In the latest episode of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s much-touted AS-24 KILLJOY hypersonic missile faced a setback when it was successfully intercepted by Ukraine’s air defense system. Despite being projected as an “invincible weapon,” the missile was taken down, causing a moment of embarrassment for Moscow.
The Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson, Yuriy Inhat, confirmed the interception of the X-47M Kinzhal (Killjoy) ballistic missile over Kyiv on December 14. General Mykola Oleshchuk, the Commander of the Air Forces, later corroborated the information, stating that one missile was successfully shot down. According to the Ukrainian Air Force, Russian MiG-31K fighter jets armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles attempted to target central Ukraine within ten minutes of taking off from Savasleyka airport. While one missile was intercepted above the Kyiv region, two others struck the Starokostiantyniv district.
These events have been substantiated by the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD), which emphasized that Russia’s air-launched ballistic missiles, including the AS-24 KILLJOY, are not infallible in real-world scenarios. The update from the UK MoD on December 19 acknowledged the mixed combat debut of Russian hypersonic missiles in Ukraine.
The assessment underscored the significance of KILLJOY in Russia’s military strategy, especially targeting valuable and well-defended locations in Ukraine. This missile, one of the six superweapons unveiled by President Putin in 2018, was initially touted as invincible due to its speed and capability to overcome anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems.
The Kinzhal or Killjoy missile, a Russian hypersonic weapon, boasts speeds exceeding Mach 10 and a range of 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers, carrying either conventional or nuclear payloads. Launched from the MiG-31K aircraft, it has previously been test-fired on Ukraine, even though it has been intercepted by Ukrainian forces.
The UK MoD’s skepticism about the efficacy of Russian hypersonic missiles has led to broader questions about the overall effectiveness of hypersonic weapons. While global military powers, including China and Russia, have invested in hypersonic technology, the United States is yet to operationalize such weapons, facing challenges in testing.
The debate surrounding the practicality of hypersonic weapons questions whether they are game-changers or mere hype. The recent interception of the Kinzhal by Ukraine has fueled doubts about the invincibility of such missiles. Experts highlight the difficulty of intercepting hypersonic weapons due to their high speed and unpredictable trajectories, making them tough targets for traditional defense systems.
The report also delves into the technical aspects of hypersonic missiles, comparing them with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). It notes the challenges posed by the hypersonic missile’s plasma cloud, which renders it undetectable to radars, making it a formidable threat.
In the ongoing discourse, some argue that the exaggerated claims about the invincibility of hypersonic weapons, particularly the Kinzhal, may be misleading. Suggestions have been made that the missile may not have been operating at hypersonic speed during the intercepted incident.
The global pursuit of hypersonic weapons continues, with various nations exploring their development. However, the recent events in Ukraine and the questions raised about the effectiveness of hypersonic missiles contribute to the ongoing debate about their true capabilities and significance in modern warfare.