Russia has sped up production of its hypersonic Zircon missile by four years and plans to go into “serial production” in 2018.
The cutting edge 3M22 missile is said to be “nigh unstoppable”, due to being able to reach speeds fix to six times the speed of sound (6000km/h) over a minimum 400km range. Some reports say the missile’s range can extend as far as 1000km.
The possibility of hypersonic missiles was only flagged in February last year, when Russia’s deputy defense minister, Army General Dmitry Bulgakov, told the government-owned news agency Sputnik that a special fuel formula, which allows hypersonic aerial vehicles to fly five times faster than the speed of sound, had been developed.
Soon after, it was announced hypersonic missile 3M22 of the 3K22 Zircon system could be rolled out by 2022.
But Russian news agency TASS now reports state tests of the Zircon will begin next year “and the missile’s serial production is planned to be launched next year”.
Whether that will actually eventuate in terms of field operations is open to interpretation.
The first ship to be armed with the missiles will be the nuclear-powered cruiser Admiral Nakhimov, which has been in the midst of an overhaul since 2014.
Another source told Tass the Admiral Nakhimov’s “deep modernisation envisages the replacement of the warship’s missile strike system”.
“As a result, the vessel will get the Zircon hypersonic missiles.”
The Admiral Nakhimov is slated to return to sea before 2019 to make way in the dry dock for the Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great), the world’s largest non-air-capable military vessel.
The Pyotr Velikiy is planned to be back in action with the hypersonic missiles in 2022.
However, the same source said tests of the 3K22 Zircon system are planned for completion “by 2020”.