The Russian navy has successfully test-fired a prototype hypersonic missile from a nuclear submarine for the first time, the Russian Defense Ministry said earlier this week.
According to the ministry, the Severodvinsk submarine performed two launches of the Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile. Tsirkon is a weapon that President Vladimir Putin has boasted as part of a new generation of “invincible” unrivaled arms systems.
“The test-firing of the Zircon missile from a nuclear submarine was deemed successful,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in its statement.
Hypersonic weapons are much more difficult to track or intercept with conventional anti-aircraft weapons.
Russia first test-fired Tsirkon from the water’s surface, and then launched another missile from the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine from a depth of 131 feet. The missile hit a test target in the Barents Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
It also released a grainy video showing the missile lighting up the night sky during the launch. The video was purposely blurred to make a detailed examination by Western intelligence harder.
In July, the Zircon had been repeatedly test-fired from a navy frigate.
President Putin has said the Zircon missile is capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound (over 6,850 mph) and has a range of 620 miles. In 2018, he said that the missiles could evade the U.S. missile defense shield, and “reach anywhere in the world.”
“[U.S. and NATO] need to take account of a new reality and understand… [this] is not a bluff,” Putin had said.
However, many Western military analysts question how advanced the Zircon actually is, as Putin and the Russian Defense Ministry frequently exaggerate Russia’s military capabilities. Despite this, Russia appears to be moving ahead with its development and deployment of hypersonic weapons.
Another prototype hypersonic weapon, the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, dubbed the SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO, reportedly crashed in the Arctic during an engine test in the summer of 2019. While retrieving it, the missile exploded killing several scientists. Earlier tests had also been reported as unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the Avangard is now deployed by the Russian navy.
The Zircon’s tests are slated to be completed later this year according to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. The missile will be commissioned by the Russian navy in 2022, according to the Defense Ministry. The Zircon is intended to arm Russia’s submarines, cruisers, and frigates.
A Resurgent Russia
Since the return of a belligerent Russia under Putin, tensions with the West have steadily increased peaking with the Russian annexation and invasion of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula.
Following the poor performance of the Russian military in the short conflict with Georgia in 2008, Russia launched the New Look reform program making the modernization of its arsenal a top priority.
The reforms have resulted in an emphasis on the professional force rather than the conscripted, improvements in Russian nuclear forces, which are considered Russia’s ultimate security guarantor, improved combat aircraft, better equipped conventional forces, and upgraded missile systems.
Russia’s improved military has provided Moscow with the backbone to be much more aggressive in its attempt to spread its influence in many parts of the world.
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