After a day of denials, the Ukrainian Air Force has announced that a US-supplied Patriot air defense system has shot down a Russian Kh-47 Kinzhal (“Dagger”) hypersonic, air-launched ballistic missile. According to Ukrainian Air Force commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk, during a Russian missile attack on Kiev on the night of May 4, a Kh-47 launched by a Russian MiG-31K from over Russian territory was intercepted by a Patriot missile. Two Patriot missile batteries, one from the US and one from Germany, became operational this month after crews completed training in Germany and at Fort Sill, OK.
The Kh-47 is a low-end hypersonic missile. It reaches hypersonic speeds on terminal trajectory because it is an air-launched version of the Iskander ballistic missile. It cannot achieve hypersonic glide, and no new technologies, like a scramjet, are employed. This chart from CSIS classifies the Kh-47 as an aeroballistic missile at the low end of the hypersonic range.
CREDIT: CSIS via Twitter
This is not to say it is a slouch; on “short final,” it can reach speeds up to Mach 10. This video gives a superb rundown of what the Kh-47 is and isn’t.
The Russians have used the Kh-47 to strike targets in Ukraine since March 2022. Best estimates indicate they’ve fired less than 20 of them.
The Kh-47 was introduced to the world by Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018, back when people still paid attention to what he said. This article by The Drive details the six classes of weapons that Putin claimed would keep Russia in the front rank of military powers.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Missile Threat project, this weapon was designed to defeat the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. THAAD is designed to intercept anything short of an intercontinental ballistic missile in terminal phase.
This story popped up on social media yesterday, and I discounted it for a couple of reasons (my apologies to long-time RedStater “bk” for the short shrift I gave his input at the time). First, this was circulated as imagery of the wreckage.
The Ukrainian air defense troops likely shot down a Russian Kh-47 Kinzhal, a so-called "hyper-sonic" missile on May 4, probably using the newly delivered Patriot PAC-3 unit. The remnants of a downed missile point to that missile type.
— (((Tendar))) (@Tendar) May 5, 2023
The images only appeared from one angle, and I had a lot of questions about them. Enough bullsh** imagery has circulated in this war to make anyone following it very cautious unless there are multiple sources authenticating it. Second, initially, Ukrainian air defense commanders denied the interception.
This interception is significant because it demonstrates that the Patriot can intercept a modern ballistic missile launched from an aircraft. This is important because the Patriot in the hands of the Saudis has had a spotty track record defending against SCUD missiles fired by Houthi forces in Yemen. Russia has carried out a campaign to malign the Patriot system. This is from RT in an article headlined The Patriot Missile is a myth:
In both cases, the report concluded that in spite of official Saudi claims, neither missile was shot down and that Saudi Arabia may not have even tried to shoot down the first missile in November.
With little evidence that Saudi Arabia shot down any missiles fired by the Houthi rebels during the Yemen conflict, and the United States’ own failed experience with Patriot missiles during the first Gulf war, a more serious question is posed: who is to say that the Patriot system even works?
While the US army’s statement announcing the acquisition of the Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system clarified that it would be a short-term solution while the US reviews its options, by purchasing an Israeli system and overlooking a US system with a questionable past, the US may be admitting to the failings of its own missile defence.
More importantly, it shows that this rather mature system is up to defeating a top-of-the-line Russian system that was designed to defeat a much more capable THAAD system. Finally, it shows that Ukrainian crews can successfully use the Patriot to engage targets in a high-threat environment. This speaks volumes for the training of the Patriot crews and the sophistication of the Ukrainian early warning system.