In purely technical terms, a hypersonic missile can travel at Mach 5 or higher speeds, i.e., five times the speed of sound, and the Kinzhal manages that. However, the modern definition of hypersonic weapons extends beyond the speed of the traveling missile as it also encompasses the flight path taken by the weapon and how the projectile moves towards the target.
What is a hypersonic weapon?
Modern hypersonic weapons are classified mainly into hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) and hypersonic cruise missiles. An HGV is similar to traditional intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), where high-velocity rocket boosters carry them into the atmosphere. A glider is deployed and then travels at hypersonic speeds and travels towards its target at such speeds after reentry.
A hypersonic cruise missile requires advanced propulsion systems called supersonic combusting ramjet (scramjet), which requires air to flow through a ramjet engine at supersonic speeds. In theory, hypersonic cruise missiles can take a horizontal path toward their target. However, weapons based on this technology are still developing, so nobody truly knows how they will work.
Where does Kinzhal fit in?
Short answer, neither.
Russia’s Kinzhal or Kh-47M2 is an air-launched ballistic missile that dates back to the Soviet era. While it entered service in 2017, it is a modified version of the ground-launched short-range ballistic missile, 9K720 Iskander, with a new guidance system.