These missiles are likely completely stealth to the Patriot radar for the majority of their ballistic arc

Friday, May 19th, 2023

Simplicius breaks down Russia’s recent Patriot attack:

Russia was said to have conducted a layered, multi-vectored attack which came from various sides including north, east, and south, which included both Geran drones as screening cover, Kalibr missiles, Kh-101s, and finally the Kinzhals. The attack also likely included other cheaper types of drones as decoys to saturate the air defense, and in fact Kiev does attest to that, as in their official ‘shoot down’ graphic they include several drones they comically ID’d as Orlan ‘Supercum’ which was later changed to ‘Supercam’.

First, let’s break down how such an attack happens. Most logically, the cheaper decoy drones are sent in first to see if they can bait out any of the air defense into opening up on them. Kiev would try to use only its less important SHORAD (Short Range AD) systems against them, such as German Gepards and any Tunguskas/Shilkas and such that they might have.

Next would come the cruise missiles in order to bait out the true high value AD that may have held back with the first wave, and which Ukraine’s SHORAD systems may be useless against.


It should be stated that there are certain positions Russia already knows are likely, and are prefigured into their search matrices. For instance, Mim-104 Patriot system is an extremely complex and large system, you can’t just set it up anywhere, like in the middle of an apartment building courtyard or something like that. These systems not only require a lot of room but also, since they are much less mobile than drivable units like Gepards and such, they are preferably situated somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of civilian ‘eyes’ in the area, so that no one films or rats them out, whether accidentally or not.

This leaves only a few real, solid choices where you can put such a system. And they are almost always put in airports, as an example. It comes as no surprise then that during the attacks on 5/16, word now has it that two of the Patriots were located at Zhuliany airport in Kiev and one at or near the Zoo…

The launch angle of Patriot rockets is fixed at 38° above horizontal. Many other missile systems fire straight up.

This brings up the next issue: a lot of the Patriot missiles appeared to fail. These fallen pieces are not ‘discarded rocket stages’ or anything like that, but the actual missile heads themselves. In fact, we have photo proof that several of them “failed” mid-flight and did the famous ‘Patriot maneuver’ caught long ago in Saudi Arabia:

The Russians’ infamous hypersonic missile is the Kinzhal:

If we take its alleged Mach 10 value, a Mig-31K / Tu-22M3, flying approximately 100-150km north of Kiev over the Russian border, could fire the Kinzhal and it would take a mere 90 seconds or so to arrive in Kiev.

This means that, using the above methods of monitoring, tracking, and observation, once the Russian MOD homes in on a Patriot battery / radar location, it can transfer the coordinates to the Mig-31Ks already in the air, and the Patriots would only have 90 seconds, which is no where near enough time for them to move or do anything to really save themselves.


The other important thing to note is that no one actually knows how fast the Kinzhal or any hypersonic weapons system goes at the point of terminal impact, however it is almost certainly not hypersonic at that point. Yes, you heard that right: no hypersonic weapon on earth actually impacts the target at hypersonic speed.

No where is it actually stated it hits the target at hypersonic speed; this is merely a misleading assumption that people make. In fact, the official description for most hypersonic vehicles like the Kinzhal is that it hits hypersonic velocity at burnout speed. Burnout speed typically means when its engines finish firing during the peak of its ‘ballistic arc’.

People wrongly assume that the point of a hypersonic missile is “to hit the target at a hypersonic speed”. That’s actually not the main advantage. The real point of a hypersonic vehicle is to get to the target as fast as possible, and faster than any other conventional munition, which gives your enemy very little chance to react, such as trying to scramble or hide underground, etc.

The fact is, no manmade object can travel at hypersonic speeds at ground atmospheric levels. The atmosphere is way too thick and any object going such a speed would quickly heat up to astronomical levels and then vaporize. How do space rockets hit hypersonic speeds then, you ask? They accelerate very slow and don’t actually cross the hypersonic threshold until they’re basically already in space.

Most missile types like ballistic missiles and even air to air missiles fired by jets actually shoot up to a very high altitude for most of their cruise, and then come down only as they’re nearing the target. The point is to fly where the atmosphere and air resistance is much thinner to get maximum fuel mileage and acceleration/speed. Cruise missiles are an exception as the exigencies of needing to be ‘below the radar’ require most of them to fly very low.


The second most important thing is that hypersonic vehicles, as noted above, generate a plasma shield around them. This has been by far the biggest reason behind the ‘difficulty’ of creating hypersonic weapons. To accelerate something hypersonically, especially with a basic rocket motor, is easy enough. The problem is then communicating with the object. The plasma shield completely negates all electromagnetic waves, making the object completely impermeable to waves which means you can’t send it any signals to ‘guide’ it to a target.


No one knows which method Russia settled on and uses for the Kinzhal, it’s all classified. However, the likely fact is that the Kinzhal, as well as the Iskander, simply are no longer hypersonic by the time they reach the target, which allows radio signals to give them mid-course correction to the target. The reason is, once they accelerate to their hypersonic ‘burnout speed’ at the top of the ballistic arc, everything after that begins to bleed speed. No one actually knows for certain, but it is likely that by the time of target impact they may be going somewhere in the range of Mach 3-5.

