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Are Russia’s hypersonic missiles too good to be true?

Apr 18


Russia has reportedly used five of its new hypersonic Zircon missiles to target Kyiv since the beginning of 2024. Russia claims that these sea-based missiles, boasting a range of 625 miles and capable of traveling at nine times the speed of sound, are part of its family of “superweapons” aimed at penetrating the U.S. missile defense system.

However, Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan argues that these supersonic missiles might be more bluster than an actual threat. He contends that the missiles can often be detected from long distances and intercepted relatively easily. Zeihan further suggests that their accuracy is weak, as they frequently fly “blind” and “deaf,” which results in them missing their intended targets.

Excerpted from Peter’s April 18 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Today, we’re talking about the “unstoppable” hypersonic missiles that the Russians have been hyping up over the past few years. Spoiler alert: this is just the handy work of the hyperbolic-Russian-propaganda-machine.

The hypersonics in question are the Kinzhal and Zircon, which are indeed some advanced missiles. However, we’ve already seen instances of these being intercepted with existing defense systems, such as the U.S. Patriot. There are also several other factors that help deconstruct this Russian lie, including flight path limitations, reduced accuracy and warhead size due to high speeds, and vulnerabilities at lower altitudes.

Sure, these are advanced weapons that should be taken seriously, but these are nowhere near the game-changing level that the Russians have made them out to be.

Hi, everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado. And today we’re gonna talk about hypersonic missiles in the context of the Ukraine war with the Russians are claiming and what the reality of the weapon systems are. There are two hypersonic weapons systems, the Kinzel on this Icron that the Russians have been trumpeting around for about 10 years now, since they were first tested. In theory that Kinzel can go Mach six to Mach eight, in theory, this icon can go Mach seven to Mach 10. And the idea is that when weapons can achieve these sorts of speeds, there’s no reaction time that can be worked with, and so they can hit their targets. That’s it, it’s over. And so everyone has been really paranoid about hypersonics getting into the system of late because the fear is it’s going to obviate a whole generation of military technology in the United States around the world. Not so fast. Let’s start with what is happening right now. So far this year, there have been a couple of dozen hypersonics fired off in Ukraine, almost all of which had been intercepted. The kindles the US Patriot system has shown that it can easily handle a Kinzel. And it was just in March that we got some debris we the Ukrainians got some debris from some xYc grounds that they shot down to them while identifying because we haven’t really seen these in combat before. But the point is, pre existing weapons systems are perfectly capable of defending against these new weapons. A few things you need to keep in mind when you’ve talked about hypersonics. First of all, according to the Russians, there’s never been a failed test of his Icron. So you know, from identification, to development, to testing to field testing to Operation never want, and I’m sorry, I’m sorry. No, no, no, no. There are more failures with oatmeal than what the Russians are claiming with with supposedly their top of the line missile system. That’s just not true. The Russians are doing something that’s called lying. But let’s assume for the moment that there’s telling the truth, what’s the second factor? The second factor is flight path. It sounds cool. You say, Well, I can hit Mach 10. But can you hit Mach 10. When it matters, it appears that when these missiles are launched, or launched from a supersonic jet, that is already going Mach two, her Mach three, and then they have several mock ratings tacked on above that. But these things are being launched high altitude, where there’s hardly any atmosphere. That means that they can be tected from a great distance away. If they’re going to drop down to the surface to skirt radar, they hit thicker atmosphere and slow down considerably. In the case of the Kindles, we know they dropped down below Mach two, which puts them well in the range of a normal missile that costs 1/10 as much. And again, this is moving to the speed that a patriot is perfectly capable of intercepting. Number three is accuracy and warhead. The faster you go, the more fuel you need, the smaller the warhead you’re going to carry. So the more important it is that you hit exactly what you’re aiming at, as opposed to the general area. Well, this is a problem for hypersonics. In general, because the faster a missile goes, the more compressed the air running across it skid is and it heats up to even turns into a like a little bit of like a plasma with ionization, well, that scrambles sensors, and that scrambles telemetry, which basically makes the missile blind and deaf. And so if the target moves at all, like say, a ship, it’s going to miss it’s going to always miss. Which brings us to the fourth category, which is defenses. As mentioned, the Patriot is on pretty well against the systems in Ukraine, even when not operated by people who have been training on the systems for the last several years. But here’s the kicker, the US patriots as good as they are, are nowhere near top of the line air defense for the United States. It’s just the best that we can cram onto a truck static sites that you as bases or larger systems that are built on the warships or are much more accurate have much greater reach, in fact, can even shoot down things in low Earth orbit. Which means that if you have a supersonic that’s launched from the sky, as opposed to down low, you’re gonna see it coming a far more than a mile away and existing substance are more than capable of taking it out. So does this mean we don’t need to worry about hypersonics? Well, let’s not overplay this. It’s a new weapons system and if anyone can figure out how to make it work, it will be something that adjusts the battlefield. But so far, it’s certainly not a game changer and so far I am absolutely not concerned about the ones that the Russians are fielding.

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