From Avangard to Zircon: How Far Do Russian Missiles Fly?

 / Go to the mediabankMulti-purpose fighters MiG-31 with the hypersonic Kinzhal rockets on the military parade devoted to the 73rd anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 / Go to the mediabankInternationalIndiaAfricaThe Russian and US militaries got into a shouting match this week after the Pentagon claimed a Patriot missile deployed in Ukraine shot down a Kinzhal missile. What are the capabilities of the Kinzhal and other major missile systems in Russia’s arsenal? Sputnik takes a look.A high-ranking source in Russia’s defense ministry mopped the floor with Pentagon claims about a Patriot missile shooting down a Russian Kinzhal, telling reporters Thursday that the Russian missile’s flight speed exceeds the capabilities of all anti-aircraft missile systems supplied by the West to Kiev to intercept it, “including the Patriot.””The anti-missile maneuver carried out by the Kinzhal in the final flight segment and the almost vertical approach to the target makes it impossible for anti-aircraft missile systems to intercept this weapon,” the source said.The explanation challenges assertions made by Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder Tuesday “confirm[ing] that [Ukraine] did down” a Kinzhal using a US-supplied Patriot. The shootdown claim goes back more than a week and originates from a Telegram post by Ukrainian Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk on May 6 that the Patriot downed a Kinzhal during a night raid over Kiev region on May 4.”We will be certain to report what, where, with what and when [missiles] are shot down! All in good time,” Oleshchuk promised.

It's been more than a week, and Ukraine has yet to provide any independently verifiable evidence. Instead, Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitschko posed with German media in front of a 'Kinzhal warhead' that looks nothing like the Kinzhal, with the tired-looking warhead featuring what appears to be moss growing out of it and slowly rusting.

What is the Kinzhal?

The Kinzhal (lit. ‘Dagger’) is one of half-a-dozen new strategic weapons unveiled by President Putin in a speech to lawmakers in March 2018. First entering combat duty in December 2017, and seeing extensive flight and combat testing, the nuclear-capable weapon was the first hypersonic missile system to be fielded by any country.Carried by modified MiG-31 jets, Tupolev Tu-22 or Tu-160 strategic bombers, Kinzhals have an operational speed of Mach 10-Mach 13 (11,200-14,500 feet/second), and an operational range of up to 2,000 km when launched from MiG-31Ks, or over 3,000 km when launched from Tu-22M3s. Fitted with an inertial navigation system, GLONASS, AWACS, and/or optical seeker to guide the missile to its target, the Kinzhal carries a 500 kg high explosive warhead, or, in nuclear mode, a 5-50 kiloton payload.Russia has used Kinzhals extensively in the proxy war with NATO in Ukraine, targeting ammunition and fuel depots, ports and – after last fall’s attack on the Crimean bridge, Ukrainian energy infrastructure. The missile’s 2,000 km range is sufficient to strike anywhere in the country. It is the only one of Russia’s new generation of strategic weapons to be used in Ukraine.MilitaryFact Check: Ukraine Didn’t Shoot Down Russia’s Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile10 May, 10:49 GMT

What are Russia’s Other Modern Strategic Weapons

What is the Avangard?

The Avangard (lit. “Vanguard”) is another of the advanced weapons platforms unveiled by Putin in his 2018 speech. The Avangard is a hypersonic glide vehicle carried aboard R-36 or RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as part of multiple reentry vehicle (MIRV) payloads. In service with the Strategic Rocket Forces since 2018, the nuclear-capable glide vehicles have a reported range of over 6,000 km, and an explosive power of between 0.8 and 2 megatons when armed with a nuclear payload. Combined with the range of their ICBM carriers, Avangards have what is effectively a global reach.World‘Eskimo Effect’: Putin Explains Avangard Hypersonic Glide Vehicle’s Operating Principle23 September 2020, 17:01 GMT

What is the Bulava?

