What is a hypersonic missile? Why Russia is testing Zircon missiles during Ukraine war - how far is its reach

Currently, there is no way to stop or intercept hypersonic missiles

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Russia’s defence ministry has claimed it has used hypersonic missiles for the first time ever in combat.

The defence military said it destroyed a Ukrainian underground missile depot in Ivano-Frankivsk during a strike on Friday (18 March).

President of the United States, Joe Biden, confirmed on Monday (21 March) that Russia has used a hypersonic missile in Ukraine, saying it’s “the only thing that they can get through with absolute certainty.”

At the Business Roundtable’s CEO Quarterly Meeting in Washington, D.C., President Biden said: “It doesn’t make that much difference, except it’s almost impossible to stop it. There’s a reason they’re using it.”

Russia completed further testing of its Zircon hypersonic missiles near to Finland and Sweden - two countries that have applied for joint NATO membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - and sees the weapon as an important part of its military presence.

It can reportedly hit targets upto 600 miles away.

But what is a hypersonic missile?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a hypersonic missile?

A hypersonic missile is a missile that travels faster than Mach 5, or 3,836mph, which means they move at about one mile per second - five times faster than the speed of sound.

Currently, there is no way to stop or intercept them.

Some can travel even faster, with Russia’s Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile, allegedly being able to reach Mach 10, which is the equivalent to more than 7,600mph.

The recent strike in Ukraine is believed to have been carried out using Kinzhal - or ‘Dagger’ - missiles.

Their speed and ability to fly low makes them ‘invisible’ to most anti-missile defence systems.

Experts have also said the missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

What has Russia said about the use of hypersonic missiles?

Although details about the operation remain scarce, Russia has previously spoken about its hypersonic weapons.

Putin previously said that the country began to create hypersonic weapons "in response to the US deployment of a strategic missile defence system".

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: “The Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aero-ballistic missiles destroyed a large underground ammunition depot in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.”

It is the first known time the new Kinzhal has been used in the conflict but it is said it was earlier "tested" in Syria.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Saturday morning (19 March) that Russia "has been forced" to change its operational approach in Ukraine "and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition".

The MoD added: "This is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure, and intensify the humanitarian crisis," the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

"Putin has reinforced his control over Russian domestic media.

"The Kremlin is attempting to control the narrative, detract from operational problems and obscure high Russian casualty numbers from the Russian people."

What has Volodymyr Zelensky said?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said it’s "time to talk" with Putin and warned that the war would lead to losses that would take "generations to recover" if he doesn’t.

He gave a video address in the early hours of Saturday saying: "I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. The time has come for a meeting, it is time to talk.

"The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such that it will take you several generations to recover."

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