by Louis Mazzante, Popular Mechanics
Earlier this year, Russia fired its newest and most dangerous weapon from the belly of a MiG-31 fighter jet. When the hypersonic Kinzhal missile lit its rocket engines and shrieked across the sky at speeds up to Mach 5 toward a target in the Ukraine, it marked the first time a hypersonic weapon has been used in a conflict.
The Kinzhal and missiles like it are at the tip of a technological revolution in weapon development. These hypersonics can reach speeds up to Mach 10, but more importantly are highly agile. Existing ballistic missiles travel faster, reaching Mach 20 as they sail high above the earth’s atmosphere, where there’s less drag to slow them down. But to reach those speeds, ballistic missiles fly in predetermined arcs, like a cannonball, which makes them easy to track and shoot down. The next-gen hypersonic missiles can fly low (below 60,000 feet), adjust course midflight, and maneuver around missile-defense systems. Military analysts have called them “unstoppable.”
“Hypersonic weaponry represents the most significant advancement in missile technology since [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles] ICBMs,” wrote the authors of a 2021 report by security think tank RUSI. “[They] are on their way to undermining nuclear-deterrence postures and creating cracks in strategic stability by the mid-2020s.”
Russia is already testing a successor to the Kinzhal that uses air-breathing engines, like a jet, to fly at speeds up to Mach 9, making it even harder to detect and defend against. In all, Russia has three hypersonic weapons in use or development; China has three. The United States has yet to produce a fully functional hypersonic missile but is reportedly developing at least eight of them.
With only a few hypersonic weapons ready for combat, conventional missiles still rule the battlefield. In Ukraine, smaller rockets have proved critical for the country’s defense against Russia. Meanwhile, Russia has used its masses of conventional missiles to carry out deadly strikes on civilian targets. And with Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats, long-range intercontinental missiles and their megaton warheads are as relevant and dangerous now as at any point in our atomic history.
These are the 13 most dangerous missiles in the world. Hypersonics lead the way, but several conventional weapons still keep generals up at night; we included those, too.
1 – Kh-47M2 Kinzhal
Russia broke through the hypersonic missile barrier first, launching the Kinzhal (“Dagger”) from a MiG-31 fighter jet earlier this year. The Kinzhal is a modified version of the country’s Iskander, a ground-launched ballistic missile, but it has new aerodynamics and guidance systems that give it greater maneuverability. An advanced tail section and rudders allow the Kinzhal to evade air defenses, including the U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missile.
“We had to create these weapons in response to the U.S. deployment of a strategic missile defense system, which in the future would be capable of virtually neutralizing, zeroing out all our nuclear potential,” Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in 2020, referring to his country’s new hypersonic missiles.
Kinzhal can carry either a conventional warhead with 1,100 pounds of explosive, or a nuclear device of up to 500 kilotons. And Russia seems intent on showing off the weapon’s capabilities. This year, Russia has fired at least three Kinzhals with conventional warheads during the war against Ukraine. The effect so far has been underwhelming—one of those rockets misfired and landed inside Russia, injuring six civilians, including a firefighter. Some defense analysts have even called the Kinzhal “quasi-ballistic,” suggesting that it is less maneuverable than Russia claims.
2 – 3M22 Zircon
The first hypersonic weapon that launches and attacks entirely with its own propulsion system will be entering service soon. Unlike the Kinzhal, which catches a ride on a conventional missile, Russia’s Zircon uses a supersonic combustion ramjet engine—or scramjet—to reach speeds up to Mach 9. Unlike rockets, which are propelled by an internal mixture of fuel and oxidizer, this air-breathing engine ingests and compresses oxygen just like a jet engine. Zircon reportedly will carry nuclear or conventional warheads, and it has a greater range and more maneuverability than Russia’s conventional short-range missiles.
Russia says the weapon can be launched from submarines and ships, and a land-based version is reportedly also in development. Russian officials also claim that they have successfully tested Zircon and begun production, but it has yet to enter service. Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti in 2021 that the weapon has problems that need to be resolved before it’s ready for combat.
3 – Objekt 4202 Avangard
If Russia were to use nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine, they likely would be delivered by the country’s newest hypersonic missile, called Avangard, according to Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council.
This hypersonic glide vehicle (also known as Objekt 4202)—it hitches a ride on a conventional ballistic missile, then detaches to “glide” at hypersonic speeds toward its target—is a new warhead for ICBMs. Russian officials say it could be fitted on the country’s RS-28 Sarmat Heavy ICBM, known by NATO as Satan-2, which has a range of more than 11,000 miles.
Normal ICBM warheads follow a predictable path, which means they can be easily intercepted. But Avangard has jet-like moving control surfaces that allow it to change direction. Russian officials quoted in the country’s TASS news agency have claimed that it is “invulnerable to any missile defense system.”
