Russia is developing the 3M22 Tsirkon or Zircon, a scramjet-powered maneuverable hypersonic cruise missile. The missile can reach speeds of up to Mach 9 and travel at altitudes of between 30 and 40 kilometers. At these higher altitudes, the missile’s range and speed improve since there is less air resistance.
The missile’s length is estimated to be between 8 and 10 meters, and the payload is between 300 and 400 kilograms.
As a point of perspective, the Tomahawk cruise missiles carried by submarines of the United States Navy and the Royal Navy fly at approximately 0.75 times the speed of sound.
Russia’s knowledge of operating cruise missile submarines has led to the development of a new weapon. During a significant portion of the Cold War, the missiles carried by Russian submarines were directed against destroying ships at sea, particularly the fearsome aircraft carriers deployed by the United States Navy.
Russia did not use submarine-launched cruise missiles until the conflict in Syria began in 2011. As a long-range surgical strike weapon akin to the U.S. Navy’s Tomahawk missile, subsonic Kalibr cruise missiles have been used in most submarine-launched cruise missiles fired at Syria.
Weapons were launched from smaller diesel-electric submarines of the Kilo class. The Zircon will represent a substantial improvement over Kalibr. This makes it a dangerous weapon.
The Zircon anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile is made to attack ships at sea and land targets at speeds up to Mach 9, giving enemy missile defenses little time to get ready.
Zircon is meant to use speed to breach enemy air defense systems. Depending on the flight profile of the missile, a U.S. Navy carrier battle group protected by the Aegis Combat System would have twenty seconds to detect, track, and shoot down the missile.
According to Russian authorities, the maximum altitude of Zircon is 100,000 to 130,000 feet. Zircon can fly straight for its target in a short dip when it reaches maximum height.
Zircon travels 100 miles in under a minute at 6,000 mph. SPY-1 radar aboard U.S. cruisers and destroyers can detect an incoming missile at 192 miles, giving a carrier strike force less than two minutes to detect, track, and shoot down a Zircon missile. Zircon could be unstoppable if it dives steeply and flies low like other cruise missiles.
Assuming that Zircon travels at an altitude of 200 feet, which is roughly average for a cruise missile, a surface ship can detect it at a distance of only 34 miles. Under those circumstances, the surface ship that is being targeted will be able to identify Zircon at a distance of only 34 miles.
In this scenario, the ship has less than twenty seconds to intercept the Zircon missile. That is barely enough time for the commander of the defending ship to comprehend the situation, let alone unleash missiles to intercept the incoming hypersonic missile.
One of the six weapons Russian President Vladimir Putin announced during his state of the nation address is Zircon. Aside from Zircon, Putin claims that Russia is working on deploying the Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, the Avangard strategic hypersonic weapon, and the Kinzhal tactical hypersonic weapon.
Poseidon is a nuclear-powered long-range torpedo, and Burevestnik is a nuclear-powered cruise missile. NPO Mashinostroyeniya conceived and developed the Zircon as an extension of their HELA (Hypersonic Experimental Flying Vehicle) concept, which debuted at the 1995 MAKS Air Show.
Zircon is in under development for quite some years, and Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged its existence in February 2019. Putin indicated that the missile would be capable of Mach 9 flight and have a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). The missile will be armed with either a conventional or nuclear warhead.
According to the president of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, Zircon can be used on all future Russian Navy warships. The new missile will give new life to the Russian Navy, many of whose ships were built before the Cold War ended.
From the beginning, Admiral Gorshkov was chosen for the Tsirkon trials. Admiral Gorshkov is the lead ship in the Admiral Gorshkov class of frigates in the Russian Navy.
The keel for the ship was put down on February 1, 2006, and it was launched on October 29, 2010. It was commissioned into service on July 28, 2018, with Russia’s Northern Fleet. The ship bears his name in honor of Sergey Gorshkov, Hero of the Soviet Union.
Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates are 4,500 tonnes and 29 knots. They have P-800 Oniks, Kalibr anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, and Poliment-Redut air defense missiles.
Gorshkov-class frigates will have more firepower than American cruisers and heavy destroyers, researchers predict. The lead Project 22350 ship Admiral Gorshkov discreetly left Belomorsky Naval Base on July 19, 2020, to conduct the second Zircon hypersonic missile test.
The second test firing was supposed to occur earlier, but the coronavirus epidemic caused a delay.
Earlier this year, the Admiral Gorshkov frigate completed the first test shot of the Zircon hypersonic missile. The missile was launched against a ground target in the Northern Ural mountain range when the ship was at a distance of more than 500 kilometers in the Barents Sea.
After being docked on July 24, 2009, the Kazan submarine was launched in 2017 and is in service with the Russian Navy. Kalibr and Oniks cruise missiles are the submarines’ primary weapons.
Russia plans to build 8 Kazan-class sister ships to carry Zircon, which will be joined by future attack submarines. Russia will have eight submarines with zircon missiles by 2030.
Russia is developing more than just Zircon. the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile is being developed with practically infinite range.
The current types of missile defenses are inadequate to defend against hypersonic missiles. Our defense system is based on the assumption that we will intercept ballistic objects. A security analyst of American think tank RAND Corporation says,
“A ballistic missile is like a fly ball in baseball. The outfielder knows exactly where to catch it because its momentum and gravity determine its path. It is a different scenario for hypersonics. The different maneuverability and speed make hypersonic missiles unpredictable and extremely difficult to defend against.”