How Ukraine thwarted Russia's hypersonic missiles with its US Patriot defence system

Kinzhal or 'dagger' missiles can fly at 10 times the speed of sound, according to Moscow

A MiG-31 fighter jet of the Russian air force carrying a Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missile. AP
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Ukraine’s use of the US Patriot air defence system is proving to be a game-changer in the war with Russia, after its successful destruction of a number of Kinzhal hypersonic missiles earlier this week.

Kyiv has been pushing to obtain Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system, which has had a 96 per cent success rate in intercepting rockets.

But the venerable Patriot system has proved its spurs in the heaviest blitz seen on the capital.

The destruction of the six Kinzhal missiles headed towards Kyiv has called into question Ukraine's need for the Israeli defence system.

Israel has so far resisted in a bid to maintain relations with both sides, and has instead only provided Kyiv with humanitarian support and civil defences.

The Kinzhal, which means “dagger” in Russian, is one of six next-generation weapons unveiled in 2018 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who boasted that it could not be shot down by any of the world's air defence systems.

Ukraine has been using the Patriot air defence system, which stands for Phased Array Tracking Radar for Intercept on Target, as part of its arsenal against Russian attacks.

The mobile system, which has a radar range of more than 150km, has a control station, a power generator, launch stations and other support vehicles.

It was first used in combat during the 1991 Gulf War, with batteries protecting Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Israel, and it was later used during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Its success during Tuesday’s attack was described as “remarkable” by Ukraine’s defence spokesman Yuriy Ignat.

“This is a remarkable result,” he said. “As you see, Kyiv remains the main target. That is why it is well protected by some serious air defence means.”

Patriot was developed by Raytheon Technologies and is considered one of the most advanced air defence systems in the US arsenal.

A single newly produced Patriot battery costs more than $1 billion – $400 million for the system and $690 million for the missiles in the battery – according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Raytheon has built more 240 Patriot systems and they are currently used by 18 countries, including the US. The system has been in high demand in the Middle East because of the threat posed by Iran to the region.

According to Raytheon, the system has intercepted more than 150 ballistic missiles in combat since 2015.

What is the Patriot missile system the US is sending to Ukraine?

What is the Patriot missile system the US is sending to Ukraine?

To bolster its defences, Ukraine has also been testing an Israeli-designed missile detection system that would give residents more time to take shelter from Russian attacks.

Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, said the system – fed with data from Ukrainian radars – is now being tested in the capital.

“It allows for identifying the different objects, including ballistic missiles, and calculates where they will go and basically that allows us to close certain parts of the country rather than the whole country,” he said.

When complete, the system will warn residents of areas that are about to be struck by Russian missiles or drones, either by sounding sirens or through phone alerts.

Updated: May 19, 2023, 5:04 PM