From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Kinzhal Missile
Mains level : Not Much
Russia said that it had unleashed hypersonic missiles against an arms depot in Ukraine, the first use of the next-generation weapons in combat.
- It is a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile that flies at 10 times the speed of sound and can overcome air-defence systems. Kinzhal means ‘dagger’.
- The missile has a range of approximately 1,500-2,000km and can carry a nuclear payload or conventional payload of 480 kg.
- The Kinzhal was one of an array of new weapons Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in his state-of-the-nation address in 2018. Putin had termed Kinzhal as “an ideal weapon”.
- This is the first time that Russia has admitted to using the high-precision weapon in combat.
- Following launch, the Kinzhal rapidly accelerates to Mach 4 (4,900 km/h), and may reach speeds of up to Mach 10 (12,350 km/hr).
What is a hypersonic weapon?
- They are normally defined as fast, low-flying, and highly manoeuvrable weapons designed to be too quick and agile for traditional missile defence systems to detect in time, according to Bloomberg.
- Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons don’t follow a predetermined, arched trajectory and can maneuver on the way to their destination.
- The term “hypersonic” describes any speed faster than five times that of sound, which is roughly 760 miles (1,220 kilometers) per hour at sea level.
- At hypersonic speeds, the air molecules around the flight vehicle start to change, breaking apart or gaining a charge in a process called ionization.
- This subjects the hypersonic vehicle to “tremendous” stresses as it pushes through the atmosphere.
Types of hypersonic weapons
- There are two main types of these weapons — glide vehicles and cruise missiles.
- Most of the attention is focused on the former, which are launched from a rocket before gliding to their target, because of the challenges of achieving hypersonic propulsion of missiles.
- The missiles have engines called scramjets that use the air’s oxygen and produce thrust during their flight, allowing them to cruise at a steady speed and altitude.
Who has these weapons?
- US, China and Russia have the most advanced capabilities.
- Several other countries are investigating the technology, including India, Japan, Australia, France, Germany and North Korea, which claims to have tested a hypersonic missile.
- In fact, India is also closing in on having such weapons in its arsenal.
- Last year, India successfully tested its hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV), powered by a scramjet engine.
- The HSTDV will serve as a crucial building block in the development of long-range hypersonic weapons, which will take at least another four to five years to become a reality.
Back2Basics: Types of Missiles
(1) Subsonic missiles
- They travel at a rate slower than the speed of sound.
- Most well-known missiles, such as the US Tomahawk cruise missile, the French Exocet, and the Indian Nirbhay, fall into this category.
- These travel at about Mach-0.9 (705 mph), and are slower and easier to intercept, but they continue to play a significant role in modern battlefields.
- They significantly less expensive to produce because the technological challenges have already been overcome and mastered.
- Due to their low speed and small size, subsonic missiles provide an additional layer of strategic value.
(2) Supersonic missiles
- They are the one that travels faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1) but not faster than Mach-3.
- Most supersonic missiles travel at speeds ranging from Mach-2 to Mach-3, or up to 2,300 mph.
- The Indian/Russian BrahMos, currently the fastest operational supersonic missile capable of speeds of around 2,100–2,300 mph, is the most well-known supersonic missile.
(3) Hypersonic Missiles