Could Russia Use Hypersonic Missiles in an Attack Against Ukraine?

Could Russia Use Hypersonic Missiles in an Attack Against Ukraine?

A Pentagon spokesman said there is no specific information that indicates Russia could use hypersonics, but the Department of Defense is monitoring the situation.

Would Russian president Vladimir Putin seek to use hypersonic weapons in an attack on Ukraine? That question was posed to Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby during a press conference on Monday.

“It wouldn't be exactly clear if the intent is to invade Ukraine, why one would need a hypersonic weapon to do that,” Kirby said. “Those weapons, as you know, are meant to be used at extremely long intercontinental ranges, and to approach with stealth and speed.”

Kirby also cautioned that he wouldn’t rule the possibility out, declining to speculate on Putin’s decisionmaking process.

“I won't get inside his head,” Kirby said. “We haven't seen any indications of that with respect to what's going on in Ukraine.”

However, Putin may want to showcase Russia’s supposed hypersonic weapons superiority. There may be some tactical circumstances in which a hypersonic projectile could be used to destroy a target several hundred miles away. A hypersonic attack on fixed Ukrainian positions or small units on the move may be tactically unnecessary, but could be contemplated as a show of power to NATO and the West. 

A demonstration of superior Russian hypersonic weapons might raise the threat of a high-speed attack in Europe. While a Russian military confrontation with NATO remains unlikely, Putin could generate some uncertainty. Kirby said the Department of Defense continues to monitor the situation.

A range of other possibilities exist in Ukraine. Kirby said Russia could choose to undertake a smaller incursion into Ukraine or pursue a full occupation. A large-scale invasion and occupation would require significant logistical support and sustainment efforts.

One possible target might be the area of Donbass, Kirby said, pointing out that Russian state media is talking about “Ukrainian aggressions” in the area, perhaps to marshall Russian support for an incursion. 

“(Putin) could do something on a small scale, of a temporary nature, perhaps in the eastern part,” Kirby said. “In Donbass, you're hearing a lot of Russian state media talk about Ukrainian aggressions in the Donbass, or he could do something much bigger.”

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.