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Current Affairs

Hypersonic missiles

Date: 24 March 2022 Tags: Military


Hypersonic missile has been used for the first time by the Russian army in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine.



The Russians used Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles to destroy an underground missile storage system.



  • Missiles that fly at the speed of Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound are termed as hypersonic missiles.

  • These missiles are different from ballistic missiles due to manoeuvrability. Ballistic missiles follow a fixed trajectory after launch.


Types of hypersonic missile system

  • Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles are the two types of hypersonic missile system.

  • The HGV are launched from a rocket before gliding to the intended target while the hypersonic cruise missile is powered by ‘scramjets’ after acquiring their target.


Benefits of hypersonic missiles

  • Conventional hypersonic weapons can destroy unhardened targets or even underground facilities using only kinetic energy i.e. energy derived from motion.

  • They can be used against distant, long-range and time critical threats due to their ability to strike accurately.



Detecting hypersonic missiles

  • The speed, manoeuvrability and low altitude of flight of hypersonic missiles make it difficult to be tracked.

  • Ground-based conventional radar systems are able to track hypersonic flights only when they are late in the flight towards target. 

  • The late detection makes it difficult to respond to the attack and use responders to intercept the missile.


Technology across the world

  • Russia’s hypersonic missile is known as ‘Kinzhal’ and has been in use since 2018. It has a maximum speed up to Mach 10.

  • China has the technology since 2021 and has used it onboard a nuclear capable hypersonic vehicle prototype.

  • The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of US is developing hypersonic missiles under its Navy’s conventional Prompt Strike Programme.

  • India, Australia, France, Germany and Japan are also working towards developing hypersonic weapons.


India’s hypersonic missiles programme

  • India’s hypersonic missile programme is indigenously developed and is of dual use--conventional as well as nuclear.

  • India has successfully tested Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle programme having a speed of Mach 6.