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Ukraine says its newly fielded U.S. Patriot system downed a Russian hypersonic missile

Patriot missile launchers acquired from the U.S. are seen deployed in Warsaw, Poland, in February.
Michal Dyjuk
Patriot missile launchers acquired from the U.S. are seen deployed in Warsaw, Poland, in February.

Ukraine said Saturday that a U.S.-supplied Patriot battery was used to intercept an incoming Russian hypersonic missile over the capital, Kyiv, in what is believed to be the first downing of the sophisticated Russian weapon and Ukraine's first use of the U.S. defense system.

In a post on Telegram, Ukrainian Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk said the Patriot destroyed the Kinzhal, a type of missile that can travel up to ten times the speed of sound to evade air defenses.

Oleshchuk said the Russian missile was shot down during a night-time attack on Kyiv earlier this week. "Yes, we shot down the 'unique' Kinzhal," he wrote, adding that it had been launched from a Russian MiG-31K aircraft.

In past strikes, Kyiv's air force has managed to intercept many Russian missiles, but earlier this year, the Kremlin began increasing its use of the Kinzhals, or "Daggers" in Russian, in an apparent effort to overwhelm Ukraine's air defenses.

In December, the U.S. announced it would supply Ukraine with Patriot surface-to-air missiles to help defend it against Moscow's air strikes. The Pentagon said in January that Ukrainian forces would receive training on the system at Fort Sill, Okla. The surface-to-air missile system requires a 90-person crew to operate and maintain it.

The missile battery reportedly arrived in Ukraine last month.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said last year that his country had first asked the U.S. to supply Patriots in 2021, well before the Kremlin's latest invasion that began in Feb. 2022.

Russia's military says the Kinzhal, unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin five years ago, can travel at speeds up to 7,600 miles per hour with a range of about 1,250 miles. It is part of a class of sophisticated Russian missiles that also includes the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, which can fly at speeds as high as Mach 20, according to the Kremlin, and the Zircon, a hypersonic anti-ship missile. There are no reports of either the Zircon or the Avangard having ever been used in combat.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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