Top Stories

Master of the Seas: Why the Russian Zircon makes the military at the Pentagon nervous

Written by The Frontier Post

MOSCOW (Sputnik): On October 4, the Russian Defense Ministry launched the first Zircon hypersonic missile from the Severodvinsk submarine of Project 885 Ash. A few minutes after the launch, the rocket hit a conditional target. With this test, the Russian military closed the last test “loop” – at a speed of 9.5 thousand kilometers per hour “Zircon” completed a test cycle, after which the top-secret missile has a direct route to the fleet.

The increased secrecy associated with Zircon is no coincidence. This missile is the first in a series of Russian hypersonic missiles, and it is designed for the most modern ships. It has been developed since the beginning of the 2000s for the rearmament of ships and multipurpose submarines equipped with P-700 Granit and P-800 Onyx cruise missiles. From them, according to rumors, “Zircon” inherited a unique attack scheme, which, however, was seriously modified. After leaving the launch silo, the rocket climbs and makes a “slide” characteristic of the previous generation of supersonic missiles. And then the magic of modern technology happens – at a speed of 10 thousand kilometers per hour, it begins to maneuver in height and course, deceiving the air defense system of a potential enemy.

The main secret of “Zircon”

In order to understand how a hypersonic missile works, you need to find out the main thing – what target it destroys, if the corresponding order is received. The potential targets of the Zircon missiles have long been known – these are large surface ships capable of posing a threat to Russian warships. These include destroyers with missile weapons, such as the American Donald Cook or the British Defender, as well as the newest aircraft-carrying cruisers of the Gerald Ford class, of which more than one or even two may appear before the end of the decade.

Aircraft carriers practically do not have their own protection – on board there are only simple artillery and anti-aircraft complexes, capable, at best, of shooting down supersonic missiles. The main protection of aircraft carriers is carried out by an armed escort – escort ships and two submarines, which are always next to such ships on military campaigns. The main task of “Zircon” is not to break through such a guard, but to make sure that the “security forces” of the aircraft carrier would not be able to use weapons at all. Here, not only the laws of physics come into play, but also the knowledge of the enemy’s combat systems – the speed of the Zircon in the final section of the flight exceeds 10 thousand kilometers per hour. Modern combat systems on US Navy ships are able to intercept targets flying at a speed of 3 thousand kilometers per hour. And this only applies to missiles

Zircon maneuvers at high angles and at high speeds, so modern electronics simply cannot keep track of the rocket in such modes. At some point, the protection system “collapses” into failure and the missile penetrates the ship’s hull, undermining the 450-kilogram warhead between the decks. Further – the struggle for the survivability of an aircraft carrier (or destroyer), and there can be no talk of military operations.

The ability of Russian hypersonic missiles to cover great distances in a short time is a secret that the intelligence of almost every foreign country hunts for. In the same way, the US and NATO hunted for the secrets of Soviet supersonic missiles during the Cold War – some of the secrets were even stolen, but they still could not create their own supersonic missiles capable of hitting far and fast abroad.

In this sense, Zircon continues the unique traditions of Soviet developments, but significantly surpasses everything that was developed and produced in previous years. The main advantage of the rocket was not only materials and a unique engine, but also flight characteristics – the average time for the destruction of an enemy ship “Zircon”, according to rumors, is no more than one minute when launched from a distance of 800-900 kilometers.

After the rearmament of the submarines, the Zircon will almost instantly bring Russian submarines to the dams – modern hydroacoustics on the US Navy ships can detect enemy submarines from a distance of about 150-200 kilometers, and the Yasen submarines and multipurpose nuclear submarines of the previous generation will be able to launch cruise missiles from a distance , which is four times these figures. If earlier, in order to ensure the destruction of targets, the military had to sneak up to the target at a close distance, now the task is simplified to the level of “let it out and forget it.”

There is nothing of the kind in service with the American Navy, and it is likely that hypersonic missiles will not appear in the United States soon. The nearest technological peak in the United States is subsonic anti-ship missiles, built on the basis of Harpoon missile technology and created on the principle of “the more missiles, the better.” The Americans need to work for several more years to develop hypersonic missiles, which could be equal to the Russian Zircon in terms of manufacturability and characteristics – experiments with the creation of an air-launched hypersonic missile show that the United States does not yet have an accurate understanding of this technology. The creation of a naval version of such a missile, and even more so a modification for firing from a submerged position, requires special knowledge and experience that only Russia so far possesses.

About the author

The Frontier Post

Leave a Reply