Russia’s air force will receive a number of next-generation aircraft armed with hypersonic weapons in coming years, according to a top military official.
“Our task is to commission new generation weapons, aircraft and special equipment, including those armed with hypersonic weapons and to participate in a strategic command staff exercise,” Aerospace Force Deputy Commander Colonel-General Andrey Yudin said on Tuesday. Yudin did not specify the hypersonic weapons or new aircraft in question.
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile was unveiled by Russian president Vladimir Putin during his 2018 state-of-the-nation address. The Kinzhal missile reportedly boasts a maximum range of up to 3,000 kilometers and top speed of Mach 12, or roughly 9,200 miles per hour. Kinzhal will be compatible with the new Tu-22M3M, the latest variant of the Soviet-era Tu-22M strike bomber, and a specially modified “MiG-31K” version of the Mikoyan MiG-31interceptor. Russian media reported earlier that the Kremlin is reviewing proposals to fit the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter with the Kinzhal missile or a smaller “Kinzhal-like” derivative, but the current state of these alleged deliberations remains unclear.
Russia’s defense industry is developing at least two next-generation aircraft fighters: the PAK DA stealth bomber and PAK DP interceptor. Whereas prior Russian aircraft modernization programs relied on iterations of Soviet-era airframes, both the PAK DA and PAK DP are based on new post-Soviet designs and will reportedly offer vast improvements in stealth performance over much of Russia’s current fleet. The two fighter jets are not expected to start entering service until the late 2020s or early 2030s.
Top Russian officials, including Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, praised the country’s military modernization programs during a recent defense ministry board meeting. Shoigu said that Russia’s current level of nuclear modernization, 89.1 percent, is the highest in the country’s history. Putin joined via video linkup to observe the commission ceremony of the nuclear-powered Knyaz Oleg ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and Novosibirsk cruise missile submarine, belonging to the new Borei-A and Yasen-M classes respectively.
Shoigu said on Tuesday that Russia’s navy and ground forces sit at a 71.2 percent modernization rate. “As a result of operative management of cash flows more than 258 billion rubles will be spent on high accuracy weapons. By 2026, the number of long-range delivery vehicles carrying smart weapons will grow by 30% and that of cruise missiles of different types will double,” Shoigu added. The defense ministry announced that the country’s Aerospaces Forces received a total of 250 pieces of new equipment, though officials did not appear to provide an estimate of the share of modernized aircraft currently serving in Russia’s air force.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.