Oct 5, 2021
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“Increasing combat power”: how were the launches of the Zircon hypersonic missile from a nuclear submarine

During state tests, Russian Zircon hypersonic missiles were first launched from a nuclear submarine, both from surface and from underwater positions. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the launches were carried out from the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine in the White Sea. The defense department noted that the tests were successful – the targets were hit, and the missile flight corresponded to the specified parameters. Experts note that the underwater launch of a hypersonic missile has become a major design and technological breakthrough.

For the first time in Russia, the Zircon hypersonic missiles were launched from a nuclear submarine. The tests were carried out with the participation of the nuclear submarine Severodvinsk, the lead ship of Project 885 Yasen. According to the Ministry of Defense, the launches were carried out from the waters of the White Sea on conditional targets in the Barents Sea.

In this case, the tests were carried out from two positions – surface and underwater. According to the data of objective control, during the first firing, the rocket accurately hit the conditional target, and its flight corresponded to the specified parameters.

“The second test firing of the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile was made by the crew of the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine missile cruiser for the first time from a submerged position, from a depth of 40 m,” the Ministry of Defense quotes TASS.

The department emphasized that the flight of the rocket from getting out of the water to hitting a conditional target was also fully consistent with the established parameters.

  • Test launches of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine in the White Sea

Earlier test launches of “Zircon” were carried out from the frigate “Admiral Gorshkov”, which also produced them from the waters of the White Sea. The conditional targets were then located on the coast of the Barents Sea. As reported in the Ministry of Defense, the rocket with a direct hit successfully hit the target 350 km from the launch site, and its speed was about 7 Machs.

In secrecy

The developer of the 3M22 Zircon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile is NPO Mashinostroyenia. Information about its technical and tactical characteristics is very limited. They were partially revealed for the first time by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a message to the Federal Assembly in February 2019.

“I would like to say about the Zircon hypersonic missile with a flight speed of about Mach 9, a range of over a thousand kilometers, capable of striking both sea and ground targets. Its use is envisaged from sea carriers, serial surface ships and submarines, ”the head of state said at the time.

As Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko reported at the end of January 2021, serial deliveries of hypersonic missiles will begin in 2022. In August, the Defense Ministry reported that a contract for the supply of Zircons was signed with NPO Mashinostroyenia. Earlier, Krivoruchko noted that the 3M22 missile will be supplied to service nuclear submarines of projects 885, 885M, 949AM, surface ships of projects 22350, 23560, as well as rearmament of the cruiser project 1144.2 Admiral Nakhimov.

Presumably the first regular carrier of the Zircon will be the frigate Admiral Golovko, which is planned to be sent for sea trials in the spring of 2022.

Overseas fears

Concern over the ongoing tests of Russian hypersonic missiles has been expressed more than once in the United States. Thus, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby noted that Washington considers Russia’s developments in this area as a destabilizing factor.

  • Test firing of the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov from the White Sea
  • RIA News
  • © Ministry of Defense of Russia

In August, the head of the Strategic Command of the US Armed Forces, Admiral Charles Richard, also noted the leading positions of Moscow in the field of hypersonic technologies. He stressed that nuclear forces remain the cornerstone of Moscow’s defense strategy, and it has already modernized them by 80%.

“Russia is a leading country in the world in hypersonic technology, at least for now, and it continues to invest heavily in the development of hypersonic gliding warheads … Russia has the potential to significantly increase its production of nuclear weapons through facilities and civil-military efforts in the development and production of nuclear weapons, ”said Richard. The head of Strathcom also admitted that the missile defense of the Russian Federation is better developed than that of the United States.

American military experts are of the same opinion. Thus, Popular Mechanics called the Zircon a “terrifying” missile and a “hypersonic monster”, and The National Interest noted that “NATO should be wary of Russia’s new hypersonic missiles.”

“If Russia manages to launch a missile with a hypersonic ramjet (ramjet engine. – RT) out of the water, such a development of events could be a significant breakthrough that can attract international attention, “- emphasized the columnist for The National Interest Chris Osborne.

At the same time, as noted by the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov, the development of hypersonic missiles by Russia is a response to the risks created by the United States and NATO in the field of strategic stability.

“The President has repeatedly said that, unfortunately, over the past decades … we have faced a phased breakdown of the entire documentary system of strategic security. And, in addition, we also faced certain steps by the United States and NATO, which actually damaged the existing parity … That is, all this was aimed at breaking the existing parity. This required measures that were able to secure Russia and which would guarantee the continuation of the existing parity, ”Peskov said.

  • Missile cruiser “Admiral Golovko”
  • RIA News
  • © Igor Mikhalev

A real breakthrough

Analysts interviewed by RT note that the successful tests of the Zircon from a nuclear submarine indicate a significant gap between Russia and its competitors in the development of hypersonic weapons. According to military expert Alexei Leonkov, now we can confidently say that the combat potential of submarines, which will be armed with hypersonic missiles, will increase many times over.

“The Yasen and Yasen-M project boats will be capable of carrying missiles of the Caliber, Onyx and Zircon families in their arsenal. Thus, the combat power of these submarines increases – they can perform a different range of tasks related to supporting our troops on land and to fight against enemy ship-strike groups, ”Leonkov explained.

At the same time, he pointed out that the closest military competitors of Russia, represented by the United States, have no analogues of the Zircon.

“What the Americans are developing from hypersonic systems will be at least half the speed of the Zircon in flight speed. And it is unclear whether they will get maneuvering hypersonic devices. Our Zircon is maneuvering, ”added the analyst.

In turn, a military expert, director of the Museum of Air Defense Forces in Balashikha, Yuri Knutov, emphasized that one of the main advantages of the Russian hypersonic missile is its flight height at the level of 30-40 km. The analyst also noted that the success of the current launches both from the surface and from the depth is a real breakthrough.

“A submarine launch is not that easy in terms of technology. If we have solved this problem, then it speaks of a rather serious design and technological breakthrough. Accordingly, we have the opportunity in the near future to install Zircon missiles on our multipurpose nuclear submarines as part of the Ash project. Thus, the American carrier-strike groups will have a hard time, and the Americans know about it, ”Knutov added.

As Alexei Leonkov explained, the main purpose of the Zircon will be the fight against heavily defended ship-strike or aircraft-carrier strike groups, which also include anti-aircraft missile defense ships.

“And Zircon will hack into these defenses and hit the most important targets: aircraft carriers, cruisers, missile destroyers and other classes of ships. At the same time, there is no weapon that can stop the Zircon missile yet, ”the expert said.

  • US hypersonic missile test
  • AFP
  • © Oscar Sosa / US Navy

As pointed out by Yuri Knutov, Russia in its developments adheres not to the quantitative principle, but to the qualitative one.

“We are quite ahead of the United States and other NATO countries in the development of hypersonic weapons. But we are not getting involved in a quantitative arms race, but are carrying out painstaking work to create high-quality types of weapons that are superior to foreign counterparts or have no analogues at all. This new weapon from our side helps us to restrain NATO hotheads from possible plans to start a nuclear war, “the RT interlocutor summed up.

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