Daily Current Affairs for UPSC

Hypersonic Missiles used by Russia on ‘Kyiv’

Syllabus- International Relations [GS Paper-2]


According to the military administration of Ukraine, Russia has used five of its new hypersonic Zircon missiles to attack Kyiv since the start of the year.

Hypersonic weapon

  • They are commonly defined as fast, low-flying, and highly manoeuvrable weapons designed to be quick and agile for conventional missile defence systems to detect in time.
  • Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons don’t comply with a predetermined, arched trajectory and can manoeuvre on the way to their destination.
  • The term hypersonic describes any speed faster than 5 times that of sound, that is roughly 760 miles (1,220 km) per hour at sea level.
  • At hypersonic speeds, the air molecules around the flight vehicle start to change, breaking apart or gaining a charge in a process called ionization.
  • This topics the hypersonic missiles to remarkable stresses as it pushes by the atmosphere.

Types of hypersonic weapons

  • There are two main types of those weapons – glide vehicles and cruise missiles.
  • Glide missiles are launched from a rocket before gliding to their targets. This is due to  the challenges of accomplishing hypersonic propulsion of missiles.
  • The missiles have engines known as scramjets that use the air’s oxygen and produce thrust in the course of their flight, allowing them to cruise at a constant speed and altitude.

Countries having hypersonic weapons

  • US, China and Russia have the most superior skills.
  • Several other countries are testing the technology, such as India, Japan, Australia, France.
  • North Korea claims to have tested a hypersonic missile.

India and hypersonic weapon

  • India is closing in on having such weapons in its arsenal.
  • In 2020, India successfully tested its hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV), powered by a scramjet engine.
  • The HSTDV will function as a crucial building block in the development of long-range hypersonic weapons, to be able to take some other 4 to 5 years to become a reality.


  • Kinzhal is an air-launched hypersonic missile with a mentioned range of 1,500-2,000km.
  • This missile can fly at 10 times the speed of sound and can overcome air-defence systems.
    • Following launch, the Kinzhal swiftly quickens to Mach 4 (4,900 km/h), and can reach hastens to Mach 10 (12,350 km/h).
    • The speed of the missile, combined with its erratic flight trajectory and excessive manoeuvrability, could complicate interception.
  • It can carry a nuclear payload of 480 kg. This is 33 times the yield of the Fat Man bomb dropped on Hiroshima.


  • According to Russia, the sea-based Zircon missiles have a range of 1,000 km and travel at 9 times the speed of sound.
  • If Russia’s claims are real, the Zircon missile should prevent the advanced US Patriot air defence system.
  • This is due to the fact, hypersonic pace can substantially lessen response time for air defences.
  • Basically, Zircon is a hypersonic cruise missile that is powered by a scramjet engine.
  • Scramjet engine uses the drift of air at supersonic speeds, compressed by the ahead motion of the missile, to force it ahead.
  • It reportedly includes a 300kilogram warhead.

Source: The Hindu

UPSC Mains Practice Question

Q.What are Hypersonic Missiles? Discuss their significance and the challenges in their adoption and use.(150 words)

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