THE latest excitement in the Ukraine War is the Russian use of a hypersonic missile, the Kinzhal or ‘Dagger’. As I explained on GB News yesterday (from 1:04:40), these missiles were primarily developed to sink aircraft carriers, which have a formidable air defence bubble. Whereas some current anti-aircraft missiles can sometimes hit older ballistic missile warheads, as the US Patriot missile did against Iraqi Scuds in the First Gulf War, hypersonic missiles travelling at some ten times the speed of sound (that’s about two miles per second) are simply too fast.
Given that the Ukraine doesn’t have Patriots one has to ask why the Russians used very expensive missiles when any others would have had a similar effect. The first reason would be if they wanted to destroy an underground complex (which is what the Russians said they were aiming at). Although the warhead on the Dagger missile is about the same size as that on the Western Tomahawk, it has vast kinetic energy from its speed. This means that it will penetrate ground and deliver much more energy into the target – and warhead energy equates to destructive power.
The second possible reason is to verify the new(ish) weapon’s capability in combat conditions – although there wasn’t much in the way of combat. But it worked, for sure. The third reason is probably a warning to the West that the Russians can hit even a well-defended target (such as an airfield). One of the things that would break the developing stalemate in Ukraine would be the participation of Western airpower, either enforcing a no fly zone (which would not affect long-range and high-speed missiles) or in support of Ukraine. While the Western priority, understandably, is to avoid direct combat with Russia and thus avoid a step on the road to Armageddon, I suspect the Russians greatly fear what Western air power might do to their army on the ground and any elements of their air force foolhardy enough to get into a dog fight. Western air forces would probably end the invasion. A Dagger missile strike on a runway would render it unusable for a significant time.
I think the Russians are worrying about this because as the invasion settles into siege warfare it’s also settling into stalemate, with neither side able to amass sufficient military might to force an outcome. While they fight each other to near military exhaustion, the West will be flooded with pictures of civilian life in the besieged cities. These will not be pleasant viewing, leading to calls to ‘do something’.
The latest pictures from the Maxar satellites apparently show Russian forces digging in round Kiev and the other cities they besiege. This is normal and intended to prevent Ukrainians inside the city from breaking out or indeed other Ukrainian forces from breaking in. This should give the Russians the ability to hold what ground they have occupied while they assault one city at a time or prepare for further offensives with fresh troops.
The Ukrainians can continue to hold what they have and make life miserable and perilous for Russians in occupied (but not controlled) territory. Logistics (the bugbear of all military operations) will get harder for their military, as will feeding the cities’ inhabitants. They might try to regain some initiative by destroying rail links used by the Russians to reinforce, including those in Russia and Belarus.
Either way it’s going to get uglier and uglier unless a solution acceptable to both sides can be found and imposed by the UN. Such a diplomatic triumph is unlikely to come from comparing Ukrainians to Brexiteers.