“Onyx” instead of “Zircon”

Source: Russian Ministry of Defense, mil.ru

The tests of the Zircon anti-ship missile system did not come as a big surprise. This story did not suggest any other development of events. Lots of smoke and fire close up. Tests of the latest hypersonic missile.

While we were reading brief military statements “the speed of 8M was reached, the missile successfully hit the target,” Western experts were able to discern something interesting.

Weapon identification

For the first time, H.I. Sutton, author and publicist of the USNI organization, which studies the development of naval forces in the world, drew attention to this moment. The quality and depth of analysis betrays this person as a connoisseur of Russian weapons. At the very least, he noticed details known only to a narrow circle of anti-ship missile (ASM) developers and sailors with experience with these weapons.

So, there is only one unique type of RCC in the world. The key external feature of these missiles is the detachable air intake cover with jet engine nozzles, which are responsible for the orientation of the anti-ship missiles after launch.

This is the Russian P-800 “Onyx” with its export variations (“Yakhont” / “Bramos”).

Sophisticated rocket head

The mysterious design of the Onyx is a consequence of its marching supersonic speed. The rocket consists almost entirely of a ramjet engine (ramjet), around and inside which the rest of the systems are located.

The main engine P-800 develops nine times more thrustthan the engine of the Caliber cruise missile. Due to its energetic capabilities, inaccessible to any other anti-ship missile system, “Onyx” is capable of developing speeds 2.6 times higher than the speed of sound at high altitudes!

This is an unexpectedly large and long-range missile that stands out sharply against the background of other anti-ship weapons of the 21st century. Capable of hitting naval targets at a distance of 500+ km. In terms of launch weight, Onyx is five to six times heavier than a typical Western-style anti-ship missile. And almost twice the mass of the Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles.

The mass of the Onyx with the launch nozzle reaches 3.9 tons, and its length is 9 meters. That is already close to the limit values ​​for the shipborne firing complex (UKSK, 3S14). In which vertical launch units (VLR) are used with a length of 9.5 meters.

It is worth noting that the vertical cells of the UKSK are longer than the cell of the American UVP MK.41. The difference is significant, it ranges from 1.8 to 4 meters, depending on the modification of the Mark-41. There are also differences in transverse dimensions.

Not a single NATO ship, even in theory, is capable of launching a 9-meter supersonic missile.

The dimensions of the domestic UKSK are directly related to the presence in the ammunition load of a “long” anti-ship missile with a body diameter of 670 mm. Other loading options provided by the Kalibr family of missiles do not require large launchers. “Caliber” can be launched even through a standard 533-mm torpedo tube.

Supersonic anti-ship missiles have a lot of stringent requirements. Both for the design of the rocket and for its carriers.

“Caliber”, like all subsonic missiles (Kh-35, “Harpoon”, “Tomahawk”, LRASM), uses a compact air intake that opens after launch in the tail section. The front part of the KR hull is entirely occupied by the guidance system blocks and the warhead.

Everything is different with Onyx. In the nose of the rocket there is an air intake cone. It houses the GOS, onboard control equipment and a warhead. The diameter of the cone is larger than that of the fuselage of the American Harpoon rocket.


The rocket layout: 1 – homing head; 2 – onboard control system equipment; 3 – warhead; 4 – fuel tank; 5 – steering drive; 6 – starting and accelerating engine.

To prevent foreign particles from entering the engine at the time of start, the air intake is closed with a massive cover. But the creators of Onyx went even further. In the cover are built-in jet engines of the attitude control system, which are triggered after the release of the anti-ship missile system from the launch shaft. Their short-term impulse turns the rocket into a horizontal position, in the direction of flight towards the target. In the next second, the cover is reset, freeing the air intake of the main-speed ramjet engine.

“Onyx” is such one

No, he is not alone. Another rocket appeared in the world with the same algorithm for launching operations. On the presented frames from the ZM22 “Zircon” tests, one can see the warhead, which is very similar in form and content to that of the Onyx rocket. Pay attention to the moment the rocket leaves the UVP.

Further, observing the start-up process, we can clearly see the operation of the orientation engines in the head of the “Zircon” with the subsequent separation of the air intake cover.


Launch of the Onyx anti-ship missile system. Slow motion.

Based on these observations, we can conclude that the Zircon design uses solutions similar to the 2.6-swing Onyx.

The use of a drop cover clearly indicates the presence of an air intake at the head of the rocket. There can be no other reason to cover the warhead during the start. Consequently, the air duct passes through the fuselage, through and through, to the engine installed in the tail section.

This means that in its appearance and layout, the hypersonic Zircon is much more in line with Onyx. And it does not at all look like a device with a wedge-shaped asymmetric body and a narrow box-shaped air intake under the fuselage. Which for several years was passed off as “the alleged appearance of a hypersonic anti-ship missile system.”


