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The Russian military tested the ZIRCON hypersonic cruise missile on President Putin’s 68th birthday, a date which falls less than one month ahead of the US President election.

The missile was launched from the frigate “ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET OF THE SOVIET UNION GORSHKOV in the White Sea and the warhead mock-up successfully hit the target in the Barents Sea at a distance of 450 kilometres. Images released by the Russian MoD show a missile launch from the upper deck at the ship’s bow, with the missile performing a somersault like manoeuvre in the air before heading to the target.

The missile was moving at an average speed of 1.6 kilometres per second, or 5.7 thousand KM per hour (at the peak, the speed exceeded 9.5 thousand KM, or M=8). The maximum flight altitude was 28KM to make the flight time just 4.5 minutes.

ZIRCON equals the dimensions of its predecessor, the KALIBR missile, which is deployed from the same launchers. In January this year, the same frigate successfully launched another ZIRCON against a ground target.

According to the experts, flying at a speed of Mach 5+ provides so much kinetic energy that even a concrete-filled warhead triggers a powerful explosion to make a hole in an aircraft carrier. Additionally, hypersonic weapons are extremely difficult to counteract, similar to shooting a bullet at a bullet. It is assumed the ZIRCON’s maximum speed is to be Mach Nine and the flight range will be over a thousand KMs.

Modernisation

According to Alexey Krivoruchko of the Russian MoD, ZIRCON will arm:

  • Projects 885, 885M and 949AM nuclear submarines
  • Project 22350 and 23560 surface ships
  • Re-equipping the Project 1144.2 ADMIRAL NAKHIMOV cruiser

The YASEN (Project 885) submarines are a family of the Russian multirole fourth generation subs. The lead ship SEVERODVINSK entered service in 2014 and this year, the KAZAN submarine, designed according to the upgraded Yasen-M (Project 885M), is also expected to become operational. As part of this series, the Russian Navy contracted to receive the submarines named NOVOSIBIRSK, KRASNOYARSK, ARKHANGELSK, PERM, ULYANOVSK and two more unspecified vessels.

According to plans, ZIRCON will enter Russian Navy service in 2020-2021. In addition to the naval version, President Vladimir Putin mentioned development of a ground-based Zircon variant.

Yury Laskin