Understanding Hypersonic Missile Systems, Why Are They So Dangerous and Difficult to Intercept?

This week, Russia has bombarded Ukraine with hypersonic missile attacks that cannot be countered by the air defense systems of the former Soviet Union state. These attacks have destroyed the energy grid of Kyiv and caused power outages in various regions of Ukraine.

Currently, only three countries, namely Russia, the United States (US), and China, are known to possess hypersonic missile technology. These three countries are also developing new-generation hypersonic missiles, which will further enhance the capabilities of this weapon.

According to Scitechdaily, hypersonic missiles are difficult to intercept due to their maneuverability throughout their trajectory. These missiles can change their flight paths at any time as they soar towards their targets.

Furthermore, hypersonic missiles operate in a different part of the atmosphere compared to conventional missiles. Hypersonic weapons fly much higher than subsonic missiles, which are slower but much lower than intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Currently, no country has sufficiently good tracking coverage to detect this area.

Russia claims that some of its hypersonic weapons are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Whether true or not, this statement alone is alarming. If Russia uses this system to combat enemies, the country must decide whether the weapons used are conventional or nuclear.

The description of hypersonic implies that these missiles have the ability to fly much faster than the speed of sound, namely 761 miles per hour or 1,225 kilometers per hour at sea level and 664 miles per hour (1,067 kilometers per hour) at an altitude of 35,000 feet or 10,668 meters.

For comparison, passenger jets fly at speeds of less than 966 kilometers per hour, while hypersonic systems operate at speeds of 3,500 miles per hour or 5,633 kilometers per hour and higher.

Hypersonic systems have been in use for several decades. When John Glenn returned to Earth in 1962 from the first manned US orbital flight, his capsule entered the atmosphere at hypersonic speed.

All intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the world’s nuclear weapons arsenal are hypersonic, reaching maximum speeds of around 15,000 mph (24,140 km per hour), or about 4 miles (6.4 km) per second.

ICBMs are launched with large rockets and then fly along predictable trajectories that take them out of the atmosphere into space and then back into the atmosphere.

Although not as fast as ICBMs, the new generation of hypersonic missiles is launched with smaller rockets that keep them within the upper atmosphere.

Currently, there are three types of non-ICBM hypersonic weapons: aero-ballistic, boost-glide vehicles, and cruise missiles.

Aero-ballistic hypersonic systems are dropped from aircraft, accelerated to hypersonic speeds using rockets, and then follow a ballistic trajectory. The Kinzhal missile used by Russia to attack Ukraine falls under the aero-ballistic category, which has existed since the 1980s.

Boost-glide hypersonic vehicles are propelled with rockets to high altitudes and then glide to their target, maneuvering along the way. Examples of boost-glide hypersonic vehicles include China’s Dongfeng-17, Russia’s Avangard, and the US Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike system.

Meanwhile, hypersonic cruise missiles are propelled by rockets to reach hypersonic speeds and then use an air-breathing engine called a scramjet to maintain that speed. !!!!!!!

Because they intake air into their engines, hypersonic cruise missiles require smaller launch rockets than hypersonic boost-glide vehicles, making them cheaper and launchable from more locations.

Hypersonic cruise missiles are being developed by China and the US.