Invisible to radar – Why are Russian hypersonic missiles “undetectable” to powerful air defense systems?

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Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had used “Kinzhal” hypersonic missiles to destroy a large underground warehouse of Ukrainian missiles and other weapons.

Since the attack, the news has created ripples, inviting fury and global bashing in equal proportions. This is likely the first time a hypersonic weapon has been used by one warring country against another, opening the incident up to a wide range of discussions and alarming the world at the possibilities of the Russian-Ukrainian war taking a more serious turn. murderous.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has already admitted the fact that it took the course of “Dagger” – the English substitution of the word Kinzhal hypersonic aeroballistic missiles, to destroy certain key pockets of Ukraine such as the main supply base as fuel for Ukrainian armored vehicles in combat. southern regions of Ukraine.

According to a Russian report, it was the first time the country’s army had used them. So what exactly Russia is trying to portray with this move is the crux of the whole story or the most interesting aspect of this whole event.

File Image: Hypersonic Weapon

How are hypersonic missiles different?

Any missile that beats the speed of sound by at least five times or travels at a speed of Mach 5 or faster can be classified as a hypersonic missile. He is billed as an “unstoppable” force with an ability to wreak havoc on a massive level in a matter of hours while traveling at a speed of approximately one mile per second.

That’s not all. Hypersonic missiles can also change direction during flight and perform advanced maneuvers, while taking advantage of their unique ability to avoid interception unlike other types of missiles.

This characteristic makes hypersonic missiles one of a kind, making them almost impossible to detect by modern radars and air defense systems.

This makes hypersonic missiles an asset to the country and puts it in a strategically comfortable position, making it a sought-after addition to the arsenal of aspiring nuclear-capable nations.

File:2018 Moscow Victory Day Parade 66.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
File Image: Kinzal Missile

Currently, a limited number of countries have access to technology capable of countering such hypersonic attacks – and if the reports are true, the Russians are pioneering this with their famous S-500 Prometey (or Prometheus).

The Prometheus is a surface-to-air missile capable of detecting hypersonic missiles among other aerial threats. According to RAND Corporation, an American policy think tank, hypersonic missiles are a brand new addition to the list of weapons capable of both maneuvering and flying at a super speed of around 5,000 kilometers per hour.

What does this movement tell us about Russia?

From day one of this war, Russia has been quite clear about its agenda and intentions and has made it clear that no leniency will be followed while countering a threat to its national interest and security. The use of hypersonic missiles can be aimed at asserting this intention.

It may have been used to send a message that Moscow will welcome any threat from Ukraine at no cost and is even willing to turn it into a destructive war. In other words, the war is going to get bloodier.

However, Russia’s stakes are not only threatened by a small country, Ukraine. Its Cold War rivalry with Washington, though long officially buried, seems to be rearing its ugly head lately.

To make it more specific and direct, Russia is trying to polish its image as a nuclear-armed state and is in the mood to display some military mileage in order to give a warning to its other strong adversaries like the United States. United.

According to the Congressional Research Service Memo (CRS Memo), although the United States itself is a prolific weapons developer and has been testing hypersonic missiles for decades, it does not match the Russian and Chinese versions of hypersonic weapons.

The United States had also launched a two-stage rocket in 1949 that reached Mach 6.7 as part of Project Bumper. Despite this, most hypersonic weapons made in the United States are not equipped with an integrated mechanism that can be used as a nuclear warhead.

Although there are still controversies regarding the use of hypersonic weapons, Russian news reports claim it with a haughty attitude. If you look at the history of Russian military development, hypersonic weapons have put Russia in an advantageous position, and it has nurtured these weapons as a dream project all these years.

Zircon-Test
Zircon hypersonic cruise missile fired from Admiral Gorshkov.

Main challenges

With great power comes great responsibility and sometimes challenges. Experts suggest that friction is one of the main challenges with this weapon as temperatures can soar up to 2,200 degrees Celsius, for which very strong materials capable of withstanding these high temperatures are required.

There may also be bottlenecks in terms of communication. And while they can be great devices when it comes to maneuverability, it can put tremendous strain on their internal structures.

It is a time when countries are busy collecting missiles and weapons as souvenirs to show off their military might. Nations are already well on the way to equipping their weapons with advanced technology and cutting-edge modern innovations; so that they can outsmart their opponents.

There is no doubt that the future belongs to technologies and weapons that are smart, super-fast and designed to target and wreak havoc in a short period of time. In other words, we create a future, which plans to destroy the future.

Hypersonic weapons and India

CRS Memo also states that while Russia, the United States and China are the title holders of this weapon, emerging countries such as Australia, India, France, Germany and Japan are lining up to acquire this “miracle weapon”.

At present, India operates about 12 hypersonic wind tunnels and is already able to test speed up to Mach 13. According to reports, it is also creating an indigenous dual-capability hypersonic cruise missile as part of its ambitious HSTDV (Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle) program.

India also entered the elite club of countries that tested the technology with its Mach 6 scramjet in June 2019 and September 2020. The test was carried out by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) .

As debates over the weapon’s ethical purpose will continue to escalate internationally, this move is sure to give Russia an edge in its ongoing tensions with the US-led NATO. .

The invasion of Ukraine has already given chills to the United States and the nature of current geopolitics will take massive turns.

For India, she can learn from her old friend and learn these tactics of war because she is surrounded by two hostile neighbors, one of whom is already ahead of this “unstoppable” entrant in the nuclear field. : China.

hypersonic-Dark Eagle
The Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB), nicknamed “Dark Eagle”, launches from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, March 19, 2020. (US Navy Photo)

Russian versus American hypersonic interceptors

So what does the United States have to fear from Russian hypersonic missiles, and what is so special about them? The reason Russia is beefing up its military arsenal is simply to match it with the superiority of the United States in terms of massive size and technology.

Take, for example, the Russian 3M22 Zircon. The missile flies at enormous speed – up to Mach 6 and that too at a low atmospheric ballistic trajectory. This and a few other state-of-the-art Russian missiles are giving the United States sleepless nights, as its interceptors would only have seconds to respond to Russian threats.

The hypersonic missiles fly with advanced fuel that reaches a range of up to 1,000 kilometers, according to the Russians. According to a military.com article, the missile flies at such a fast rate that a cloud of plasma forms with the air pressure in front of the weapon, this absorbs radio waves and thus makes it undetectable to active radar systems. This makes this range of weapons extremely exclusive to Russia.

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