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Russia's hypersonic 'Kinzhal' missile strike claim is a dud, defense experts say

"I would not see it as a game changer," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said of the alleged launch.

Published: March 20, 2022 6:59pm

Updated: March 20, 2022 10:51pm

Russia's claim that it launched a hypersonic missile against a military depot in Ukraine has drawn skepticism from Western defense sources who say the alleged strike came from a 1980s-era system that likely did not hit the presumed target.

Russia announced on Saturday that it fired its much-vaunted hypersonic Kinzhal missile for the first time in a war setting, demolishing a Ukrainian underground arms warehouse in the country's western sector. The report prompted commentators to note that the attack, if true, in part demonstrated that the U.S. has not kept pace with Russian hypersonic technology.

But the Kinzhal is "nothing special," defense sources told Just the News.

"Yes, it's a hypersonic missile, but so are all the other ballistic missiles anywhere," a Pentagon official said. The official is not authorized to speak to the press and spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Anything that can exceed around 3,800 miles per hour is technically hypersonic. This is nothing new."

Neither is the Kinzhal, the official said. At least, not technically. "It's an upgrade of a system that was developed in the 1980s," the official said. "The name is new."

In a TV interview on Sunday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin did not verify whether Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the Kinzhal into Ukraine.

"I cannot confirm or dispute whether or not he's used those weapons," Austin said on the CBS news program "Face the Nation."

Even if he did use them, Austin said, he wouldn't be impressed.

"I would not see it as a game changer," Austin said. 

Others doubted whether the Kremlin showed authentic video when announcing the alleged strike.

Writers for The Drive questioned whether Russia actually launched a Kinzhal, writing on Saturday that the claim "doesn't all add up."

The journalists later updated their story to write that the alleged strike video did not portray a hit on a weapons depot in western Ukraine. 

"We can now say for certain that the strike depicted happened nowhere near the western part of the country and not at some major military weapons storage area," the authors wrote. "It happened at a heavily bombarded rural area in the far eastern area of Ukraine."

Putin used the Kinzhal missile as expected, in order to achieve war aims, Austin said.

"I think again, the reason that he's resorting to using these types of weapons is because he's trying to reestablish some momentum," he said, reiterating, "I don't think that this in and of itself will be a game changer."

The Kremlin in 2018 announced that the Kinzhal — which means "dagger" in Russian — was online and ready for war.

The system would "help deter possible adversaries from rushing headlong into action," Russia's Aerospace Force Commander-in-Chief Sergei Surovikin said, according to the Russian news agency,Tass.

"The missile's maneuvering at speeds exceeding the speed of sound by several times allows it to reliably breach all air defense and anti-ballistic missile defense systems that exist or are being developed," Surovikin said. 

The Pentagon chief on Sunday questioned why Putin would use and announce a hypersonic strike: "Is he running low on precision-guided munitions? Does he have like complete confidence in the ability of his troops to reestablish momentum?" 

The Kinzhal hypersonic missile is carried aboard MiG-31K fighter jets, and is believed to have a range of 1,240 miles. Other countries that have been building hypersonic weapons include the United States, China, and North Korea.

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