Russia's Hypersonic Weapons

By Paul Bernstein and Harrison Menke

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Russia is developing at least three hypersonic weapons that are operational or approaching operational status. These systems, introduced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his 2018 and 2019 speeches to the Federal Assembly, address requirements for Russian regional and strategic strike capabilities, and all are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. While these systems could pose problems for U.S. and NATO defense planning, their introduction in the near-term is not likely to fundamentally alter the existing balance of power or the prospects for strategic stability.

The Kinzhal is an air-launched ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers. Currently launched from a MiG-31 fighter, the missile accelerates to speeds between Mach 4 and Mach 10 while performing evasive maneuvers to circumvent air and missile defenses. These capabilities enable engagement of heavily defended targets, such as aircraft carriers. Russian military planners appear to envision the Kinzhal at least in part in an anti-ship role, and Russian media outlets suggest it will be carried by the long-range Tu-22M3 Backfire bomber, which is primarily a maritime strike platform.

The Tsirkon is a ship-launched hypersonic cruise missile planned for deployment by 2023. Putin claims Tsirkon will be capable of reaching Mach 9 speed to strike ground or naval targets at a range of approximately 1,000 kilometers. Most Russian surface and subsurface combatants can be equipped with the Tsirkon, which would enable Russian submarines to loiter off the coastline of the United States or another NATO member and strike key command and control centers with minimal warning. READ MORE>>>