Why are Kinzhals so worrisome for Ukraine?
Ukraine has no weapons capable of shooting down the Kinzhals, according to Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force.
And their use on Thursday significantly increased the proportion of Russia’s missiles reaching targets. Of the 81 missiles Russia fired overnight and through the morning, Ukraine said that 47 hit their targets, a higher ratio than usual. Ukraine noted that Russia had also fired more ballistic missiles and fewer cruise missiles than usual, a possible factor in the increase in successful strikes.
What are the limitations of the Kinzhal?
Targeting coordinates are loaded into the missile’s operating system before launch, and because of the tremendous speed it achieves in flight, any small deflection — for instance, a control surface on a wing moving slightly too much or too little — can result in a major deviation from the target. That may explain why one Kinzhal appears to have struck a car in Kyiv on Thursday, rather than a target with more military significance.
And like any hypersonic missile, the Kinzhal’s flight path reaches into the uppermost regions of Earth’s atmosphere before arcing back toward the earth for finer maneuvers. It can be detected by space-based sensors, though U.S. defense officials say those systems are insufficient against hypersonics.
Why would Russia use so much of its hypersonic arsenal in one wave?
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency has estimated Russia had, before the volley fired Thursday, no more than 50 Kinzhals, Mr. Ihnat said. Why Russia decided to fire six of them — potentially more than a tenth of its total arsenal — is unclear.
“For one reason or another, they needed a result” this time, Mr. Ihnat said.
But Russia may be able to replenish the Kinzhals relatively easily. Since the Kinzhal is simply a modified version of an existing missile, it could be easier to produce than, say, creating more Zircons, which have to be built from scratch.
Will the use of Kinzhals change the war?
Not necessarily, even if Russia can produce more Kinzhals relatively rapidly. Even though more of Russia’s missiles than usual got through on Thursday, an air war alone will not be decisive.