Why Russia’s Zircon missile could be a game changer?

Russia is in final stages of the development of the Zircon/ BrahMos II hypersonic missile and had already been tested earlier than planned, according to Sputnik news.

The 10-meter-long missile reportedly flew at a speed of Mach 8 (eight times the speed of sound) during an April 2017 trial. The speed makes the missile absolutely impervious to the currently-existing missile defense systems of a potential enemy, according to Russian news network Zvezda.

According to reports, the missile system was tested a year ahead of schedule. The hastening of Zircon’s tests comes amid the weakest point in relations between the West and Moscow since the Cold War, fueled by the Ukraine crisis, the war in Syria and Russia’s alleged interference in Western politics – including the US presidential election.

The Zircon is actually a modified version of the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile – a joint Russian-Indian design based on the P-800 Onyx missile. Therefore, the Zircon could have an effective range of about 400 kilometers. The 5-ton missile could reportedly cover a distance of 250 kilometers (155 miles) in just 2.5 minutes which makes it almost immune to interception by conventional technology.

Russian military experts said that the X-51A Waverider hypersonic cruise missile currently being tested buy the U.S. military pales in comparison with the Zircon. During an August 2014 test in Alaska, an X-43A was able to reach a top speed of 6,500 kilometers an hour (4,038 miles an hour) before burning up in the atmosphere seven minutes into the flight.

“That is why in the near future, Zirkon will become the Russian Navy’s main trump card in any [possible] confrontation with the US carrier battle groups,” Russian military expert Oleg Bozhov said in his article for Zvezda.

According to him, the Zircon can be fired from the same launchers as the Kalibr cruise missile and the Onyx anti-ship missile. He added that the Zircon missile system is expected to be added into Russia’s arsenal between 2018 and 2020.

Bozhov also said that the Zircon missiles could be installed on heavy nuclear-powered missile battlecruisers  Pyotr Veliky and Admiral Nakhimov and later on, fifth-generation nuclear powered submarines. “With foreign developers in a hurry to take retaliatory measures, the next 12-15 years will see no new weaponry capable of counteracting the Zircon,” he concluded.

About Zircon:

Zircon or 3M22 Tsirkon (Циркон, NATO reporting name: SS-N-33) is a maneuvering hypersonic missile being developed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya for the Russian military. It is a further development of the HELA (Russian: “Hypersonic Experimental Flying Vehicle”) that was on display at the MAKS airshow in 1995.

Prototypes were test-launched first from a Tu-22M3 bomber in 2012-13. Launches from a ground platform followed in 2015, with first success achieved in 2016. Completion of state trials on the whole family is targeted for 2020.

The Zircon is believed to be a winged cruise missile with a lift-generating center body. A booster stage with solid-fuel engines accelerates it to supersonic speeds, after which a scramjet motor in the second stage accelerates it to hypersonic speeds.

Range is estimated to be 135 to 270 nautical miles (155 to 311 mi; 250 to 500 km) at low level, and up to 400 nmi (460 mi; 740 km) in a semi-ballistic trajectory; average range is around 400 km (250 mi; 220 nmi).

The missile can travel at speeds of Mach 5–Mach 6 (3,806–4,567 mph; 6,125–7,350 km/h; 1.7015–2.0417 km/s).  Such high speeds enables it to penetrate existing naval defense systems.

In April 2017, it was revealed that the Zircon had reached a speed of Mach 8 (6,090 mph; 9,800 km/h; 2.7223 km/s) during a test. Its last successful launch was on June 3, 2017, almost a year earlier than had been announced by Russian officials.

A version for export will have range limited to under 300 km in compliance with the MTCR. (Source: Wikipedia)

Written with inputs from Sputnik.

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