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Dreadnought of the XXI century: what means a successful test launch of “Zircon”


The event that occurred on October 6, 2020, in the future will be called the beginning of a new era in the history of weapons. On this day, the Russian Navy for the first time conducted a comprehensive test of the new 3M22 Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile. The creation of this product was first announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018. Then, it must be admitted, most foreign experts did not believe the report on the development of such weapons in Russia. Now the Ministry of Defense has taken an unprecedented step: the department has published not only a video of the launch of the rocket, but also announced some of its technical characteristics. Izvestia understood the peculiarities of the unique rocket and its capabilities.

Five minutes to defeat

In the latest weapons systems, not only the internal structure, but even the appearance itself often becomes secret. On the video shown by the military department, the outlines of the Zircon missile were generally well visible. There is no doubt that the freeze frames of the rocket launch video are already being analyzed in detail by intelligence and weapons specialists around the world.

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As the Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov reported to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the flight range was 450 km, the altitude was up to 28 km, the time was 4.5 minutes, and the speed was Mach 8. From this, it can be concluded that the rocket, after launch, goes into the stratosphere, flies in it to the target location zone, and then, in a dive, engages a given enemy object. The warhead is most likely a hard metal construction. According to the formula “mass for speed squared in half” known from the school physics course, one can roughly represent the amount of released kinetic energy of such a rocket when a target is hit. It will be enough to guarantee the destruction of a sufficiently large enemy warship.

It is also important that, thanks to the speed of Mach 8, it becomes possible to hit the target within a few minutes after its detection. A missile traveling at such a speed and at such an altitude must be detected by the enemy, classified as a threat, seized by weapon control systems, launched an anti-aircraft missile – and all this in less than five minutes. For the currently existing naval weapon control systems and anti-ship defense systems, this is too little.

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The first launch of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the frigate Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov in the White Sea against a sea target in the Barents Sea

Photo: RIA Novosti / Press Service of the RF Ministry of Defense

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Russia’s probable adversaries will have to create a new generation of systems capable of dealing with such ultra-fast objects. The United States will need to work hard to update its warships’ weapon control system, known as the Aegis, and the Standart family of air defense missiles. At the same time, the Aegis system is in service not only with US ships, but also with a large number of partner countries of this state. Thus, the creation of new weapons in Russia will lead to an increase in the costs of a number of states to combat them.

No less important was the test of the missile homing head. Many experts expressed doubts about the possibility of creating such a system, taking into account the speed of the rocket and finding it in the stratosphere. But Russian specialists have successfully solved the problem.

Rocket of choice

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Another important aspect of testing the new Zircon rocket was that it was launched from the so-called universal launcher UKSK. Since the creation of a variety of ship missiles, each of them has used its own. In the 1970s, development of below-deck launchers began. The Americans immediately began to create universal ones, now known as the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System. Such a launcher can be loaded with both Tomahawk cruise missiles, Standart anti-aircraft missiles, and ASROC anti-submarine missiles.

The Soviet Union took a slightly different path. During Soviet times, ships received only vertical launchers for Fort air defense missiles. And the development of universal launchers took a long time due to the obvious problems of the 1990s. As a result, a universal launcher, with which it is possible to launch several types of missiles, such as the cruise “Caliber” or the anti-ship “Onyx” (“Yakhont”), appeared in service with Russian warships only recently. Domestic gunsmiths managed to create a new rocket in such dimensions that it can be placed in this launcher without alteration. Which, of course, turned out to be a very successful and correct technical solution.

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Frigate “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov”

Photo: Izvestia / Alexander Kazakov

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The launch of the Zircon rocket on October 6 from such a UKSK became another confirmation of its versatility. Such launchers are in service with modern Russian warships, such as frigates of project 22350 “Admiral of the Soviet Union Fleet Gorshkov”, corvettes of project 20385 “Thundering”, small missile ships of project 21631 “Grad Sviyazhsk” and 22800 “Mytishchi”. Accordingly, Zircon can start from all of them.

The missile is designed as a multipurpose carrier, and its dimensions allow it to be used not only from surface ships, but also from launchers of Yasen family of Project 885 submarines. The Severodvinsk lead boat is already in the fleet. The first serial “Kazan” is completing its tests. The launchers of these submarine cruisers can accommodate Caliber and Onyx (Yakhont) missiles. Due to the fact that the “Zircon” was created in their dimensions, it can be used from launchers of submarine cruisers. There is every reason to believe that a new rocket can be launched from the Kazan submarine by the end of the year.

Launchers of the Bastion complex, the basis of the coastal forces of the Russian Navy, can also be considered as carriers of new hypersonic missiles.

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Launcher of the coastal missile complex “Bastion”

Photo: Izvestia / Dmitry Korotaev

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After the end of World War II, the Soviet Union became the creator of a new type of weapon – anti-ship missiles. For a long time, the USSR was the world leader in the creation of such systems. The world’s first use of this weapon took place on October 21, 1967, when Soviet-built Egyptian Navy boats sank the Israeli destroyer Eilat with P-15 missiles.

The creation of the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missiles has again returned Russia to the world leader in this class of weapons. In a relatively short time, the Russian Navy will receive a new weapon capable of almost instantly hitting enemy ships and vessels. This will bring our fleet to a qualitatively new level of combat power and significantly devalue the existing warships of different countries. In fact, on a global scale, an event occurred comparable to the creation of the battleship “Dreadnought” in the XX century.


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