Ukraine countered the hype by claiming it had successfully shot down a number of Kinzhals earlier this year. On Sunday, Russian state media doubled down, saying Russia had used the missiles from one of its advanced fighter jets.
“The Su-34 fighter jet used the Kinzhal hypersonic missile in the special military operation. The first crew who successfully accomplished such a task will receive state awards,” a Russian defense official told Tass, noting the first use of the weapon from a Russian Aerospace Forces’ fighter-bomber.
“The Kinzhal is Russia’s latest system with hypersonic aero-ballistic missiles carried by specially equipped MiG-31K fighters-interceptors. The Kinzhal missile features a low radar signature and high maneuverability and is designed to strike ground and naval targets,” Tass also reported. It noted that the missile system had been on experimental combat duty since December 2017.
The Russian Army first officially used the missile in combat in the country’s “special operation” on March 18, 2022. Though Moscow hasn’t been very public about the use of the Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile, Ukraine’s military claims the platform has been used frequently — and that the weapons aren’t any more effective than other air-launched missiles.
Kinzhals are typically fired from the Soviet-era MiG-31K, and this would mark the first time the platform has been used from the twin-engine supersonic Su-34 fighter-bomber. Russian state media has suggested that Tu-22M3 strategic bombers may also be modified to carry the Kinzhal.
Kinzhal Hype – Can We Believe It?
The Kinzhal was one of six “next-generation” weapons that were unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a State of the Union speech in March 2018.
Putin said they could penetrate any future missile defense system. The Kremlin claims it is the global leader in the development of hypersonic missiles and that by the time other countries catch up, Moscow will have already developed technology to counteract the weapons. That point would seem to directly contradict Putin’s claims about it being able to penetrate “any” future air defense platform.
The Kinzhal has a reported range of 1,500 to 2,000 km (930 to 1,240 miles), while it is able to carry a payload of 480 kg. According to Russian claims, it can reach speeds of up to Mach 10, although that has yet to be independently verified. Western analysts have suggested the capabilities Moscow claims are probably greatly exaggerated, and that the technology is far less advanced than Putin claims.
On May 6, Kyiv said it had used a U.S.-supplied Patriot air defense system to down a Kinzhal. Days later, Ukrainian forces announced they had successfully shot down six additional Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.
By mid-June, Ukraine said it had countered more than two dozen additional Kinzhals. The British Ministry of Defence has suggested that Kyiv’s ability to counter the missiles was “likely a surprise and embarrassment for Russia.”
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.