On January 4, 2023, Russia set out a warship armed with new hypersonic cruise missiles to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean, in a show of military force as the war in Ukraine gains momentum. Russian Navy’s frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov, has set out on a deployment armed, in part, with new Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles. Russia had in 2020 carried out the first ever successful live-fire launch of a Zircon during a drill in the White Sea.
At the launch of the warship, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said frigate Admiral Gorshkov would travel on a long-range voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea,
WHAT RUSSIA SAID?
On the occasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was sure that such powerful weapons would make it possible to reliably protect the country from potential external threats and help ensure the national interests of the country.
“We will continue to develop the fighting potential of our armed forces,” Putin said, adding that the Zircon missile system on the ship “has no equivalent”, Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying..
Meanwhile, Shoigu said that main focus of the mission would be countering threats to Russia and supporting regional peace and stability together with friendly countries. “In exercises, there will be training for the crew on deploying hypersonic weapons and long-range cruise missiles,” he said.
Shoigu said the Zircon missiles were “able to overcome any modern or future air defence” and could deliver “pinpoint and powerful strikes against the enemy at sea and on land”.
The Admiral Gorshkov is also outfitted with various other weapons, such as air defenses and torpedoes. Gorshkov class frigates are among the service’s most modern surface combatants and the class leader notably conducted an around-the-world voyage in 2019 that saw it visit ports in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Gorshkov‘s commanding officer, Captain Igor Krokhmal, said that it has been loaded with variants of the Kalibr subsonic cruise missile family, which include anti-ship and land-attack types, as well as Zircons, according to Russian state media. Admiral Gorshkov class frigates can fire either of these weapons, as well as Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, from an array of 16 multi-purpose vertical launch cells at the bow-end of the ship.
Admiral Gorshkov class frigates are also armed with a 130mm main gun, a navalized version of the S-350 surface-to-air missile system called Redut, Palash close-in weapon systems, and torpedoes. The Russian Navy currently has three of these warships, with seven more in various phases of construction and fitting out.
Zircon is believed to be a manoeuvring, winged hypersonic cruise missile with a lift-generating centre body. A booster stage with solid-fuel engines accelerates it to supersonic speeds, after which a scram jet motor with liquid-fuel in the second stage accelerates it to hypersonic speeds. The high speed of speed of Mach 9 gives Zircon better target-penetration characteristics than lighter subsonic cruise-missiles, such as Tomahawk. Being twice as heavy and almost eleven times as fast as Tomahawk, the Zircon has more than 242 times the on-cruise kinetic energy of a Tomahawk missile. The missile cannot be be intercepted by existing missile defence systems because of its speed. Moreover, its precision makes it lethal to large targets such as aircraft carriers. As the missile flies at hypersonic speeds within the atmosphere, the air pressure in front of it forms a plasma cloud as it moves, absorbing radio waves and making it practically invisible to active radar systems.
SHOW OF FORCE
With the launch of Admiral Gorshkov with Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles, Russia sends out a clear message. It is a show of force in the context of its growing isolation over its war on Ukraine. Its main presence in Atlantic and Mediteranian, where the US and other NATO naval activities take place, is considered to be a clear messaage to prove its military powers.