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Nov 20, 2021
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“Zircon”, which Putin boasted, steps on the rake of “Bulava”

In the photo: the frigate "Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov" in the White Sea while firing a Zircon hypersonic missile at a ground target.

In the photo: the frigate “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov” in the White Sea during the firing of a hypersonic missile “Zircon” at a ground target. (Photo: Press Service of the RF Ministry of Defense / TASS)

Earlier on the successful tests of the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile (ASM) to the President Vladimir Putin reported by the Chief of the Russian General Staff, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, now the Minister of Defense has taken on this role Sergei Shoigu… Is it heading towards the end of the protracted missile test cycle and will the Zircon still reach the Navy?

Now Shoigu personally reported to Putin about the next (already ninth in a row) firing of the Zircon hypersonic missile in the White Sea from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov. The Ministry of Defense, which reported this, clarified that the naval target (target) was hit by a direct hit. The fact that it was a test launch was not particularly emphasized, as well as the range of destruction by the Zircon – the rocket had already flown 460 kilometers, but the declared thousands of kilometers had not yet been reported.

It is likely that even now she did not overcome the 500 km line – the shooting was conducted from the “Admiral Gorshkov” from the White Sea at a target position again in the White Sea, where there is not enough space. This is one of the smallest seas washing the shores of Russia (only the Azov Sea is smaller), its total area is 90,800 kilometers. For comparison, in the neighboring Barents Sea, where test launches of “Zircon” were also carried out, the water area is 1,424 thousand kilometers – there is where to turn around.

In general, Shoigu reported only about the tests, albeit recognized as successful. However, the Ministry of Defense does not hide the fact that the state tests of Zircon, which began in November, will continue in December.

As previously reported in TASS with reference to its source, it is planned to carry out five launches in total at sea and coastal targets. When the hypersonic anti-ship missiles, which are planned to equip nuclear submarines of various classes, the TARK “Admiral Nakhimov” and “Peter the Great” (after the completion of the modernization), the aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” (also after repair), as well as frigates of project 22350, which includes tests “Admiral Gorshkov”, will begin to enter the Russian Navy while it is not known exactly.

And the launches of “Zircons” from nuclear submarines, which they were intended to use to replace the heavy winged anti-ship missiles “Granit”, have so far been reduced to one (about which it is known, there could be more) – from the nuclear submarine “Severodvinsk” in October this year in the Barents Sea.

Tests of “Zircon”, already as state tests, which testifies to the high degree of missile readiness, continue. The fact that this missile system is in the final stage of state testing was announced by Vladimir Putin at the end of May 2021. It is likely that after his words, during the work of the international military-technical forum “Army-2021”, the Ministry of Defense entered into a contract with NPO Mashinostroyenia for the supply of hypersonic anti-ship missiles. Slightly in a hurry?

It is likely that the situation with the Zircons will be similar to the R-30 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, which was put into service in a “raw” form and brought to mind already during combat service. Here you can recall the words of the First Deputy Chief of the Main Staff of the Navy, Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev: “We are doomed that she (“ Bulava ”) will fly anyway. Moreover, the test program has not been fully completed. “Bulava” is a new rocket, during its tests one has to face various obstacles, nothing new goes right away. ” It seems that the Zircon is also doomed to fly. By the way, the Bulava, which was finally put into service in June 2018, flies successfully for itself.

What should the latest and planned Zircon launches show and how are the missiles being tested in general?

From design thought to the implementation of the idea of ​​one or another type of weapon in real products, not only a considerable time passes, but also numerous tests.

Only their successful and repeated testing can indicate that the “product” is ready for use and will go into series, and then go into service. Testing is an essential part of any project, and the 3M22 Zircon anti-ship missile is no exception. And, judging by the latest intensity of the launches of these missiles, one can judge that the “pebble” (zircon is a gemstone) is reaching the final stage.

