The Iskander

The Ukraine War (let’s call it what it is – it’s not a “Special Military Operation”, it’s a war) has been a proving ground for game changing weapon systems. Russian glide bombs weren’t really new. They were a logical implementation of the JDAM concept. Indeed, Germany used glide bombs in World War 2. Frequently, they were launched from bombers based in Norway. Against the Atlantic convoys.

Russia has introduced hypersonic missiles to the battle. The speed at which a missile travels is indicated by its Mach number. This number indicates the speed of an object relative to the speed of sound. Mach 1 is the speed of sound. Mach 2 is twice the speed of sound. Mach 5 is five times the speed of sound, and so on.

The speed of sound is not constant. It varies with temperature and the density of the medium through which it travels. Typically, the denser the medium, the higher the speed. Sound travels fastest through a solid—the clang of a metal bar being struck, for example. Less fast through a liquid—the sound of a ship’s propellers traveling underwater. Slowest when traveling through the air. All else equal, sound traveling through the air at sea level travels faster than sound traveling through the air at thirty thousand feet.

Subsonic missiles travel at speeds slower than Mach 1. Supersonic missiles travel faster than Mach 1 (typically in the Mach 1 to Mach 3 range). “Hypersonic” usually refers to platforms that travel at Mach 5 or more.

Examples of subsonic missiles are the US Tomahawk cruise missile and the Russian Kalibr. Russia has introduced three hypersonic missile platforms in the Ukrainian theatre. These are the Iskander, the Khinzal, and the Zircon (Tsirkon). We will devote a separate post to each of these. In this article, we will introduce the Iskander.

The 9K720 Iskander (NATO reference SS-26 Stone) is a short-range, surface-to-surface ballistic missile with a range of about 500 km. The missile is road-mobile, and allows operators to avoid detection by moving the missile from one location to another. The Iskander travels at speeds between Mach 6 and Mach 8. It replaces the earlier Tochka ballistic missile. The Tochka remains in use by the Ukrainian armed forces, in small numbers. The Iskander is operated by the Russian armed forces.

Iskander short range missile
Figure 1. Iskander short-range ballistic missile

This video is an introduction to the Iskander: