Russia sends 3 hypersonic missile-equipped jets to Kaliningrad exclave

The three MiG-31 aircraft with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles will be on combat alert around the clock.

 A Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighter jet releases Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a drill in an unknown location in Russia, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022. (photo credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighter jet releases Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a drill in an unknown location in Russia, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022.
(photo credit: RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Three fighter jets equipped with hypersonic missiles have been moved by the Russian military to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad as part of "strategic deterrence measures," Russian state media reported on Thursday. 

The Russian Defense Ministry told TASS that the aircraft would be on "round-the-clock combat duty."

"Today, August 18, 2022, as part of the implementation of additional strategic deterrence measures, three MiG-31 aircraft with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles were relocated to the Chkalovsk airfield in the Kaliningrad region," the Russian Defense Ministry said, according to RIA.

Tensions around Kaliningrad 

Tensions have risen over the Kaliningrad region, which is geographically separate from Russia, and neighboring Lithuania. The exclave relies on railways and roads through Lithuania for many goods, and sanctions on the isolated coastal territory have been leveled since Russia invaded Ukraine. Kaliningrad has largely been relegated to maritime traffic for its goods.

Moscow has in part blamed the United States for Lithuania's sanctions.

 US Air Force conducts latest hypersonic weapon flight test (credit: REUTERS) US Air Force conducts latest hypersonic weapon flight test (credit: REUTERS)

In late June, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that non-diplomatic "retaliatory actions will be inevitable." At the time, the Lithuanian Military stated over increased tensions that "to date, there is no direct military threat to Lithuania."

Earlier that month, a bill was submitted in the Russian parliament to repeal the Soviet Union's recognition of Lithuanian independence. 

Despite Russian threats over the Baltic Russian holding, Lithuania on July 11 expanded sanctions to include concrete, wood, alcohol and alcohol-based industrial chemicals.

Kinzhal hypersonic missile

The hypersonic aeroballistic Kh-47M2 "Kinzhal" or "Dagger" is Russia's first hypersonic weapon platform.  The missile has an effective range of thousands of kilometers and can hit its target within several minutes after launch. Hypersonic weapons are highly maneuverable, allowing them to evade modern missile defense emplacements. The weapon is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The Kinzhal was reportedly used in combat for the first time in March when it was used to strike a military fuel depot near the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.

In early August,  Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that a new naval hypersonic missile, the Zircon, would be put into service in the coming months. One military source told TASS that this could be as soon as September. The naval version of the Zircon was prioritized over the air-launched version due to backlogs in production. Eventually, the Kinzhal is set to be replaced with the Zircon variant.