Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Latest Posts

Russia Converting Kinzhal Missiles Into Nuclear Weapons Would be ‘Complex’

Russia’s ability to convert its Kinzhal hypersonic missiles into nuclear weapons is possible but a “complex process,” according to nuclear experts who spoke with Newsweek.

Russia on Thursday fired six conventional Kinzhals, translated to “Daggers,” as part of an 81-missile barrage that included myriad models. It was Russia’s first use of hypersonic missiles since the first month of the war, which began when Ukraine was invaded on February 24, 2022.

Nuclear provocations have become routine on Russia’s behalf throughout the duration of the war. But the process of converting Kinzhals involves more than just flipping a proverbial switch, said Areg Danagoulian, associate professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Hey told Newsweek that the overall missile design is optimized to be either conventional or possess nuclear capabilities. Modifications are adapted to conform to each specific “version” as hypersonic missiles can travel at “almost cosmic velocities.”

It’s a question of practicality, he said, and whether altering conventional missiles to become nuclear-capable is easier than building new missiles. He said the latter option is more sensitive.

“Taking a missile that already has a conventional version and modifying it to be nuclear is a very complex process,” Danagoulian said. “It’s not like taking out a warhead and putting in a nuclear warhead. It’s not like that.”

He said nuclear weapons require a unique set of functionalities that are part of the warhead, and nuclear warheads require a permissive action link (PAL) that essentially keeps such weapons out of the “wrong” hands by requiring specific codes to be enabled for firing.

Both the missiles and the aircraft carrying the warheads require PAL, Danagoulian said, with the aircraft being modified to support PAL configuration.

The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal can travel as far as about 1,250 miles and possesses a payload of 480 kilograms (about 1,058 pounds). It was derived from Russia’s ground-launched 9K720 Iskander-M missile, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Research published February 23 by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, a senior research associate with the project, said that Russia’s current nuclear stockpile includes about 4,477 warheads.

“Of these, about 1,588 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases, while an approximate additional 977 strategic warheads, along with 1,912 nonstrategic warheads, are held in reserve,” they wrote.

While Russian delivery vehicles deployed near Ukraine are considered to be dual-capable, Kristensen and Korda had not at the time of publication “seen any indication that Russia has deployed nuclear weapons or nuclear custodial units along with those delivery vehicles.”

Newsweek Reached out to Kristensen and Korda by email for comment.

“What I would deduce from this is that Russia has developed a nuclear-capable version of the Kinzhal, so they would not need to replace the warhead in an existing non-nuclear capable Kinzhal,” Robert Goldston, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University , told Newsweek.

“I don’t see documentation, however, about how many of each kind of Kinzhal they have, and how many MiG-31Ks they have which are capable of carrying nuclear Kinzhals,” he added.

Russia has probably also built nuclear optimized weapons, Danagoulian said, agreeing that it’s difficult to pinpoint Russia’s total nuclear arsenal. They might have spent the winter building more missiles to prepare for spring and summer offensives, he added.

Also, having nuclear-capable options does not make it “any more likely” Russia would resort to the worst-case scenario.

“If Russia wanted to use Russian weapons, they have so many options, so many choices,” he said. “The Kinzhal is not the make-it-or-break-it weapon by any means.”

Retired US Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian told Newsweek that many missiles have duel capabilities, with Russia maintaining more tactical weapons than the US

“[Russia’s] inventory of other missiles is getting low,” Cancian said. “They used up a lot of the Iranian missiles, for example.”

Another aspect that has come into play is how productive Ukraine’s air defense has been in shooting down Russian missiles. That is due to Ukraine understanding that missile targets are specific.

Russia’s ability to convert its Kinzhal hypersonic missiles into nuclear weapons is possible but a “complex process,” according to nuclear experts who spoke with Newsweek.

Latest Posts


Don't Miss

Stay in touch

To be updated with all the latest news, offers and special announcements.