Russia has successfully tested its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile once again. The Defense Ministry revealed that the missile was fired from its Admiral Gorshkov warship. It traveled at seven times the speed of sound and hit its target 350 kilometers (217 miles) away.
“During the test, the tactical and technical characteristics of the Zircon rocket were confirmed… The Zircon complex plans to equip submarines and submarines of the Russian Navy,” the Russian defense ministry stated in a Facebook post.
Zircon is a scramjet-powered maneuvering anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile. It has an average range of 400 to 450 kilometers (250 to 280 miles). Its estimated speed is Mach 8 to 9 (6,090 to 6,851 miles per hour). Experts believe that the speed allows Zircon to penetrate existing defense systems. Multiple tests of the missiles have been conducted previously. Last October, November, and December, three separate tests were carried out. State trials of the hypersonic missiles are scheduled to be held next month.
“The first launch from the Admiral Gorshkov frigate within the state trials is planned for the first part of August. The second part of August will see flight trials of Zircon from the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine,” a source told TASS.
Admiral Gorshkov is expected to perform four launches while the Severodvinsk will perform its first launch from a surface position, firing at a surface target. The recent test comes as the Russian Embassy in the United States warned Pentagon that any deployment of hypersonic missiles in Europe would be “extremely destabilizing.”
“Their short flight time would leave Russia little to no decision time and raise likelihood of inadvertent conflict,” the embassy tweeted on July 20.
During a July 19 press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby was asked whether the U.S. is concerned about the recent Zircon test. He stated that the Russian missiles are riskier than American ones.
“Russia’s new hypersonic missiles are potentially destabilizing and pose significant risks because they are nuclear-capable systems,” Kirby said. In contrast, the U.S. is only focused on developing non-nuclear hypersonic strike capabilities. U.S. and NATO “remain committed to deterrence” while promoting greater stability in the region, he stated.
When asked as to why the United States was not developing nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles like the Russians, Kirby replied that “You’d have to ask Vladimir Putin why he’s chosen to go that route.” The Pentagon Press Secretary said that America’s decision to develop non-nuclear hypersonic missiles is a “matter of policy.”
NATO stated that “NATO allies are committed to respond in measured way to Russia’s growing array of conventional and nuclear-capable missiles… We will not mirror what Russia does, but we will maintain credible deterrence and defense, to protect our nations.”
U.S. Hypersonic missiles
Lockheed Martin is presently developing the AGM-183 ARRW hypersonic missile for use by the American military. The boost-glide weapon reportedly has a maximum speed of Mach 7. A booster test flight of the ARRW took place this past April. It ended in failure. However, another test conducted the following month was a success.
The May test checked ARRW sensors, avionics, and communication systems. The test was conducted using a B-52 Stratofortress bomber that flew a 13-hour round trip from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to Alaska. The U.S. Air Force is hoping to live-fire ARRW prototypes by October of this year. By September 2022, the missiles are expected to become operational.
In an interview with Sputnik Radio, a retired colonel and military observer Viktor Litovkin played down U.S. efforts in developing hypersonic missiles. He was speaking in the aftermath of the failed ARRW tests in April.
“Not a single rocket, not a single plane flies the first time. There is always a period of testing, when there are errors, there are failures … In order to figure out why this or that rocket does not fly, it is necessary to carry out tests… It’s another matter that the Americans have been advertising their hypersonic weapons, their hypersonic missiles for 20 years, and they still cannot do anything,” Litovkin said in the interview.
The retired colonel pointed out that Russia already possesses several hypersonic missiles like the Zircon, Dagger, and the Avangard complex. Litovkin predicted that it could take America “10 years to catch up with us.”
The U.S. Navy has reportedly pulled out from its electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) program. A report by the Associated Press states that the Defense Department is moving away to focus on hypersonic missiles so as to keep up with Russia and China.
“The railgun is, for the moment, dead,” Matthew Caris, a defense analyst at the consulting firm Avascent Group, told the media outlet.
Caris believes that the U.S. Navy’s decision to stop the EMRG project might have something to do with their shorter range as compared to hypersonic missiles. Navy spokesperson Lt. Courtney Callaghan stated that the Navy’s decision to pause the program freed up resources that could be allocated to other programs like hypersonic missiles, electronic warfare systems, and laser technologies.
According to a report by The Epoch Times, a Chinese state-backed media outlet, China Hot, used the news to trumpet the superiority of CCP’s military prowess.
“The research and development of China’s killer electromagnetic railgun technology have achieved great success… The performance of China’s electromagnetic railguns has surpassed that of the U.S. military,” China Hot reported.
The U.S. Navy has invested over $500 million in the EMRG program over the past decade. In the Navy’s 2022 fiscal year proposal, the EMRG project was listed as “N/A.” In its 2021 fiscal report, the Navy stated that the knowledge attained by researching railgun technology would be “documented and preserved.” It also raised the possibility that the program might be revisited sometime in the future.