Can Patriot Missile Defense Destroy Kinzhal Missile?

Can Patriot Missile Defense Destroy Kinzhal Missile? The question surrounding the ability of the Patriot air defense system to neutralize the Kinzhal missile has sparked intense debate within defense circles. Russia projects the Kinzhal missile to be an invincible Hypersonic weapon, while the United States regards the Patriot as a premier air defense system. Both sides are engaged in a series of claims and counterclaims.

In this article, we will analyze the capabilities of the Patriot against the strengths of the Kinzhal missile and attempt to determine whether the Russian missile can evade the Patriot Missile Defense or if the defense system will eliminate the Kinzhal missile.

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at these two systems. Moscow claims that its Kinzhal Hypersonic missile system, also known as “Dagger,” is unstoppable. The missile’s design is derived from the Iskander missile, originally a ground-launched system. Several enhancements have been made to its guidance system to enable air-launch capabilities.

Can Patriot Missile Defense Destroy Kinzhal Missile?
Russian MIg-31 with Kinzhal Missile

The missile is known for its ability to target both stationary and mobile objects, including aircraft carriers, missile defense systems, and land-based targets. A standout feature of the Kinzhal missile is its remarkable speed, reaching up to Mach 10, or approximately 7,600 miles per hour. This speed advantage significantly reduces the window of opportunity for countermeasures, providing a tactical edge over slower and lighter cruise missiles.

The Kinzhal missile boasts a reported range of 1,200 miles from a MiG-31K aircraft and a range of 1,900 miles from a Tu-22M aircraft. These range figures are calculated by adding the missile’s range to the combat radius of the respective aircraft. This extended range enhances operational flexibility, extends coverage over a larger geographic area, and reduces risk by allowing the missile to be fired from safer distances. The Kinzhal’s high-speed maneuverability fundamentally changes combat dynamics, outmatching conventional missiles.

It can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads, making it a strategic weapon of unprecedented deterrence. Its ability to deliver devastating payloads at Hypersonic speeds adds complexity to global security dynamics. The production cost of a single Kinzhal missile is upwards of $10 million.

In contrast, the Patriot is a sophisticated surface-to-air guided missile system designed to detect and intercept incoming missiles and aircraft. A typical Patriot battery comprises a radar set, engagement control station, power generation support stations, and eight launch vehicles.

Pac 3 Patriot missile defense system
Pac 3 Patriot missile defense system

The Patriot Missile Defense System has two missile types, each with its own range capabilities. The PAC-2 variant can intercept and destroy aircraft and tactical ballistic cruise missiles through a proximity fusing mechanism, which detonates the warhead near the incoming target, creating a blast wave that destroys it. This missile can reach speeds exceeding 3,146 miles per hour and intercept targets at distances over 99 miles.

On the other hand, the PAC-3 is optimized for intercepting and destroying incoming objects through a hit-to-kill technology, involving physical collision with the target to neutralize it. This makes the PAC-3 more effective against advanced ballistic missiles equipped with decoys or countermeasures.

It has a range of 37 miles and can engage incoming targets at high altitudes with speeds over 3,146 miles per hour. By using both missile types in tandem, the Patriot system achieves a success rate of 80% to 90%. According to strategic and international studies, a single Patriot battery costs about $1.1 billion, including $400 million for the system and $700 million for the missiles.

The Kinzhal system boasts a remarkable top speed of Mach 10, making it exceptionally fast for engaging targets at Hypersonic velocity. On the other hand, the Patriot system operates at Mach 4, providing substantial speed for its interception role. Moscow projects the Kinzhal missile as a Hypersonic weapon.

Can Patriot Missile Defense Destroy Kinzhal Missile?

Generally, Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds exceeding Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound. Renowned for their speed and maneuverability, they are challenging to intercept. Some defense analysts believe that the Kinzhal is not part of a new class of hard-to-kill missiles that exclusively includes highly maneuverable Hypersonic Glide Vehicles capable of maintaining Hypersonic speeds throughout their flight. The Kinzhal uses the same evasive technique as the Iskander missile. It jinks slightly at random intervals, which is enough to defeat ballistic interceptors.

However, the Patriot system can detect and correct these maneuvers, making it a formidable defense.

Additionally, achieving sustained Hypersonic flight is primarily possible during the initial phase at high altitudes, usually above 40,000 feet. However, the Kinzhal must descend from this altitude to reach its intended target, subjecting it to aerodynamic drag, significantly reducing its speed during the terminal phase.

This may transition it to subsonic or moderately supersonic speeds, similar to conventional ballistic missiles. The PAC-3 can intercept the Kinzhal at this range and altitude, as the Patriot is designed to shoot down such targets. The Kinzhal continues to pose a significant threat due to its deployment of decoys, much like the Iskander missile. These decoys are released at high altitudes to resemble incoming missiles.

Can Patriot Missile Defense Destroy Kinzhal Missile?

In comparison, a single Patriot launcher can mix and match stock PAC-2 or PAC-3 missiles. A Patriot battery with eight launchers could have as few as 32 PAC-2 missiles or as many as 128 PAC-3 missiles. The PAC-3’s maneuverability makes it ideal for intercepting threats like the Kinzhal. The Patriot’s phased array radar can track over 100 targets simultaneously at ranges exceeding 93 miles.

Can Patriot Missile Defense Destroy Kinzhal Missile?
Patriot’s phased array radar

With 128 PAC-3 missiles armed and a 90% accuracy rate, the Patriot has a better chance of intercepting a couple of dozen Kinzhal. Unless the Patriot system is overwhelmed by a massive onslaught of Russian missiles, Russia must deploy a large fleet of MiG-31s or Tu-22M aircraft for such an operation. This deployment could potentially trigger alerts on NATO’s radar system.

Additionally, Russia’s operational options are limited due to Western sanctions and a limited stock of Kinzhal missiles. However, Moscow likely holds additional missiles in stock, ensuring further rounds in the ongoing Patriot vs. Kinzhal contest.

In summary, regardless of the official classification of the Kinzhal as a Hypersonic weapon, it remains a formidable threat due to its remarkable speed, maneuverability, and versatile warhead configuration. In contrast, the Patriot system excels in accurate and precise engagements against aerial threats. The effectiveness of both systems ultimately hinges on the ratio of available Kinzhalmissiles for an attack and the number of Patriot missiles available to counter those attacks.