This is still very fast, but keeps them from the ‘plasma field’ problem. How do we know this? Well, there are some videos of Iskander impacts, and while Iskander is said to top out at Mach 6-7 at burnout speed, its impacts do not look hypersonic, though they do look much faster than any other conventional missile types.


Because clearly, if it’s no longer being propelled by thrust, and is merely a ‘glider’ after the zenith of its ballistic arc, then the hypersonic speed it reaches from that point on will be slowly bled little by little. This is likely naturally timed such that the missile is no longer creating a plasma shield or disintegrating itself, such that it’s still going faster than anything else, but can receive course-correction data. This is why my best guess is these missiles actually impact at something like Mach 2-5 at the most.

Also, note that during the May 16 attack, on the night camera footage there was no “glowing objects” descending in the sky. If a Kinzhal was actually traveling Mach 5-7+ when it hit those Patriots, it would have streaked down like a meteor, glowing and throwing plasma.


But there’s one other important aspect not yet mentioned. A plasma bubble absorbs all electromagnetic signals, making the vehicle impervious to them. Guess what that means? That’s right—a hypersonic vehicle is essentially ‘stealth’ and cannot be detected by radar. The radar waves are simply absorbed and ionized by the plasma bubble, and in fact there have been many long years of stealth research in this field.

So the point is that, apropos the argument of whether the Patriot can intercept the Kinzhal or even the Iskander, the fact is, these missiles are likely completely stealth to the Patriot radar for the majority of their ballistic arc. Once they hit the arc and go into ‘glide mode’ and begin slowing down, they slowly come out of stealth, but the problem is, at that point they are already likely over the target and only 15-30 seconds at most from impact, maybe less, and still going a very fast Mach 4-5 at the beginning of the slow down.


  1. Crosbie says:

    “A plasma bubble absorbs all electromagnetic signals”

    That seems questionable. The wiki page on plasma stealth claims the effect is frequency-dependent, with lower frequency radiation simply bouncing off, just as short wave radio bounces off the ionosphere.

  2. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    Most US/NATO AD systems use high frequency X-band radars for targeting and terminal guidance, since small wavelengths are a simple way of producing high range resolution.

    There are interesting possibilities via multiple vehicles or other platforms networking with each other to function as multistatic arrays to trilaterate and triangulate object positions through passive emission and active radiation, even with very low frequencies, but that is another matter.

  3. Mike-SMO says:

    Good discussion but it ignores strategy. First of all, the Russians know where the target(s) are. Cities and Patriot batters don’t move much. The Patriot missiles can’t “chase” a hypersonic weapon, but it was shown during the war in Iraq that even older Patriots can hit incoming hypersonic warheads. The “rub” is that the Patriot battery has to be the target or be close to the target. That pins down the Patriot systems abd prevents pop-up “surprises. If the Patriot battery doesn’t “see” the launch, I am sure that there is a defense net that would alert the Patriot crews. The drones (low and slow) were a joke that would have been handed off to other defensive systems. The Russian cruise missiles might have been relevant. They carry a decent size warhead and, if they are like the Tomahawks, are tough to detect and hit. A multi missle attack ( cruise + hypersonic) would make the most sense, especially against a tired or poorly trained Patriot crew, but getting several missile types on target at near the same time is no trivial undertaking.

    Thus far, Russia expended several expensive and valuable missiles to obtain minor damage on a Patriot system. A draw at best. Maybe next time with better tactics….. in any event, the hypersonic threat has the Patriots pinned down, guarding the treasure of Kiev. Two can play that game. The Boys from the Ukraine have been very creative modifying and upgrading the drones abandoned by the Soviets/Russians. The airbases from which the hypersonic missile aircraft were launched are easier targets than the missile itself. Ugly game.

  4. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    The fields of Ruthenia are littered with the wreckage of 20th century hardware blown up by those jokes.

    If the choice is engaging the flying mopeds or die, most people will choose to engage the flying mopeds. But when you are shooting one million dollar rockets at ten thousand dollar flying mopeds, that opens you up to everything else coming after it.

    The USM of yesteryear itself demonstrated the wisdom of this fact, in 1991, by sending clouds of decoy drones ahead of its airforces to kick over the anthill of Iraqi AD.

  5. Freddo says:

    Mike-SMO, I think the take-away message is that they fired 32 patriot missiles to fend off the Russian attack, a hard to replace resource. By attacking the patriot battery itself they took away the defenders decision to suffer collateral damage or spend missiles.

    If we have to believe Western sources then Russia has been on the verge of running out of ammunition since May 2022. But is seems nobody bothered to inform the Russians.

  6. TRX says:

    “If a Kinzhal was actually traveling Mach 5-7+ when it hit those Patriots, it would have streaked down like a meteor, glowing and throwing plasma.”

    Coming next: “Rods from God.”

    The Russians certainly have the launch capability, and they’ve already announced they won’t abide by the Soviet-era space weapons treaties any more.

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