what is happening with the program and what they think of it in the West

Photo: vl.ru

Everything is secret …

Until recently, one could hear about the mysterious Zircon hypersonic rocket only in the media. However, it gradually became clear that it was most likely a real product. Recall that back in 2019, experts drew attention to the transport and launch containers installed on board the frigate “Admiral Gorshkov”, which were allegedly related to the “Zircon”.


Still from the video: TV channel Zvezda, youtube.com

And recently, the Ministry of Defense announced that on October 6 this year, the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov fired for the first time with a product of this type from the waters of the White Sea. The rocket was shown on video, albeit without any discernible details.

She hit the target, which was at a distance of 450 kilometers. In this case, the flight speed was more than Mach 8. These data generally confirm the previously announced unofficial characteristics of the product, which is designed to change the balance of power at sea. Recall that some sources indicated the missile’s flight range of 400-600 (however, according to some sources, it can reach 1000) kilometers. And in 2017, a source in the defense industry said that as part of early tests, the rocket was able to reach eight speeds of sound.

On October 9, new data appeared about the planned tests of the product. Two sources in the military-industrial complex told TASS about it. “As part of the ongoing flight tests of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, three more firings will be fired by the end of this year. The next launch will take place in late October – early November, ”the source told the agency. “All three launches will be carried out with real destruction of sea or ground targets, in particular, imitating aircraft carriers or strategic objects of a conditional enemy,” another source noted.


Still from the video of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

Many countries have ships that can be conditionally (or not conditionally) called aircraft carriers, including universal amphibious assault ships. However, it must be assumed that in this case we are not talking about them. Most likely, they mean the American “supercarriers”: “Nimitz” or the newest “Gerald R. Ford”.

A game-changing weapon

However, a conceptual difficulty arises here. If against a conditionally equal enemy such a missile can become a guarantee of victory, then in the case of aircraft carrier strike groups it cannot be considered as something that gives a decisive advantage.

After the Zircon is adopted, the US Navy will continue to have a strong military-technical superiority – at least in terms of the range of destruction of naval targets. A few years ago, the US Air Force armed itself with the AGM-158C LRASM long-range aircraft anti-ship missile, and in 2019 the missile reached initial combat readiness as part of the US Navy’s Super Hornet carrier-based fighter arsenal.

The rocket itself, although based on the JASSM-ER (range of about 930 kilometers), is likely to have more modest performance than its basic version. Due to the new equipment, the range of the new product is estimated at about 560 kilometers. Taking into account the combat radius of the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet of more than 700 kilometers, this is, if not an ultimatum, then a very serious weapon.

Deck aviation is not only the long arm of the naval forces, but also flexibility that nothing else can provide. A fighter-bomber can carry a wide range of aircraft weapons and appear where it was least expected. The latter will be fully realized by the Americans after the full-fledged introduction of the deck-based F-35C with all the intended functions. Initially, we can talk about the placement of LRASM on external suspensions with the loss of stealth. However, in the future, it is theoretically possible to place missiles on internal holders.

It is possible to debate for a long time about the need for Russia to have something even remotely similar to American aircraft carriers. However, we must admit that now there is simply no opportunity to build such ships. Neither financial nor, in all likelihood, purely technical. The USSR had a similar experience with its unfinished “Ulyanovsk” – a conditional analogue of “Nimitz”, but that was then. Now the situation is different.

In this regard, Russia with its “Zircon” went the only way available to it, having decided, in all likelihood, to arm all new relatively large surface ships and modern multipurpose submarines with it. It is known that in 2021 test firing of the Zircon is to be conducted from the Project 885 Severodvinsk multipurpose nuclear submarine. The tests will include the surface and submerged position of the nuclear submarine.

In March, a source in the OPK said that this submarine was preferred to the newer Kazan submarine of project 885M, since its tests were delayed. The aircraft carrier killer, the Project 949A Antey nuclear submarine, and the promising Husky, which may become the world’s first fifth-generation submarine, are also being considered as a possible carrier.

With regard to surface ships, theoretically, “Zircon” can be launched from anyone with a universal shipborne firing system 3S14 (UKSK). And this (in addition to frigates of project 22350, to which the aforementioned “Admiral Gorshkov” belongs) frigates of project 11356, corvettes of project 20385, missile ships of project 11661, small missile ships of project 21631 and small missile ships of project 22800.


Photo: PJSC “Shipyard” Severnaya Verf “

Again, you need to understand that the widespread use of “Zircon” in the Russian Navy (if we assume that it will be) will not make the Russian fleet the strongest in the world and will not put it on a par with fleets that have full-fledged aircraft carriers. However, we repeat, this is the only reasonable decision in the current circumstances.

Western reaction

Western experts are closely monitoring the Zircon tests. Some of them, in particular the infamous Popular Mechanics, even use intimidating headlines. At the same time, American experts do not consider Zircon invulnerable. According to them, the US Navy is investigating the possibility of using the shipborne SM-6 missile to intercept a hypersonic missile.

According to the magazine, the SM-6 has a range of 150 miles (240 kilometers) and a maximum speed of Mach 3.5, which makes it capable of hitting hypersonic weapons at a relatively large distance from protected ships. Attempts to intercept the Zircon with a medium-range RIM-162 ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile) anti-aircraft missile are possible, although this may also require modification to counter hypersonic weapons. Now this missile has a range of about 50 kilometers and a speed of more than 4 M.

The publication notes that the naval forces can detect “Zircons” at long distances using the new fire control and air attack countermeasures system (NIFC-CA). It allows an E-2D Hawkeye early warning aircraft or even an F-35 fighter jet to detect such targets long before the ships’ radars detect a threat. At least in theory.

On the whole, the West is not inclined to either overestimate or underestimate Zircon and consider it, obviously, a more breakthrough Russian development than other novelties of the military-industrial complex.

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