10 times faster than sound, Russia Uses Hypersonic Missiles. Where’s India In the Race?

mig-31k with Kh-47M2 Kinzhal
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Moscow said it used its newest Kinzhal hypersonic missiles on Saturday to destroy an underground missile and ammunition storage site in western Ukraine close to the border with NATO member Romania.

hey can travel up to ten times faster than the speed of sound. Deliver conventional warheads more rapidly and precisely than other missiles. And can easily overcome air-defense systems. These are hypersonic missiles, the use of which Russia has admitted to for the first time.

Moscow said it used its newest Kinzhal hypersonic missiles on Saturday to destroy an underground missile and ammunition storage site in western Ukraine close to the border with NATO member Romania. Analysts said this was the first use of such weapons in the world.

Russia has never admitted to using the high-precision weapon in combat, and state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic weapons were used for the first time during the conflict in Ukraine. Russia’s defence ministry made the announcement on Saturday, on the 24th day of the conflict, as Ukrainians are putting up fierce resistance and Russian troops’ advance has stalled.

What are Hypersonic Missiles and How Do they Hold an Edge?

  • Can Travel 5 Times or Faster than Speed of Sound: Hypersonic missiles, which travel at Mach 5 or faster (five times the speed of sound), fly into space after launch, but then return to earth on a flight path similar to that of an aeroplane.
  • Difficult to Detect: Because of their low trajectory, high speed, and manoeuvrability, hypersonic missiles are difficult to detect by US missile defence satellites and radars, according to a report by CNN.
  • Ability to Deliver Nuclear Weapons a ‘Threat’: However, their ability to deliver nuclear weapons may increase a country’s threat, increasing the risk of a nuclear conflict. “This is the first case in the world of the use of hypersonic weapons in combat,” military analyst Vasily Kashin told AFP.
  • Russia Leads the Race, Followed by China, US: Russia leads the race in hypersonics, followed by China and the United States, with several other countries developing the technology.
  • Efficient at Destroying Underground Storage Sites, Manoeuverable: Kashin, head of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said that compared to cruise missiles hypersonic weapons were more efficient at destroying underground storage sites. “A hypersonic missile can have higher penetration and destructive power due to its very high speed,” he said. Like the much slower, often subsonic cruise missile, a hypersonic missile is manoeuverable, making it harder to track and defend against.

Difference Between Subsonic, Supersonic and Hypersonic Missiles

Subsonic missiles travel at a rate slower than the speed of sound. Most well-known missiles, such as the US Tomahawk cruise missile, the French Exocet, and the Indian Nirbhay, fall into this category. These travel at about Mach-0.9 (705 mph), and are slower and easier to intercept, but they continue to play a significant role in modern battlefields.

Not only are they significantly less expensive to produce because the technological challenges have already been overcome and mastered, but due to their low speed and small size, subsonic missiles provide an additional layer of strategic value, according to a report by PartYard Military company.

A supersonic missile is one that travels faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1) but not faster than Mach-3. Most supersonic missiles travel at speeds ranging from Mach-2 to Mach-3, or up to 2,300 mph. The Indian/Russian BrahMos, currently the fastest operational supersonic missile capable of speeds of around 2,100–2,300 mph, is the most well-known supersonic missile.

A hypersonic missile is five times faster than the speed of sound and exceeds Mach-5 (3,800 mph). There is currently no operational defence system that can prevent the use of these strategic weapons. As a result, many global powers, including the United States, Russia, India, and China, are developing hypersonic missiles. However, there are numerous technological challenges to overcome, particularly in terms of sustaining combustion inside the missile system while enduring hypersonic speed’s extreme temperatures.

The Two Types of Hypersonic Missiles

Hypersonic missiles are classified into two types: hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles, the report by PartYard Military company says.

Hypersonic Cruise Missile: A hypersonic cruise missile reaches its target by using a high-speed jet engine that allows it to travel at speeds in excess of Mach-5. It is non-ballistic, in contrast to traditional Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), which use gravitational forces to reach their target.

Hypersonic Glide Vehicle: In a hypersonic glide vehicle, re-entry vehicles are used, the report details. Initially, the missile is launched into space on an arching trajectory, where the warheads are released and fall at hypersonic speeds towards the atmosphere. Rather than leaving the payload at the mercy of gravitational forces, as is the case with traditional ICBMs, the warheads are attached to a glide vehicle that re-enters the atmosphere and, thanks to its aerodynamic shape, can ride the shockwaves generated by its own lift as it exceeds the speed of sound, providing enough speed to overcome existing missile defence systems. The glide vehicle surfs through the atmosphere at altitudes ranging from 40 to 100 kilometres, utilising aerodynamic forces to reach its destination.

What Does India Stand on Hypersonic Missiles?

India has been working on hypersonic missile technology for a few years and is currently trailing the United States, Russia, and China. In September 2020, DRDO successfully tested a Hypersonic Technology Demonstrated Vehicle (HSTDV) and demonstrated its hypersonic air-breathing scramjet technology.

indian hypersonic missile
HSTDV is an unmanned scramjet demonstration aircraft for hypersonic speed flight

According to reports, India has developed its own cryogenic engine and tested it in a 23-second flight. Using HSTDV, India will attempt to develop a hypersonic cruise missile.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has also previously encouraged scientists to work towards developing hypersonic missile technology.

What is the Kinzhal Missile Russia Claims to Have Launched?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has termed the Kinzhal air-launched missile “an ideal weapon” that flies at 10 times the speed of sound and can overcome air-defence systems. Kinzhal means dagger.

The Kinzhal missile was one of an array of new weapons Putin unveiled in his state-of-the-nation address in 2018.

The missile has a range of about 1,500-2,000 km and can carry a nuclear or conventional payload weighing 480 kg. The Kinzhal has an 8-metre length, a 1-metre body diameter, and a launch weight of around 4,300 kg.

Source: News 18

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