In 2018, President Putin personally announced the existence of the Kh-47 “Dagger” weapon. He stated that the “Dagger” has the capability to overcome both current and future anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems.
The Russian Federation’s claim about the “Dagger” weapon sparked a myth of its extraordinary capabilities. However, Ukrainian anti-aircraft fighters have challenged this notion. The Russian Federation invested significant resources in developing, producing, and modifying carriers like the MiG-31K. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the MiG-31K lost its aerial combat capability due to the removal of equipment to reduce weight and accommodate the “Dagger” missile.
Hypersound is a term used to describe speeds faster than Mach 5, which is approximately 6,125 kilometers per hour or 1,702 meters per second. It is possible to achieve speeds beyond this mark. In 1959, the American experimental aircraft called the North American X-15 reached a speed of Mach 6.7 at an altitude of 31.1 kilometers. To reach such speeds, the X-15 was launched by a B-52 aircraft, which helped lift the X-15 to its maximum altitude.
While the X-15 demonstrated the ability to reach hypersonic speeds in the atmosphere, it’s important to note that there is a distinction between an “analog hypersonic missile” and a true hypersonic missile. The X-47 “Dagger” and similar Russian Wunderwaffe have only a loose connection to genuine hypersonic weapons.
Genuine hypersonic missiles refer to missiles that can maintain sustained hypersonic speeds throughout their flight, including within the Earth’s atmosphere. These missiles are designed to travel at speeds above Mach 5, with the ability to maneuver and strike targets accurately.
While the X-47 “Dagger” and other similar missiles may reach hypersonic speeds, they typically do so in a ballistic trajectory, meaning they follow a parabolic path without the ability to maneuver or sustain those speeds for an extended duration.
While achieving hypersonic speeds is possible, true hypersonic missiles are characterized by their sustained high-speed flight and maneuverability, which sets them apart from missiles that simply reach hypersonic speeds in a more limited manner.
The North American X-15 used a powerful engine called XLR99, which ran on a combination of liquid oxygen and anhydrous ammonia. This engine had a thrust of 250 kilonewtons, allowing the X-15 to reach speeds over Mach 6.7 during its flights.
It operated for about 80 seconds, consuming around 6.8 tons of fuel. The X-15 was essentially a manned rocket that could go to great altitudes but did not achieve orbit.
On the other hand, the Russian Kh-47 “Dagger” is carried by the MiG-31K aircraft. The MiG-31K takes the missile to a high altitude and then accelerates it further. The MiG-31K has a supersonic cruising speed of Mach 2.55 and can reach a maximum speed of Mach 2.7. It’s practical ceiling, or maximum altitude, is 21.5 kilometers, and it can go up to 30 kilometers in a dynamic climb.
It’s important to note that the X-15 and the Kh-47 “Dagger” have different capabilities and purposes. The X-15 was a manned rocket used for suborbital flights, while the Kh-47 “Dagger” is an aircraft-med missile. Each serves its own specific role in aerospace technology.
After being detached from the aircraft, the “Dagger” missile is accelerated using a solid-fuel booster to reach hypersonic speeds. It climbs to a higher altitude of around 40-60 kilometers, where the air is thin, and the heat generated by speed and friction is reduced.
The officially claimed maximum speed is up to Mach 10, but it’s more realistic to consider the limit around Mach 5, as we are referring to the peak speed.
As the “Dagger” approaches its target, it gradually slows down and no longer travels at hypersonic speeds once the booster stops functioning. This reduces the time for air defense and anti-missile defense systems to react.
The “Dagger” descends onto the target without an engine, traveling at a much lower speed than Mach 5. This approach addresses the requirements for guidance and the materials used in the missile’s construction.
The Soviet Union had a similar concept for a missile that could penetrate air defenses through high-altitude and high-speed flight, which was realized in the Kh-22 missile. The Kh-22 had a maximum speed of Mach 3.5 and could reach altitudes of up to 25 kilometers.
The X-15 was a rocket-powered aircraft that could fly on different trajectories. It reached altitudes of up to 40 kilometers during aeroballistic flights and up to 90 kilometers during ballistic flights. It achieved speeds of up to Mach 5, which is considered hypersonic.
Unlike the X-22, which used a liquid-fuel engine, the X-15 had a solid-fuel engine. It had a range of up to 300 kilometers, which is half the distance compared to the X-22.
The “Dagger” missile follows the concept of previous missiles like the X-15 and Kh-22. However, it is important to note that the “Dagger” is not a true hypersonic missile because it lacks a hypersonic air-breathing engine. Such an engine would allow the missile to sustain hypersonic speeds by taking air as an atmospheric oxidizer.
The full designation of the “Dagger” missile, Kh-47M2, indicates that it still belongs to the category of prototypes and has not yet been officially adopted for service. Developing a genuine hypersonic missile requires the creation of a specific type of engine that can maintain hypersonic speed throughout its flight by utilizing atmospheric air.
Creating such an engine for sustained hypersonic flight is a highly complex task. It sets “Russian hypersonics” apart from conventional systems, similar to how a slingshot-thrown stone differs from an airplane. The Kremlin sought a “miracle weapon” to showcase exceptional capabilities and maintain its existence as a totalitarian regime.
While the Kh-47 “Dagger” may not be a true hypersonic missile, it remains a fast air-launched weapon that follows a ballistic trajectory. It poses a threat to targets and requires anti-missile defense systems to intercept it kinetically, meaning they physically destroy the incoming missile to neutralize the threat.