The Russian air strikes across Ukraine are the latest in a series aimed at hitting infrastructure, part of a regular pattern which has emerged in the last five months.
They are, however, the largest attacks for a while and included hypersonic as well as cruise missiles in their number. The former, in particular, poses great challenges for air Ukrainian air defences which have become increasingly adept at coping with swarms of drones used in previous raids.
Hypersonic missiles travel at five times the speed of sound, around 3,850 mph, are extremely difficult to track, can only by tackled by counter- hypersonic systems, and can destroy a target as sizeable as an aircraft carrier even without a warhead.
The Kinzhal — Dagger — was one among supposedly “invincible” weapons which Vladimir Putin first spoke about in an national address five years ago. Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced the deployment of the hypersonic missile system in Ukraine at the end of last year and US officials have subsequently charted their use in combat in the country.
Six Kinzhals were fired overall in the barrage of 81 missiles and eight drones. According to Nato estimates Russia’s arsenal has around 40 Kinzhals, so this was a significant proportion of them to be used in one assault.
The mix used by the Russians is aimed at gauging Ukrainian anti-aircraft and missile capabilities at different locations; a tactic which is likely to continue with both sides deploying increasingly sophisticated weapons in the conflict.
“The attack is really large-scale and for the first time using such different types of missiles. We see that this time as many as six Kinzhal were used. This is an attack like I don’t remember seeing before,” Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for the Air Force Command of Ukraine, said on Ukrainian television.