Are Russian hypersonic weapons more dangerous?

On March 19, 2022, the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Igor Konashenkov, announced that Russia had used two Kindzhal hypersonic missiles (Kh-47M2 Kindzhal) against Ukraine. It is reported that this new generation of weapons destroyed an underground missile and ammunition depot in the city of Delyatyn in the west of the country, as well as a fuel depot near Nikolaev in the south. This claim has not been confirmed by Western countries, even if destruction was observed. If the weapons used for these two strikes were indeed hypersonic, then this is a “first” in theater. In connection with the communication carried out by Putin’s forces, this statement is primarily intended to impress Western actors. Russia, China and the US are actually taking turns raising the specter of hypersonic weapons described as invincible. Russian authorities. What about?

The hypersonic designation qualifies this weapon’s ability to reach speeds greater than Mach 5 (5 times the speed of sound). The initial boost comes from the rocket engine, which gives them a speed that, for some Russian or American gliders, can reach 25,000 km/h, ten times the speed of combat aircraft. Then the machines reach the upper atmosphere at an altitude of 80 to 120 km. This is what they basically differ from intercontinental missiles launched with the same type of engine, but along an elliptical spatial trajectory, which brings them at a peak to a height of 1200 km!

Russia has already tested at least three separate hypersonic systems

Most anti-missile systems were designed to detect and intercept these intercontinental missiles because their gravity flight was very predictable. Thus, the radar observation cone is directed to these space orbits. Suddenly, a hypersonic weapon flying below eludes their view. In addition, their atmospheric trajectories are subject to changes in the density and hence the lift of air masses, making them difficult to predict and make them a stealth weapon.

By strengthening its anti-missile systems by multiplying the means of space detection and the development of artificial intelligence, the United States all the more weakened the forces of deterrence of Russia and China. Thus, it prompted these military powers to pay attention to the threat of new weapons – Russia, the first country to deploy a hypersonic missile, has already tested at least three separate hypersonic systems.

Unless it’s about the resurrection of the old moons. American physicists Cameron Tracy from the Center for Security and International Cooperation at Stanford University and David Wright from the Laboratory for Security and Nuclear Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology speak about this in an article published in 2020 in an article. Science and global security. The researchers trace the history of the concept, which began in the 1930s when Austrian engineer Eugen Senger and German physicist Irene Bredt drew blueprints for the Silbervogel (silver bird) hypersonic glider. But this project was rejected by the German designers because it was too complicated and expensive.

Hypersonic vehicles are equipped with rocket engines identical to those of intercontinental missiles.

Since then, speed records have been broken one by one by airplanes, then by intercontinental ballistic missiles, the speed of which today exceeds Mach 20! Recall that we are talking about hypersonic weapons that exceed only Mach 5. Numerical simulations published in 2020 by Cameron Tracy and David Wright show that hypersonic hovering weapons are ultimately slower than “classic” ICBMs. Hypersonic vehicles are actually powered by rocket engines identical to those that fire ICBMs, giving both weapons the same muzzle velocity. The hypersonic weapon then passes through the layers of the atmosphere, where it experiences significant drag forces. At the same time, rockets with a ballistic trajectory rise above the atmosphere and move without friction in the vacuum of space. Hypersonic weapons, which end up following a more direct path in terms of distance to their targets, actually lose most of their speed during flight.

There remains the question of secrecy. Hypersonic weapons are really hard to spot… from the ground. But from the point of view of observation satellites, they are both equal: hypersonic weapons can be detected from space for most of their flight. What, then, explains the recent hypersonic craze that France is now trying to get its hands on? The answer, according to Cameron Tracy and David Wright, is to be found in the 2000s, when the US considered using nuclear weapons against local conflicts, such as terrorist groups. However, the launch of intercontinental missiles may be viewed by target governments as a nuclear attack and trigger widespread retaliation. Then the use of weapons with more subtle trajectories reappeared. With the deadly success we know today…

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