Tsirkon 'serial production': Russia's race for hypersonic missiles revealed

Updated: Feb 10, 2022, 04:12 PM(IST)

Russian nuclear-powered submarine Severodvinsk had test-fired Tsirkon hypersonic missiles from its surface and submerged position in the White Sea.

Putin's 'invincible weapons'

Last year in December, President Vladimir Putin had informed that the Russian military had successfully fired a simultaneous salvo of its Zircon hypersonic missiles, calling it "a big event" for the country. 

It was the first time that Russian authorities reported a successful simultaneous launch test of several Zircon missiles.

The announcement was made even as Russian troops were massing along Ukraine's border. As world powers race to develop advanced weaponry, Russia has carried out a number of successful tests of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile.

Putin said that the salvo launch of the missile had been conducted overnight hailing it as "immaculate".


Putin's US concern

Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.

Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land within a range of 1,000 kilometres at a speed of Mach 9.

Putin has voiced concern in particular over what he said was US missile deployments in Poland and Romania, countries he said would soon be capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Russian president had said new arsenal of hypersonic missiles that he has previously described as "invincible" were nearing combat readiness.


Serial production of Tsirkon hypersonic missiles

Russia's news agency last November had revealed the country's defence forces had started a "serial production" of Tsirkon hypersonic missiles for the Navy.

The production centre is based in at the Industrial Association of Machine Building (MIC NPO Mashinostroyenia) near Moscow in the town of Reutovo.

On October 4 last year, the Russian nuclear-powered submarine Severodvinsk test-fired Tsirkon hypersonic missiles from its surface and submerged position in the White Sea for the first time.

TASS said the state trials of the Tsirkon hypersonic missile would begin in November(2021) and continue in December. Overall, five test-launches against sea and coastal targets are planned.



Russia 'No. 1 in the world' in hypersonic missiles

President Putin had proudly claimed that Russia is the global leader in hypersonic missiles and, by the time other countries catch up, is likely to have developed technology to counteract these new weapons.

Putin asserted that Russia is also "No. 1 in the world" by the scale of upgrades of its traditional weapons. "When they get this weapon, it is highly likely will have means to fight this weapon," the Russian president boasted.

Hypersonic missiles combine of speed, manoeuvrability and altitude which makes them difficult to track and intercept.

The missiles travel at more than five times the speed of sound in the upper atmosphere, or about 6,200 km per hour. This is slower than an intercontinental ballistic missile, but the shape of a hypersonic glide vehicle allows it to manoeuvre toward a target or away from defences.


Russian missiles that can evade US-built missile shield

Russia had also had carried out another successful test launch of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, hailed by President Vladimir Putin as part of a new generation of unrivalled arms systems.

The missile was fired from the Admiral Gorshkov warship in the White Sea and hit a naval target more than 400 km away. A short video clip showed the missile illuminating the night sky with a burst of white light.

Putin announced an array of new hypersonic weapons in 2018, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a US-built missile shield.


Russian military expenditure vs US

Moscow's military spending is much lower than that of Washington. Russia channelled $62 billion on military expenditures in 2020 versus $778 billion spent by the United States, according to the World Bank.

US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall had said that the United States and China were engaged in an arms race to develop the most lethal hypersonic weapons.


Russia's submarine Perm to be fitted with Tsirkon hypersonic missiles

The Tsirkon multi-purpose hypersonic missile is designated to strike sea and ground targets, TASS reported.  The Tsirkon hypersonic missiles are capable of flying at Mach 9 (nine times the speed of sound) and can strike targets at over 1,000 km.

Reports say Russian submarines and ships will be fitted with Tsirkon hypersonic missile systems.

Russia's submarine Perm will be the first underwater carrier to deploy the Tsirkon hypersonic missiles. The submarine is set to enter service with the Russian Navy in 2025, reports say.



'Quite a Sputnik moment'

Putin had used his state of the nation address in 2018 to reveal new hypersonic weapons, including the Zircon, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometre.

The Zircon looks set to join Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles that were put into service in 2019 and the air-launched Kinzhal (Dagger) missiles in Russia's arsenal. Russia is generally seen as the world leader in hypersonic technology.

In fact, after the surprise launch of the hypersonic missile by China, Pentagon's top general Mark Milley had said it was "quite a Sputnik moment".

The general was referring to Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, which sparked the superpowers' space race.

China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.


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