Russia reportedly used a hypersonic missile last week as part of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. According to NBC News, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that its forces deployed “Kinzhal” missiles to “destroy a large underground warehouse of Ukrainian missiles and aviation ammunition in Delyatin,” a city in western Ukraine. The following day, Russia said that it used the missiles to destroy a “Ukrainian storage base for fuels and lubricants.”
Neither the media nor the Pentagon was able to confirm that the missiles were actually hypersonic. Hypersonic weapons travel at speeds of Mach 5 or faster; Russia claimed that the missile traveled at ten times the speed of sound. The key to the technology is the use of a hypersonic glide vehicle, which can adjust course and altitude.
President Biden, however, appeared to confirm the hypersonic status on Monday, according to CNN.
"And if you'll notice, [Russia has] just launched the hypersonic missile, because it's the only thing that they can get through with absolute certainty," Biden said. "It's a consequential weapon ... it's almost impossible to stop it. There's a reason they're using it.”
The missile launched by Russia is believed to be the 47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile, described by NBC News as “an aeroballistic air-to-surface missile that Russia claims has a range of more than 2,000 kilometers, or 1,200 miles, and a speed of Mach 10.”
Numerous countries, including the United States, China, and even North Korea, are developing hypersonic missiles and guide vehicles.
Despite the president’s comments, the launch was downplayed by the Pentagon. "I would not see it as a game-changer," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Face the Nation on Sunday. "I think, again, the reason that he’s resorting to using these types of weapons is because he’s trying to re-establish momentum. We’ve seen him attack towns and cities and civilians outright, and we expect to see that continue. But I don’t think that this in and of itself will be a game-changer.”
Austin added that he doesn’t see the launch as a good sign for Russia’s war effort: "You kind of question why [Putin] would be doing this—is he running low on precision-guided munitions? Does he lack complete confidence in the ability of his troops to reestablish momentum?"
"But I don’t see this in and of itself as a game-changer. I cannot confirm or dispute whether or not he’s used those weapons,” Austin added.
The United States and other NATO countries are sending Ukraine surface-to-air missiles to help combat the threat from Russia.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.