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Russia leaps ahead of rivals to showcase 'hypersonic' Kinzhal missile

Matthew Bodner

Russia has published a video showing the launch of a new missile in its latest move in a high-tech arms race to develop and field guided weapons capable of hypersonic speeds.

In a follow-up to President Vladimir Putin's unveiling of several new nuclear super weapons last week, he Russian Defense Ministry unveiled a video clip showing a jet launching the "Kinzhal".

Russia is racing against China and the United States to develop hypersonic - highly supersonic - missiles. The majority of these efforts focus on a technique known as boost-glide weapons that use intercontinental ballistic missiles to propel gliders to hypersonic speeds.

China and the United States were previously thought to lead Russia in this area. But Kinzhal, or Dagger, appears to skip the line and claim early leadership in the hypersonic race.

The missile appears to be a heavily modified version of Russia's Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, which are nuclear-capable. It is launched from the air by a MiG-31 fighter jet.

In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Sunday, March 11, 2018, a MiG-31 fighter jet of the Russian air force launches the new Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a test in southern Russia  Credit: AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

Designed by the Soviets to intercept American bombers, the MiG-31 is both extremely fast and high-flying — making it an ideal launcher for Kinzhal.

When the weapon is dropped from the plane, it is already in thin air and traveling at high speeds. After separating from the plane, Kinzha's engine ignites to propel it to 10 times the speed of sound. The video shows one of the missiles mounted below an MiG-31 as it takes flight. Close shots of the missile’s engines were blurred out.

The final seconds of the video show the large missile dropped from below the plane. After falling for several seconds, the engine erupts and the weapon arcs away. Russia claims the weapon is already operational, unlike some of the other, more fantastical, weapons announced by Putin last week — such as a nuclear-powered cruise missile.

In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Sunday, March 11, 2018, a Russia's Kinzhal hypersonic missile flies during a test in southern Russia Credit: AP Photo/ Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

The video appears to back up those claims, or at least suggests the weapon is significantly far along in its development.

Russia claims the missile’s warhead is capable of maneuvering at extreme speeds to confuse enemy missile defenses. Though Russia’s current weapons have the ability to best missile defenses, the issue is being used to justify new defense spending.

Kinzhal gives Russia early hypersonic strike abilities while it pursues boost-glide weapons to match those under development in China and the United States. Putin announced the development of such a system, known as Avangard, in his speech last week. Other weapons included massive nuclear torpedoes and underwater drone submarines.