Kinzhal is an airborne missile system equipped with hypersonic aero-ballistic missiles. Credit:
The Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile was deployed against Ukrainian armed forces in March 2022. Credit: ©Boevaya mashina/CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons).
Russian MiG-31K and MiG-31I fighter aircraft were chosen as the carriers of Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.

The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is an air-launched ballistic missile originally unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018. The missile is one of the hypersonic weapons developed by Russia in response to the withdrawal of the US from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002.

The Kinzhal is believed to be based on Russia’s ground-launched 9K720 Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile with anti-ship capabilities. The increased-range hypersonic missile can penetrate air and missile defence systems.

The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation contracted state-defence company KBM, part of Rostec, to manufacture and supply a batch of Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in August 2021.

The missiles were officially put into combat use for the first time in a special military operation in Ukraine in March 2022. Russia is planning to boost production of the missiles in the wake of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Development details of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal

The missile commenced a trial phase at airfields in southern Russia in December 2017.

Russian MiG-31K and MiG-31I fighter interceptors featuring radar stealth and high manoeuvrability were chosen as the carriers of Kinzhal hypersonic missiles. The aircraft is designed to engage both ground and naval targets.

A total of ten MiG-31 aircraft long-range interceptors equipped with the Kinzhal hypersonic system performed experienced combat alert in May 2018. The MiG-31 aircraft is highly appropriate for achieving the necessary speeds at the required altitudes to accelerate the missile effectively.

The Kinzhal system-equipped MiG-31 aircraft performed more than 300 sorties on air patrols over the waters of the Black and Caspian seas. A total of six modified MiG-31s outfitted with the missiles were deployed in Akhtubinsk in south-west Russia, about 150km east of Volgograd.

A trio of MiG-31I aircraft armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles were redeployed at Chkalovsk airfield in the Kaliningrad region in August 2022. They were placed on round-the-clock combat alert at the Chkalovsk airfield as an extension of supplementary strategic deterrence measures. During the flight, the MiG-31I aircraft engaged in interoperability exercises with fighter jets from the 6th Air Force and Air Defence Army and the Baltic Fleet’s naval aviation planes.

MiG-31K fighter jets carrying the missiles were placed on permanent patrolling of the Black Sea airspace in October 2023.

Kinzhal hypersonic missile system design details

The Kinzhal is a state-of-the-art airborne missile system with hypersonic aero-ballistic missiles. The missile has a reported range of between 1,500km and 2,000km while carrying a nuclear or conventional payload of 480kg.

The missile is 8m long with a body diameter of 1m and a launch weight of approximately 4,300kg. It quickly accelerates to Mach 4 (4,900km/h) after launch and may reach a speed of up to Mach 10 (12,350km/h).

The missile’s low radar signature, erratic flight trajectory and high manoeuvrability in combination with its high speed can make intercepting it highly complicated. In October 2023, a Russian news agency reported that missiles can be programmed to change target acquisition during flight.

The hypersonic missile’s multi-purpose warhead can strike stationary targets such as command centres and airbases as well as moving targets such as enemy warships.

Kinzhal hypersonic missile combat operations in the Russia -Ukraine conflict

The Kinzhal aviation missile system equipped with hypersonic ballistic missiles destroyed the underground storage facility for missiles and aviation ammunition for Ukrainian troops in Delyatin, Ivano-Frankivsk region, utilising the hypersonic speed and ultra-high kinetic energy, in March 2022.

The combat operations confirmed the effectiveness of the missile system in destroying highly protected special assets of adversaries.

A Su-34 fighter bomber used the missile in a military operation against Ukraine in September 2023.

Controversy over Kinzhal hypersonic missile

The Ukrainian forces shot down a Kinzhal hypersonic missile using the US-made Patriot air defence system in May 2022, despite Russia’s claims that it is invulnerable to defence systems.

Subsequently, the Ukrainian forces claimed to have downed six Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in a single night in May 2023, as reported by Reuters.