Russia has reportedly used hypersonic missiles in combat against Ukraine last week, marking the first known use of the new superweapons in combat by any military.
“US officials confirmed to CNN that Russia launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine last week, the first known use of such missiles in combat,” CNN reported. “The launches were likely intended to test the weapons and send a message to the West about Russian capabilities.”
Hypersonic missiles travel at five times the speed of sound or faster, have lower trajectories than ballistic missiles, and can maneuver before hitting their intended target, which makes it hard to shoot them down.
Bloomberg News highlighted information about the specific weapon that Russia claims to have used:
The Ministry of Defense said the military used Kinzhal (Dagger) missiles on Friday to target the site storing missiles and aviation ammunition in the village of Delyatyn, outside the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, according to an emailed statement. The claimed strike marked the first use of the nuclear-capable advanced weapons system in the Ukraine war, state news service RIA Novosti said.
The Kinzhal, which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, flies 10 times faster than the speed of sound, or more than 2 miles per second, President Vladimir Putin said when he announced the system in an annual state-of-the-nation address in 2018.
Hypersonic missiles garnered a lot of attention late last year after China tested hypersonic weapons last July that were more advanced than anything that the U.S. is believed to have in its arsenal.
Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations, admitted late last year that “we’re not as advanced as the Chinese or the Russians in terms of hypersonic programs,” adding that the U.S. has a lot of “catching up to do very quickly” because “the Chinese have had an incredibly aggressive hypersonic program for [the last] several years.”
“While the Pentagon has pushed the development of new hypersonic missiles, the Army isn’t slated to field its first missile until 2024,” Politico reported. “The Navy is aiming to put its own version of the missile on a destroyer in 2025 and on Virginia-class submarines in 2028.”
Experts say that China is significantly more advanced than the U.S. or Russia when it comes to hypersonic technology.
General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the No. 2 person in the U.S. military, said that the weapons that China was developing “look like a first-use weapon. That’s what those weapons look like to me.”
Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe warned in early 2021 that the Biden administration was in for a shock once they were finally brought up to speed on the advancements that the Chinese military has made in recent years.
Ratcliffe said that “China has closed the gap” in certain areas which he could not reveal because “it poses a national security threat to acknowledge that, but there are places where China’s frankly doing a better job, and it’s further down the curve on some technology issues than we are, and that’s never been the case before.”