Avangard reportedly can carry a two-megaton warhead. That’s about twice as powerful as the biggest U.S. nuclear weapon and about 130 times more destructive than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
4 – Dongfeng-17
Like Russia, China is ambitiously developing hypersonic weapons. One of the most significant is the DF-ZF hypersonic glide missile, which is carried by the country’s DF-17 “aircraft-carrier killer” rocket. While U.S. carrier groups have defenses that can shoot down traditional missiles, this combo would be far more challenging. Unlike most ballistic missiles, the DF-17 has a flat trajectory. It cruises at relatively low altitudes—below 60,000 feet or so—making it difficult to detect at long range. The DF-ZF would then detach and glide toward the target at speeds above Mach 5.
China based the DF-17 on its existing DF-16B short-range ballistic missile and unveiled the new weapon in 2019, when it was seen being transported by a 10-wheeled launch vehicle. China claims the missile is already in service. That should worry opposing naval fleets: The speed and mass of the weapon make it more destructive than existing anti-ship missiles (the DF-17 is about 20 times the size of America’s most common anti-ship missile, the 12-foot-long Harpoon), and the kinetic impact alone of one striking a ship at a mile per second would likely inflict catastrophic damage.
5 – Xingkong-2
In 2018, China claimed it successfully tested a new hypersonic cruise missile unlike anything else. Similar to Russia’s Zircon, the Xingkong-2 (Starry Sky-2) uses a scramjet engine, and it has the sleek silhouette of a stealth plane. But instead of wings, this missile is a “wave rider.” The missile effectively surfs on its own hypersonic shockwaves, generating lift without the increased drag that wings create. The U.S. tested similar designs on the experimental X-51 from 2005 to 2013 but never produced a viable weapon. The Xingkong’s scramjet engine and wave-riding design should make it highly agile with a long range, potentially with intercontinental reach. But despite successful testing, most analysts expect that this hypersonic is several years away from entering service.
6 – WZ-8
China unveiled another ambitious hypersonic project in 2019. Known as WZ-8, this uncrewed reconnaissance drone is believed to be the world’s only hypersonic aircraft. It is similar to the U.S.’s air-launched D-21 drone that is capable of Mach 3—but even faster. The WZ-8 is carried by a mothership, such as the H-6K, a twin-engine bomber that China has flown since 1969. After release, the WZ-8 ignites rocket motors and cruises at speeds around Mach 7 at altitudes higher than 80,000 feet before returning for recovery. WZ stands for Wu Zhen, or “no detection,” a name generally applied to stealth drones, so the WZ-8 likely will include stealth features. Like the SR-71 before it, the WZ’s speed and high ceiling should allow it to outrun surface-to-air missiles, making it a capable spy drone. However, some analysts believe China may equip the WZ-8 with a warhead, using its disguise as an intelligence-gathering drone to carry out a surprise attack.
7 – AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW)
As the U.S. tries to catch up to China’s and Russia’s hypersonic missiles, one priority is to develop weapons that can rapidly strike land targets. The U.S. Air Force’s current JASSM air-to-ground missile is subsonic—and can take 20 minutes to reach a target 250 miles away. A new hypersonic platform, called ARRW, will cover that distance in one minute flat.
Still in testing, ARRW is launched from an aircraft and uses a boost-glide system: A conventional missile accelerates it to Mach 5, then it detaches and glides at high speed toward its target. The Air Force successfully test-fired ARRW from a B-52 bomber in May and July this year. Afterward, Air Force officials suggested that the branch’s fleet of B-1 stealth bombers and F-15 jets could also be armed with hypersonic ARRW missiles.
8 – Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC)
The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, or HAWC, is a joint project between the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop and test air-launched, hypersonic cruise missiles. Started in 2017, the project aims to test three primary aspects of hypersonic weapons: developing a scramjet engine, improving aerodynamics, and creating more effective heat-management systems needed to survive the extremely high temperatures of prolonged hypersonic flight. Another priority: keeping production costs low. The Air Force has said it intends to procure large numbers of the weapon once it’s ready. Like ARRW, it will carry a conventional explosive warhead rather than a nuclear one, and it mostly likely would be used against battlefield targets such as command centers, radar and surface-to-air missile sites, communications, and ammunition dumps. Based on a successful third test flight this year, the U.S. Air Force has said that it will roll the technologies developed in the HAWC program into its Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM). It expects the first hypersonic missiles to be combat-ready by 2027.
9 – LGM-30 Minuteman III
The U.S. Minuteman III tops the list of the most fearsome ballistic missiles. For 50 years, it has been the mainstay of the U.S. land-based nuclear arsenal and an important deterrent against nuclear attack. A stockpile of 400 missiles waits in hardened concrete silos in remote areas of Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming with launch crews on alert around the clock, ready to retaliate against any nuclear attack. With a range of more than 6,000 miles, traveling at speeds above Mach 23, the Minuteman can strike virtually any place on the globe reportedly within 400 feet of the target.
The first Minuteman missiles, introduced in the 1970s, carried multiple warheads. But since 2001, following international nuclear treaties, a Minuteman now typically only carries a single 350- or 475-kiloton warhead. That’s smaller than the nukes arming Russia’s intercontinental missiles but still 20 to 40 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The U.S. claims that the weapon’s accuracy means it doesn’t require such a large nuclear payload.