As far as is known, JSC “MIC” Scientific and Production Association of Mechanical Engineering “, which is the developer and manufacturer of the” Zircon “anti-ship missile system, conducted at least 9 test launches of this rocket. It is likely that there were more, especially at the initial stage, but they were not reported. And if for the first time the 3M22 rocket “lit up” at the MAKS-2011 air show, then its first throw test, which subsequently became regular, was only talked about since 2015.

This is understandably the most difficult task – to achieve hypersound. And if the supersonic sound for the Onyx rocket (Mach 3-5) was handled quite easily, then the implementation of Zircon (with its planned Mach 8-9) had to be smashed, as they say. One of the problems was the significant overheating of the hull on hypersound, which led to the disabling of the homing systems.

This, like other “emerging” problems of the “Zircon” and were eliminated during the tests, the first of which took place at the State Flight Test Center (Akhtubinsk) in 2012-2013. The long-range supersonic bomber Tu-22M3 was then chosen as the carrier for the hypersonic cruise missile. And the point here is not even that during the development of the 3M22, in addition to the option of using submarines and surface ships, an aviation option was also envisaged. Airplane launches make it possible to more closely track the parameters and characteristics of the tested product.

– Judging by the latest tests of the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, which are reported to President Vladimir Putin, they are being carried out successfully and are nearing completion, – says Lieutenant General Alexander Gorkov… – This can be judged by the voiced characteristics of the missile, which correspond to the declared ones – speed, range and accuracy of hitting the target. It seems that things are heading towards the final stage of testing – to military acceptance as part of the State Commission.

The principle of testing military equipment is standard for all types and types of weapons, including missile ones. First of all, it must comply with GOST R, which means “State Standard of Russia”.

The developer first conducts independent tests of the product model, then this “raw” still essentially “blank” is offered to the “buyer” – the branch of the army, which can be the Ground Forces, the Navy, the Aerospace Forces, the Strategic Missile Forces. If a decision is made, full-scale tests turn into a practical plane, they become interspecific. Each of them undergo a certain stage of testing, which are determined by the tactical and technical assignment.

Throwing starts is one of the first stages, but it is just as important as any of the others. They can be held at stands, at research sites. However, at the final stage of development testing, a thematic military training ground is used, tied to the type of weapon.

In the case of the Zircon, it can be seen that this rocket was launched first from a coastal, then an offshore platform, and then at a naval training ground in the Barents Sea, from a surface ship and a submarine. There are no strict standards here, the number of launches is not regulated. If hidden problems are revealed, they can be increased, if there are few defects, then, accordingly, they can be reduced. However, recently, the Russian Ministry of Defense has put forward rather stringent requirements for development and is seeking to eliminate the shortcomings identified during the tests.

As you can see, Zircon is currently undergoing a kind of acceleration process, as evidenced by the number of launches announced at the end of the year. This is a fairly high rate and it indicates that the main problems with hypersound have been eliminated and the rocket meets the declared characteristics. Timely financing of this project also plays a role here – the Zircon hypersound is extremely important for ensuring the country’s security and they do not regret money for this cruise missile, including for testing. And, for example, no such funds were allocated for the Onyx anti-ship missile, developed in the 1970s.

It can be assumed that it is the variant with the use of the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile on surface ships that is being forced. With tests on nuclear submarines, everything is somewhat more modest – they are much more difficult, especially from an underwater state, respectively, the test periods on nuclear submarines are longer in time. And the real “Zircon”, which after the conclusion of the State Commission can be put into service in the near future, fits in the terms of the ship carrier. That is why such attention is paid to him.

Recall that most of the tests of the Zircon hypersonic missile were carried out on a ship platform from the Northern Fleet frigate Admiral Gorshkov. As part of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Navy there is a ship of the same class “Admiral of the Fleet Kasatonov”, but this frigate appeared in the fleet only on July 21, 2020 and it was decided not to change the “floating range” – it was “Admiral Gorshkov”, as well as the nuclear submarine “Severodvinsk” planned state tests of “Zircons”.

The next stage is the delivery of these hypersonic missiles into service, but this will already be 2022. It is possible that the military is preparing a gift for Putin on his 70th birthday.

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