The new weapons described in President Putin’s March 1 state of the union address were dismissed by US officials and the mainstream media. Many Western analysts expressed skepticism. He was just bragging, wrote the Washington Post. White House spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the video he showed was “cheesy.”
But on March 11, the world saw the test of the new Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-to-surface missile. The posted video footage is far from cheesy. It shows a MiG-31 aircraft launching a Kinzhal carried on its under-fuselage pylons. The missile is capable of traveling ten times faster than the speed of sound and is able to hit sea and land targets as far as 2,000 km away. The MiG-31B also boasts a speed of Mach 2.83 and a range of 1,450 km, or up to 2,200 km if the plane is refueled in flight. These features greatly increase the aircraft’s killing range and allow the missile to be transported rapidly to the launch area.
The Kh-47M2 missile can handle very complex flight profiles, conducting high-G maneuvers as it goes into its terminal approach. It can carry a nuclear or conventional warhead. Over 250 test flights have been conducted this year. It would not be a great surprise to see the Kinzhal being used in Syria. Once this missile is operational, US aircraft carriers and other sea targets will become easy prey. No air or ballistic missile defense (BMD) will be able to protect sites on the ground.
The Russian defense industry has made manifest progress in recent years. It has met the American challenge and even pulled ahead of the US in the production of super weapons, including the systems capable of hypersonic flight. No other country is remotely close to being able to produce these.
And it’s not just the Kinzhal. There are other systems in the inventory of the Russian armed forces that Americans have been trying to develop on their own, but with no real success. Russia’s new Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile, which will be put in service this year, is a good example. It poses a challenge to US naval supremacy on the high seas. Hypersonic systems are now part of Russia’s arsenal but America still has a long way to go before their versions are operational. US analysts admit this. Now America is going to have to make a real push if it wants to catch up.
The US has always touted its advantage in stealth technology but thanks to the weapons listed by President Putin, that is no longer a magic bullet that can penetrate an enemy’s defenses. Russia has made a quantum technological leap. Electronic warfare countermeasures and complex flight trajectories are no longer needed. Hypersonic weapons virtually neutralize the most sophisticated missile-defense systems.
Once such weapons are operational, this changes the whole concept of air defense. US BMD, both global and continental, has lost its relevance. Many years of effort have gone down the drain. Only the Russian S-500 can engage targets traveling at M5.0-M6.0. Air and missile defense is yet another domain in which Russia’s leadership is uncontested.
This is reality. The US may like it or not, but in this context preventing an arms race has taken on special importance. A strategic dialog is a much better alternative to a strident confrontation.
After President Putin’s landmark address was delivered, a group of US senators wrote a letter asking the administration to begin negotiating with Russia on arms control. The video footage posted by Russia’s Ministry of Defense provides evidence to confirm the Russian president’s claims. President Trump’s planned visit to North Korea in May is good news and many hopes rest on it. The problems that need to be discussed are urgent. So is the issue of the eroding system of arms control. After all, Moscow poses a far greater threat to Washington than Pyongyang. Changing its approach to US-Russian relations is in keeping with Washington’s interests. Actually, the first step was taken on Sept. 12 in Finland. Now is the time to take another. It must be done, because President Putin was not trying to impress anyone. He was just stating the facts.