The May 4 shootdown of a Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missile by a Ukrainian-manned, US-made, Patriot missile system might be seen to indicate that the new class of weaponry is neither invulnerable nor revolutionary, as Russia, US military officials, and many in the media have proclaimed.
This lends credence to those who have argued that hypersonic missiles do not alter the calculus of conventional or nuclear conflict. However, it is unclear if this intercept represents a consistent capability, or if it is a low-probability event. Further, the Kinzhal is one of the less sophisticated Russian hypersonic weapons, decreasing its significance as a test case. More information is needed if NATO is to properly assess the threat currently posed by hypersonic weapons, let alone what threats may be on the horizon.
On May 9, US Department of Defense Press Secretary Brigadier General Ryder confirmed that Ukrainian forces had indeed shot down at least one hypersonic Kinzhal missile using Patriots, marking the first publicly confirmed intercept of a hypersonic weapon. Since then, Ukraine claims to have shot down at least six more Kinzhals in one night over Kyiv, along with 12 other missiles of various types, though it is unclear if the Patriot system was involved.
There are some ifs and buts, not least that Kinzhal is not exactly a hypersonic missile.
To be considered a hypersonic missile, the munition must surpass Mach 5 at some point after being fired. This is actually a decades-old feat, long ago accomplished by ballistic missiles. “Hypersonic missile” has become a colloquial shorthand term for hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs) and hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), which are different.
Read the rest at CEPA.
Grant Turner is a Research Assistant at Yorktown Institute.