These are the key differences between Kinzhal and Zircon Hypersonic Missiles, Russia’s two mainstay weapons.

Difference between Kinzhal and Zircon Hypersonic Missiles

Kinzhal and Zircon Hypersonic Missiles, Russia’s two mainstay weapons, are considered to be Russia’s two best weapons, but what makes these lethal, and what the differences between them are?

Let’s find out  the differences between Kinzhal and Zircon Hypersonic Missiles

The Russian-Ukrainian war has indirectly raised the prestige of hypersonic weapons to the surface.  Moreover, Russia has officially confirmed using hypersonic missiles on the Ukrainian battlefield for the first time.

 The Russian Ministry of Defense admits that it fired a Kinzhal hypersonic missile at an ammunition depot in the vicinity of Deliatyn in southwestern Ukraine on March 19, 2022. 

Russia has been developing hypersonic missiles since 1980, and its armed forces currently use three of its most advanced models.

The three hypersonic missiles that Russia has successfully developed are the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, 3M22 Zircon, and Avangard (Hypersonic Glide Vehicle).

As one of Russia’s six newly developed strategic weapons, President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Kinzhal missile for the first time on March 1, 2018.

A week later, over Southwestern Russia, the Russian Aerospace Forces successfully launched a test version of the Kinzhal missile from a MiG-31B aircraft. 


The Kinzhal hypersonic missile, according to proponents of missile defense, can travel over 2,000 kilometers without refueling at a speed of more than Mach 10 and perform evasive maneuvers at any point during its flight.

The Kinzhal missile can carry a conventional warhead and can be replaced with a nuclear warhead weighing the same as 480 kg.

Kinzhal missile with MIG
Kinzhal missile with MIG

Kinzhal is an update to the Iskander-M ballistic missile system; therefore, labeling it hypersonic is a bit deceptive, considering practically all ballistic missiles reach Mach 5 or higher.

The Kinzhal missile, like the Iskander-M, has similar dimensions, namely 8 meters in length, 1 meter in body diameter, and a launch weight of around 4,300 kg. 

The Iskander-M missile is fired from the ground, while the Kinzhal missile is fired from the air by a Tu-22M3 bomber or a MiG-31K interceptor. This is the main difference between these two missiles. 

Kinzhal is an air-launched ballistic missile with a Mach 10 speed. The Kinzhal missile has a slightly different design than other missiles since it is intended to be found from the air.

It includes a rudder that is more compact and a missile tail that is intended to shield the engine nozzle while it is in flight.

Kinzhal missile targets are essential military facilities on the ground, such as airports, weapons depots, and command bases. Being launched from the air makes the Kinzhal missile challenging to detect and nearly impossible for counterair systems to intercept.


Unlike the Tsirkon or Zircon hypersonic missiles, The missile, which has the code name Zircon 3M22 or SS-N-33, is an anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile.

Kinzhal and Zircon Hypersonic Missiles

Zircon’s estimated range is 500 km at low levels and up to 750 km on semi-ballistic trajectories, but Russian media reports the range is as high as 1,000 km. The Zircon missile operates in two stages: the first with solid fuel and the second with a scramjet motor.

The Zircon missile has strategic value due to its speed of Mach 8 during April 2017 testing. During the flight, the Zircon missile is covered in a plasma cloud that absorbs radio frequency rays, making it invisible to radars.

The Zircon missile can penetrate speeds of Mach 9 and fly at an altitude of 30-40 km due to less air resistance.

Quoted from The War Zone, the Zircon missile is 8-10 meters long and carries a 300-400 kg warhead. The Zircon missiles are fired from the 3S-14 universal vertical launcher commonly housed for warships, submarines, and the Bastion mobile coastal missile launcher.

Zircon missiles are designed to destroy enemy warships and aircraft carriers, which is why they are widely deployed on warships and submarines.

 The Russian Navy has deployed Zircon missiles on the Admiral Gorshkov and Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, Gremyashchiy-class corvettes, and Yasen-class submarines.