According to credible Russian military sources, the operational feasibility of in-flight mission reconfiguration for the Kinzhal missile has been confirmed. This revelation was conveyed to the Russian newspaper Izvestia on October 25 and has received additional validation from various stakeholders within the Russian military-industrial complex (MIC).
These affirmations have emerged in response to Western speculations that recent enhancements have enabled the Kinzhal aeroballistic missile to dynamically adjust its targeting while in mid-flight, a departure from its previous limitation of ground-based adjustments exclusively.
Sources engaged in discussions with Izvestia emphasized that this capability for mid-flight trajectory adjustments has already been practically implemented in several instances, particularly during military operations involving MiG-31 carrier aircraft equipped with the Kinzhal missile system.
“The MiG-31K aircraft’s crew consists of a two-person team, the pilot and the operator-navigator. While the pilot is in charge of aircraft management, the operator tracks the missile status including the input of target coordinates and flight parameter selection. Availing either the radio communications or the automated control system, the operator can receive target coordinates remotely from the ground,” said a source.
Kinzhal’s New Role
The recent inclusion of the Kinzhal capability has assumed a pivotal role in the utilization of the MiG-31 aircraft by the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces (VKS). This strategic shift was underscored by a statement made by Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 18, in which he announced the commencement of continuous aerial surveillance over the Black Sea by the Russian Aerospace Forces. Notably, he specified that these operations would involve equipping MiG-31 aircraft with Kinzhal hypersonic missile systems.
Contrary to potential speculations, President Putin reassured that these measures are not intended as a threat to any party. He underscored that the primary aim of this initiative is to maintain situational awareness and enhance monitoring capabilities.
Aerial Targeting Advantages
The capability of the MiG-31 to adjust the targeting of a Kinzhal missile after it has been launched offers several distinct advantages. Real-time adjustments significantly enhance accuracy, as compared to ground-based targeting, which often involves communication delays and the risk of outdated information.
Another advantage lies in the element of surprise. By modifying the missile’s trajectory after launch, the MiG-31 can keep adversaries uncertain and make it challenging for them to predict the missile’s flight path.
Furthermore, the ability to change the missile’s targeting from the MiG-31 enables superior coordination and integration between the aircraft and the missile. The MiG-31 boasts advanced radar and targeting systems, providing real-time data on the target’s position and movements.
Lastly, it provides a higher level of operational flexibility, particularly in dynamic combat scenarios. Ground control may not always possess the most up-to-date information on the target’s location, or communication with the missile may be hampered by jamming or other forms of interference.
The process of re-targeting aero-ballistic missiles entails a complex series of procedures and technologies. It necessitates a sophisticated guidance system capable of receiving updated target information from the launching aircraft. This data is then used to calculate the required adjustments to the missile’s trajectory, ensuring it accurately reaches the new target.
Furthermore, the re-targeting procedure may entail communication between the launching airborne platform and other command and control systems, facilitating coordinated re-targeting efforts and the efficient allocation of available resources.
The Kinzhal’s capacity to alter its target mid-flight by commands from the launching airborne platform is not a novel concept in the development of missile systems. For years, this feature has been an integral aspect of guided missile usage. An example from the Western arsenal is the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), a long-range, precision-guided missile capable of adjusting its flight path during its journey to the target. It employs an inertial navigation system in conjunction with GPS and infrared imaging for navigation and target identification.
Another Western missile with similar capabilities is the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile, primarily used for air-to-air engagements. This short-range missile exhibits high maneuverability by employing thrust vectoring, enabling it to change direction in flight by adjusting its exhaust.
The Tomahawk cruise missile represents yet another Western missile equipped with trajectory-altering capabilities. It relies on a combination of inertial navigation, GPS, and terrain contour matching to navigate to its target. During flight, the Tomahawk can receive updates from its onboard control system, allowing for trajectory adjustments to avoid obstacles or engage secondary targets if required.
The Reversal of Missile Launch
In military operations, it is possible to reverse the missile-launch process, enabling the retargeting of ground-launched missiles from an airborne platform. A recent example of this emerged just a day ago, as reported by the TASS news agency. This report highlighted a new deployment strategy concerning the Beriev A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft. In line with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s disclosure that 24 aircraft were downed in five days, it was implied that Beriev A-50s played a pivotal role in achieving these successes.
A closer analysis of the TASS report underscores the mutually beneficial cooperation between the A-50 and S-400 systems. The report details the S-400 system’s engagement with aerial targets positioned at an altitude of approximately 1 kilometer, using newly designed warheads for anti-aircraft guided missiles. This highlights the system’s effectiveness in achieving precision engagement at maximum firing distances.
It’s noteworthy that this method of missile deployment is not exclusive to one side of the conflict; it is employed by both parties. NATO aircraft and Ukraine’s allied forces provide precise information to Ukrainian ground troops about the precise locations of enemy units. Consequently, in the event of any changes in the enemy’s position, airborne teams have the advantageous capability to adjust the trajectory of ground-launched missiles, ensuring their continued effectiveness.