Hypersonic missile “Zircon” changes the balance of power both on land and at sea

MOSCOW, 10 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

On the American military website Military.com there was an article titled “Why Russia’s Hypersonic Missiles Can’t Be Seen on Radar”. The publication talks about the promising Russian sea-based Zircon” hypersonic cruise missile.

The publication writes: “Russia’s shift to hypersonic weapons is likely a means of contending with American superiority in size, technology and sheer number of aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy intends to maintain a force of 12 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.”

Military.com believes: “While at sea, any of Russia’s 15 Buyan-class corvettes will be able to carry up to 25 Zircon hypersonic missiles. It would take fewer than a half-dozen of those missiles to sink even the most advanced American aircraft carrier, such as the USS Gerald R. Ford.”

According to the American military publication, “innovations like the Zircon are moving the development of military technology away from aircraft carrier-based systems, calling for the U.S. Navy to reconsider the role of the carrier entirely.”

The promising Russian hypersonic missile “Zircon” has always aroused the increased interest of the foreign press. However, a recent event has spurred attention to Russian development.

We are talking about the first test launch of the Zircon from under water on October 4, 2021. The launch was carried out by the multipurpose nuclear submarine Severodvinsk of project 885 “Yasen” from a depth of 40 meters. Prior to that, a launch was made from the Severodvinsk submarine, which can be found in a surface position.

The commander of the Northern Fleet, Aleksandr Moiseyev, at a conference call of the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation on October 5, 2021, said: “All systems – the complex of missile weapon control systems of the submarine and the missile itself worked in normal mode without remarks. The test objectives have been achieved. The underwater launch of the rocket has been tested and confirmed. This completes the testing of the missile from the submarine.”

The Zircon hypersonic missile is standardised: it can be used from both surface ships and submarines. Launchers for surface ships and submarines are different, this is due to the underwater launch.

In the last days of September 2021, flight design tests of the newest 3M22 “Zircon” hypersonic cruise missile from the Northern Fleet surface carrier frigate “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov” were successfully completed. 10 launches were carried out from the coastal mount and a frigate.

Two successful launches of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine will allow state tests of the missile from the surface carrier frigate Admiral Gorshkov by the end of 2021. According to Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, all work should be completed in the near future, and the missile should be put into service. Judging by all the signs, this will happen already in 2022.

Zircon has unique characteristics: a flight speed of up to Mach 9 and a range of more than 1000 kilometres. If to talk about aircraft carriers, then the combat range of US carrier-based aircraft is within 800 kilometres, so a hypersonic missile with a range of more than 1,000 kilometres will keep US carrier strike groups at a distance from which the use of their aircraft will be impossible. This fact greatly devalues the US aircraft carrier fleet in a potential military conflict with Russia, makes it simply useless, as military.com writes.

The delivery of a sufficient number of these missiles to the Russian navy will completely change the balance of power at sea. The entire surface fleet of the United States and its allies will be under threat. One hit of a hypersonic missile “Zircon” is enough to disable any large surface ship.

However, putting the Zircon into service will change the balance of forces not only at sea, but also on land. The deployment of these missiles on multipurpose nuclear submarines means that these weapons will be able to appear anywhere in the world’s oceans.

The American magazine The National Interest in its article “Russia Is on the Highway to a Hypersonic Showdown” cites the following characteristics of the “Zircon” in terms of range: the range of hitting ground targets is about 1,500 kilometres, sea targets are 1-1.5 thousand kilometres, and “under ideal battlefield conditions, a missile can hit targets within a radius of 2,000 kilometres.”

The Zircon missile can be extremely effective against stationary ground targets. This greatly simplifies the issues of targeting, since the coordinates of these objects are already known. This brings the conditions for the use of “Zircon” on stationary objects closer to ideal combat conditions.

And the goals here can be very different. It can be any major administrative and political centre in the United States: a military base, the central building of the Pentagon or a complex of buildings of the CIA headquarters in Langley. At the same time, a submarine with a Zircon missile on board can strike at any target from a distance of 1,000 kilometres or more without the risk of being noticed.

An important addition. So far, the open press talks only about the “Zircon” hypersonic missile in the usual equipment. However, Russian guided missile weapons of this class are characterised by the fact that they can also have a nuclear warhead. As a rule, a special warhead is lighter than a warhead in conventional equipment, therefore, the flight range of the “Zircon” with a nuclear warhead will be longer. Well, it’s just a supposition.

Thus, the Western world froze in front of the arrival of the “Zircon”: its dominance at sea is coming to an end. Putting this hypersonic missile into service with the Russian Navy turns American nuclear aircraft carriers, as well as the entire NATO surface fleet, into a useless pile of scrap metal.

And the deployment of “Zircons” on Russian nuclear submarines makes strategic control centres on the continental territory of the United States extremely vulnerable. At the same time, it is necessary to take into account the fact that neither existing nor prospective air defence and missile defence systems of the United States and its allies are capable of intercepting these missiles.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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