Russia is planning to test-fire a salvo of new hypersonic missiles from a warship for the first time this year, state media says

  • Russia is planning to test-fire a salvo of new Zircon (Tsirkon) hypersonic cruise missiles from a warship before the end of the year, Russian state-run RIA Novosti reported Monday.
  • Russia conducted the first test-fire of a Zircon missile aboard a warship in October. That test was followed by two more tests in November and December.
  • The missile, which was first announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019, has hit speeds of Mach 8 and struck targets as far away as 280 miles in testing, according to Russian media reports citing the defence ministry.
  • In each of the previous three test, only one missile was fired. A salvo launch would simulate a large-scale missile strike more like what might be seen in real-world combat.
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Russia plans to test-fire a salvo of new hypersonic cruise missiles from a warship before the end of the year, Russian state media reports.

The Admiral Gorshkov, the lead ship of the newer Project 22350 frigates, is expected to fire off multiple Zircon (Tsirkon) hypersonic cruise missiles in rapid succession in a salvo test by the end of 2021, a source in the military-industrial complex told state-run RIA Novosti.

The test is reportedly intended to simulate a real-world large missile strike against sea- and ground-based targets, so the ship and its weapons will face various countermeasures during testing.

A Russian navy warship test-fired the Zircon hypersonic missile for the first time on Oct. 7. The new weapon was launched from aboard the Admiral Gorshkov. Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported that the missile flew at speeds of Mach 8 before successfully striking a target 280 miles away.

The Russian Ministry of Defence released the following video of that first test:

Two more tests, both involving the Northern Fleet’s Admiral Gorshkov, were conducted in late November and early December. During the former test, a Zircon missile was fired at a naval target 280 miles away, and during the latter, the missile struck a land-based target roughly 215 miles away.

In each of the three tests, only one missile was fired, RIA Novosti reported Monday.

“The work on the Tsirkon system and the stage of carrying out a successful test of this missile is a major event not only for the Armed Forces but for entire Russia,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said after the test in October.

Putin added that “equipping our Armed Forces — the army and the fleet — with advanced weapons systems, which indeed have no rivals in the world, certainly ensure our state’s defence capacity for many years to come.”

Putin first unveiled the Tsirkon missile during a threatening state-of-the-nation address in February 2019, when he claimed the weapon could reach speeds of Mach 9 and strike targets 620 miles away.

The missile is expected to be adopted by both surface ships and submarines once testing is completed. RIA Novosti reports that serial deliveries to the Russian navy could begin next year.

The development of hypersonic weaponry is a key area of competition for Russia, the US, and China because there is currently no adequate defence against these weapons.

Despite what the name implies, hypersonic missiles are not a serious threat solely because of their speed. They are dangerous because they can manoeuvre and fly along unpredictable flight paths, giving them the ability to skirt traditional missile defences not designed to counter this type of threat.

The US Navy, working in collaboration with other service branches, is developing its own hypersonic missile for surface ships and submarines that is expected to come online in the next few years.