The Bulava is a solid-fuel submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) with a range of up to 10,000 km. Introduced into the Navy in 2018, the Bulava is a replacement to the R-39 – which has a range of 8,300 km. Bulavas are capable of carrying between six and ten 100-150 kiloton MIRVs, which accelerate to speeds up to Mach 24 (28,600+ km/hour) during flight. The missiles are carried by Borei and Borei-A subs. Typically, these subs lurk below the surface in the seas near Russia’s Arctic and Pacific Ocean coasts, making their detection virtually impossible until launch. Bulavas maneuver in the boost stage, theoretically making it impossible for them to be intercepted by any current generation anti-ballistic missile system.WorldVideo: Russian Borei Class Sub Vladimir Monomakh Conducts Battery Launch of 4 Bulava Missiles12 December 2020, 15:49 GMT

What is the Sarmat?

The RS-28 Sarmat is the newest missile in Russia’s strategic arsenal, with the first missiles expected to join the Strategic Nuclear Forces in the current year. With a globe-spanning range of 18,000 km and a maximum speed of up to 25,500 kilometers per hour (about Mach 20), the silo or mobile carrier-launched missiles can carry up to 10 traditional MIRV warheads, a mix of MIRVs and Avangards, or a mix of MIRVs, Avangards and decoys. The Sarmat is the backbone of Russia’s ground-based strategic deterrent. The regular warheads maneuver in depth as they approach targets, making them almost impossible to intercept.MilitaryRussia’s Sarmat ICBM Can Correct Trajectory Even If Hit by Enemy Missile Defense, Designer Says22 September 2022, 12:55 GMT

What is the Zircon?

Last but not least is the Zircon – a scramjet-powered maneuvering hypersonic cruise missile designed specifically to target enemy ships, but which is also capable of engaging ground targets. The solid-fueled missiles – carried by launch platforms from surface warships to submarines, have a maximum firing range of between 400 and 1,000 km – well beyond standoff range. First introduced into service in January 2023, the Zircon is capable of accelerating to speeds up to Mach 9 (over 11,100 km per hour) during approach – nearly 11 times higher than the Tomahawk. Zircons are nuclear-capable, featuring a 300-400 kg warhead and, in nuclear mode, a throw weight of up to 200 kilotons.MilitaryRussian Frigate Admiral Gorshkov Test-Fires Zircon Missile in Atlantic: Video25 January, 06:23 GMT

Why Does Russia Have So Many Different Types of Modern Missiles?

Moscow began experimenting with hypersonic missile designs in the 1980s, but dramatically scaled back the development effort in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and attempts to gain the trust and respect of Washington and what Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev referred to as the so-called “civilized community of nations.” Russia dusted off these Soviet blueprints, and expanded on them to create entirely new designs, in the early 2000s, when the United States unilaterally scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 and began working on new missile defenses, as well as ‘Prompt Global Strike’ – an ambitious plan to engage in mass conventional missile-based decapitation strikes designed to destroy the strategic deterrent of enemy nations.”America’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 forced Russia to start developing hypersonic weapons,” President Putin recalled in a conversation with legendary Soviet and Russian rocket designer Gerbert Efremov in 2020.RussiaPutin: Russia Was Forced to Create Hypersonic Weapons After US Withdrew From Missile Treaty19 September 2020, 11:16 GMT”We had to create these weapons in response to the deployment of the US strategic missile defense system, which would have been able to neutralize and render obsolete our entire nuclear potential,” Putin said. Today, Putin said, “for the first time in modern Russia’s history, the country possesses the most modern types of weapons, which are far superior in terms of their force, power, speed, and very importantly, in terms of accuracy compared to all which existed before them and exist today.”In other words, had the US observed the post-Cold War aspirations of Russia to partner with and cooperate with the West instead of deliberately antagonizing and threatening it at every step, Moscow probably would have never embarked on the path of developing its strategic potential to the level it’s at today.


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