The real name of the experimental aircraft is “Waverrider”.

Unanswered questions

Every detail raises questions. Here is a system of three equations:

1. The appearance and layout of the “Zircon” were similar to the existing anti-ship missile “Onyx”. The fact of using the same technical solutions (a head cover with orientation motors and a layout with an axisymmetric air intake) was recorded.

2. The values ​​of the mass and dimensions of the “Zircon” cannot (at times) differ from the parameters of the “Onyx”, due to the restrictions imposed by the dimensions of the universal launcher of the frigate “Gorshkov”.

3. “Zircon” has 3 times higher speed (8 Machs instead of 2.6).

On the basis of real-life examples, we know that increasing the speed to the “ridiculous” 2.6 speeds of sound entailed radical changes in the design of the Onyx – compared to the subsonic “Caliber”.

For example, a supersonic rocket required five times the specific thrust.

Indeed, who would now believe the price that had to be paid to achieve Mach 2.6? The current public is spoiled by promises of 8 and even 9 speeds of sound. This is strength, this is scale!

But back to harsh reality.

“Onyx” – the fastest of the really existing anti-ship missiles – has characteristics at the limit of the design capabilities of both the rocket itself and its carriers. The last reserves were squeezed out of the technologies of our time. The mass of the Onyx warhead has been reduced by 1.5 times compared to the lighter Caliber. The body has been converted into a ramjet air intake. The space of the combustion chamber of a ramjet engine (before it is turned on at a speed of 2M) is used to accommodate a solid propellant booster. If a separate booster, like the Caliber, were used, such a rocket (due to its length) would not fit on any ship.

If this is 2.6 times the speed of sound, how much more powerful did the Zircon need to reach Mach 8?

And what changes should have taken place in the appearance, layout and size of such a rocket? Compared to the “slow” supersonic P-800?

The main question is how different is the ZM22 Zircon from the Soviet Onyx missile?

Has anyone thought about this?

The history of the “Zircon” began with statements about the achievement of a speed of Mach five or six. In the winter of 2019, applications began to arrive on the achievement of 9M. Now we decided to stop at 8M. I wonder if the officials who give the Mach numbers in no particular order understand that these numbers mean different aircraft?

Different designs!

A hypersonic ramjet engine for a speed of 8M cannot operate in another mode, at a speed of 6M. The fuel-air mixture will not have time to burn in his chamber. Otherwise, the 6-fly motor will be choked with air at eight speeds of sound.

An example is the X-43 overseas program for the creation of hypersonic vehicles with a scramjet engine envisaged the construction of three different concepts. For flight speeds equal to 5M, 7M and 9.5M.

Another point is related to acceleration to the speed at which the operation of the scramjet becomes possible. As follows from the example with the X-43A apparatus, its acceleration to the operating speed (9M) was carried out using a 19-ton Pegasus launch vehicle.

The slower X-51 “Waverrider” was not bad either. Its booster stage (up to a speed of 5M) was the ATACMS short-range ballistic missile.

It remains to add that both vehicles were launched not from the surface, but from the stratosphere. Where were delivered by the B-52 bomber.

The experiment once again proved the extreme energy consumption of flights at hypersonic speed.

Returning to Zircon, it is unclear how such energetic capabilities were achieved in the size of Onyx?

Simpler questions related to thermal protection at a speed of 8M can be ignored in this case.

The above facts are the reason that the appearance of the “Zircon” is kept in strict confidence. At a time when other samples of top-secret, but really existing weapons “shine” in all the details. If a promising rocket turns out to be a copy of Onyx, then questions of specialists will inevitably follow, to which no intelligible answer can be given. After all, the solutions used in the creation of Onyx did not even allow us to approach the speed of 3M.

Weapons of yesterday?

Eight speeds of sound mark the beginning of a new technical era. Such a “product” cannot have anything in common with existing anti-ship missiles.

Today the situation is as follows.

On the one hand, the physics and the observed similarity of “Onyx” with “Zircon”. So much so that the footage of the launch of the hypersonic missile is indistinguishable from the launch of the Onyx.


Left – Zircon launch. On the right is an Onyx launched from the Bastion coastal missile system.

On the other hand, there are statements by “effective managers”. The very people who “failed” most of the programs for the creation of traditional weapons.

No other evidence of the existence of an 8-fly rocket has yet appeared.

You can ignore the severity of the indicated facts and increase the speed of the “Zircon” by a few more Machs. But we need an honest and unbiased assessment.

The stream of cheers cannot hide the obvious and obvious contradictions in the story with “Zircon”.

What weapons will our Navy have to fight?


Test launch of the Onyx anti-ship missile. Photo: npomash.ru

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