A replacement for the Minuteman, called the LGM-35A Sentinel, should go into service by 2029. While the Minuteman’s capabilities remain relevant, its aging equipment and infrastructure make it difficult to maintain—even finding spare parts has become challenging. The new weapon, built by Lockheed Martin, will be easier to maintain and upgrade with emerging technologies, including hypersonic re-entry vehicles.
10 – MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS)
The ATACMS is the U.S. Army’s most powerful weapon: a 13-foot missile fired from the same high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) rocket launchers that the U.S. has been supplying to Ukraine. While HIMARS systems conventionally carry six rockets, a reconfigured version holds just one of the jumbo-size ATACMS rockets, which has five times the range. The army initially armed the larger missile with a cluster-bomb warhead to take out concentrations of tanks, but most ATACMS now carry a 500-pound, GPS-guided blast/fragmentation warhead developed to destroy enemy command centers, radar installations, ammunition dumps, and air bases.
Ukraine is pressing the U.S. to deliver ATACMS systems to further aid its defense—especially to hit longer-range targets, like Russian drone bases in Crimea. So far, the U.S. has resisted; officials cite concerns that the missiles could be used to attack positions inside Russia that would escalate the war.
11 – JL-2 Giant Wave-2
Like the U.S. and Russia (and France, the U.K., and India), China operates a fleet of nuclear subs armed with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) as a retaliatory option against nuclear attacks. While land- and air-based nuclear weapons might be destroyed in a surprise nuclear attack, submarines remain safely hidden underwater. Their ability to counterpunch creates a strong deterrent.
Part of China’s rapid naval expansion includes plans to grow its submarine fleet from four Jin-class subs to 12. Each of them will carry 12 JL-2 nuclear-armed SLBMs. And each missile will carry up to eight warheads, the most allowed by international nuclear treaties. Although smaller than the U.S.’s Trident D-5 SLBM, the JL-2 is still potent, with a range of more than 4,500 miles and capable of reaching speeds of Mach 20.
China is already working on the JL-3, a much larger missile with a range of over 7,500 miles. That missile will be carried on the country’s new supersize nuclear submarine, which it expects to be ready by 2030.
12 – KN-22/Hwasong-15
While Russia and China push ahead with hypersonics and other advanced concepts, conventional weapons still pose the most immediate threat. North Korea has been steadily developing its ballistic missiles with the range needed to attack the U.S.
The Hwasong-15 (Mars-15), transported on a mobile, 18-wheel launcher, is North Korea’s most powerful weapon. Analysis of a test firing in 2017 suggested that it can hit targets more than 6,000 miles away, putting mainland America within North Korea’s range for the first time. This is a larger version of the Hwasong-12 that North Korea test-fired over Japan this past October. The missiles, although generations behind what the U.S., China, and Russia possess, are now capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to almost any spot on the globe.
13 – 3M-54 Kalibr
The Russian Kalibr has likely caused more destruction and civilian deaths in Ukraine than any other weapon. One month into the war, Russia had launched at least 183 Kalibrs at Ukraine, making it the most frequently used missile in the conflict. And that pace of bombardment has not slowed. According to Ukraine’s ministry of defense, 70 percent of Russian missiles hit nonmilitary targets. The size of Russia’s Kalibr stockpile remains secret, but the country reportedly has produced at least 100 of them per year since the early 2000s. Russia initially used Kalibrs as anti-ship cruise missile, but more recently has fired dozens of them from ships and submarines in its Black Sea Fleet against land targets.
While not technically a hypersonic, the Kalibr does offer some of the same advantages. It is built around a two-stage engine: The first delivers the rocket toward its target at cruising speeds up to Mach 0.8; then a second stage ignites, accelerating it to Mach 3 on its final approach. The rocket remains maneuverable the entire duration, and flies at low altitude—sometimes below 300 feet—making it difficult to detect and intercept. Despite those capabilities, the Kalibr has flaws: U.S. defense officials have claimed that as many as 60 percent of them do not reach their target, and some have been shot down by surface-to-air missile systems. On September 3, Russian forces fired five Kalibrs at Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, and Ukrainian air defenses knocked down all of them.
Source: Popular Mechanics – These Are the Hypersonic Missiles that Terrify the U.S. Military
God is preparing the kings of the East (Russia and China) to defeat The West (UK and USA – His Two Witness nations) for their insurrection against Him.
Ezekiel 38 (extract)
Thus says the Lord God; behold I AM against you Gog the prince of Rosh (Russia) Meshech (Moscow) and Tubal (Tobolsk) – the Western and Eastern Capitols of the U.S.S.R. (now called the C.I.S.): I will turn you back (from seeking peace) and put hooks into your jaws (hunger), and I will bring you forth, with all your armed forces and Persia, Ethiopia, Libya, Gomer, Togarmah and ALL the earth with them against My people Israel (Britain and the British Commonwealth; America; Scandinavia; the Netherlands; the Baltic States; Northern France; Northern Spain and the Jews) to the lands of unwalled villages (walls of untempered mortar) without bars or gates (no defences because of defence cuts after the “so-called” peace dividend), when they (the politicians – foolish prophets) say peace, peace and there was NO peace.