Ukraine says it downed a Russian hypersonic missile over the capital Kyiv using a newly acquired US Patriot defence system in what would be a first in its ability to intercept one of Moscow’s most modern weapons.
The Kinzhal missile is one of the latest and most advanced Russian weapons. Its military says the air-launched ballistic missile has a range of up to 2,000km (1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound, making it hard to intercept.
A combination of hypersonic speed and a heavy warhead allows the Kinzhal to destroy heavily fortified targets, such as underground bunkers or mountain tunnels.
“I congratulate the Ukrainian people on the historic event. Yes, we shot down the ‘unique’ Kinzhal,” Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said in a Telegram post on Saturday. “It happened during the nighttime attack on May 4 in the skies of the Kyiv region.”
It was the first time Ukraine is known to have used the Patriot missile defence system.
Oleshchuk said the Kh-47 was launched by a MiG-31K aircraft from Russian territory and was shot down with a single Patriot missile. The Ukrainian military has previously admitted lacking assets to intercept the supersonic weapon.
The Kinzhal, which means “dagger” in Russian, is one of six “next generation” weapons unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in 2018 when the Russian leader boasted it cannot be shot down by any of the world’s air defence systems.
The air-launched ballistic missile can reach speeds of up to Mach 10 (12,350 kilometres per hour) and is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads.
The Thursday air raid came a day after Russia accused Ukraine of a failed attempt to assassinate Putin in a drone attack on the Kremlin citadel in Moscow and threatened to retaliate.
Moscow has since accused Washington of involvement in allegations denied by both Ukraine and the United States.
Ukraine took its first delivery of the Patriot missiles in late April. It has not specified how many of the systems it has or where they have been deployed, but they are known to have been provided by the US, Germany and the Netherlands.
Germany and the US have acknowledged sending at least one system, and the Netherlands has said it provided two, though it is not clear how many are currently in operation.
Ukrainian troops have received the extensive training needed to be able to effectively locate a target with the systems, lock on with radar, and fire. Each battery requires up to 90 personnel to operate and maintain.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he first asked for Patriot systems when visiting the US in August 2021, months before Russia’s full-scale invasion but seven years after Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
He has described possessing the system as “a dream” but said he was told by US officials at the time it was impossible.
The Patriot was first deployed by the US in the 1980s. The system costs about $4m per missile, and the launchers cost $10m each, according to analysts.
At such a cost, it was widely thought Ukraine would only use the Patriots against Russian aircraft or hypersonic missiles.
The Patriot system is one of an array of sophisticated air defence units supplied by the West to help Ukraine repel a months-long Russian campaign of air raids that have targeted critical infrastructure, power facilities and other sites.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the attacks that Russia stepped up in October ahead of winter. The raids failed to cripple the power grid but caused sweeping power cuts and other outages. Russia denies targeting civilians.
The Ukraine air force on Saturday said it shot down eight Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones launched by Russia on the eastern and southeast Ukrainian regions in an overnight attack.