Over the weekend we looked at early reports that Russia had struck an ammunition storage site in Ukraine using one of their next-generation Kinzhal hypersonic aeroballistic missiles. The initial report drew questions from analysts for a couple of reasons. First of all, there hadn’t been any confirmation of the strike initially. And if it were true, it would be seen as a very provocative move by Putin, perhaps trying to cow the Ukrainian people into submission. At the time, I speculated that our intelligence agencies are monitoring everything that’s going on in the region using satellite surveillance systems, so we would likely know sooner or later. That turned out to be the case and yesterday President Biden confirmed the incident, proclaiming that this event proves that Putin’s “back is against the wall.” (NY Post)
President Biden on Monday confirmed that Russia launched a hypersonic missile in Ukraine over the weekend and said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s may launch cyberattacks against the US and use chemical weapons in Ukraine next because his “back is against the wall.”
Biden said Ukraine’s military is “wreaking havoc on the Russian military,” making Putin increasingly desperate in his nearly month-old invasion of Ukraine.
“The more his back is against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he may employ,” Biden warned at a Business Roundtable event after the White House earlier in the day implored US companies to enhance cyberdefenses.
I’m not inclined to doubt the veracity of the report because quite frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past Mad Vlad these days. In fact, we’re lucky the missile had a conventional warhead on it rather than a nuke, assuming it really was a Kinzhal. But not all analysts seem to be convinced thus far. Others are saying that even if Russia really did unleash a hypersonic missile, it was really just hype to advance Putin’s narrative rather than some dramatic escalation in a military sense. (NBC News)
U.S. officials and military experts say, what Russia has unleashed appears to be hypersonic hype about a potentially devastating weapon.
“It’s a bit of a head-scratcher to be honest with you,” a Pentagon official told NBC News on Monday. “If it’s true, why would you need a hypersonic missile fired from not that far away to hit a building?”
Military experts said the only reason Russian President Vladimir Putin would resort to using this kind of weaponry against the outgunned Ukrainians at this point would be to score propaganda points.
The Pentagon officials that NBC spoke to make some pretty good points as to why this was a strange decision on Putin’s part. First of all, our intelligence sources believe that Russia doesn’t have very many of those missiles in stock yet. And they’re incredibly expensive to build, making it unlikely that more are rolling off the production line while the country’s economy is imploding and the ruble is basically worthless.
Also, it was a total waste of resources to use one of the Kinzhal missiles to take out a building. It’s a weapon that is designed to evade missile defense systems. And Ukraine has never really had any sort of advanced missile defense technology. On top of that, they only loaded it up with a conventional explosive that could have been carried by older missiles at a fraction of the price.
Putin was essentially trying to put on a show of strength, demonstrating to the world that he’s in charge of one of the most advanced military machines on the planet. But who exactly was he trying to impress? Probably not the Ukrainians, for whom that strike was just another conventional rocket hitting one of their buildings, albeit a really fast and expensive one.
Is this another sign that Putin’s judgment is faltering, leaving his grip on reality in question? Perhaps. But in yesterday’s statement, Joe Biden didn’t seem to have all that clear of a grasp on the picture either. He claimed that Russia “just launched their hypersonic missile because it’s the only thing that they can get through with absolute certainty.”
As already stated, there is almost no sort of missile defense system in place guarding Ukraine against conventional missile attacks. All of the shattered cities and civilian centers demonstrate this fact clearly. So it’s clearly not true that a hypersonic weapon is required to “get through with absolute certainty.” And it’s not as if they were sending a surgical strike to try to take out Zelenski. The target was an ammo dump. If they missed they could have just tried again.
In any event, even if we assume that the strike over the weekend really was done with a hypersonic weapon, we probably won’t be seeing many more of them. The Russian government can’t afford to waste them at this point.