Russian Su-34 reportedly capable of firing Kinzhal hypersonic missile

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A Russian Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft is said to have fired a Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a mission in Ukraine. This would mark the first use of the Kinzhal by this aircraft. 

“The Su-34 fighter jet used the Kinzhal hypersonic missile in the special military operation [the Russian terminology for its invasion of Ukraine – ed. note],” a Russian defense official told the state news agency TASS. “The first crew who successfully accomplished such a task will receive state awards.” 

The time or location of the launch was not specified.

What is the Kinzhal hypersonic missile?

The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is a hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile that can reach a top speed of between Mach 10 and Mach 12 (10 or 12 times the speed of sound). It is based on the first stage of the 9K720 Iskander ground-launched ballistic missile, with the addition of a booster to bring it to hypersonic speeds in the atmosphere. Based on its similarities with the Iskander, its mass is estimated at around 4,300 kilograms (9,500 pounds).  

Until now, it had only been officially fired by specially modified MiG-31K heavy interceptors, which can reportedly carry up to 9,000 kilograms (20,000 pounds) of payload, reach a top speed of up to Mach 2.83 (3,500 kilometers per hour), and an altitude ceiling of over 25,000 meters (82,000 feet).  

In comparison, the Su-34 has a similar maximum payload, reported at around 8,000 kilograms (18,000 pounds), though some sources claim it can carry up to 12,000 kilograms (26,000 pounds) of ordnance. Its flight performances, however, are more modest with a reported speed of Mach 1.53 (1,900 kilometers per hour) and a maximum flight altitude of 17,000 meters (55,000 feet). Thus, the Kinzhal capabilities should also be reduced when fired from a Su-34.

The Kinzhal is one of several hypersonic weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 and aimed at countering NATO’s air defense systems. It was the first one to be used in a combat mission, with strikes first reported in Ukraine in March 2023. 

A spokesperson from the US Department of Defense reported the interception of a Kh-47 hypersonic missile over Kyiv on May 4, 2023, by the recently deployed Patriot air defense system. 

The warhead of a Kinzhal missile as displayed in Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise (Credit: Kyiv City State Administration) 

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