Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
- Russia is sending a warship armed with hypersonic missiles on a deployment that will take it into the Atlantic Ocean.
- Putin has boasted that the new Zircon hypersonic missile is unrivalled.
- The weapon has been tested several times, most recently last year.
Russian leadership announced Wednesday that Russia is sending a warship armed with new hypersonic cruise missiles that Moscow has touted as unstoppable off on a deployment that will take it into the Atlantic.
The frigate Admiral Gorshkov will travel on a long-range voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a ceremony, according to state-run media outlet TASS.
He explained that the “main efforts during the campaign will be focused on countering Russia’s threats, maintaining regional peace, and stability together with friendly countries.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also attended the ceremony, said that the Admiral Gorshkov and its “powerful weapons” will safeguard Russia from “potential external threats.” This frigate is the lead ship for Russia’s Project 22350, an effort to develop advanced multi-purpose combat ships.
Russian Navy’s guided missile frigate Admiral Gorshkov arrives in the port city of Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province, April, 21, 2019, to join multinational naval events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Xinhua/ via Getty Images
The Admiral Gorshkov is setting sail armed with Zircon, also spelled Tsirkon, hypersonic missiles — a relatively new weapon in Moscow’s arsenal. Putin first revealed the development of the missile during a February 2019 address to the nation, during which he announced work on various weapons while also threatening to target the US if it moved ballistic missiles to Europe.
Speaking Wednesday, Putin said the Zircon missile has “no analogues in any country in the world.”
The Russian military, using the Admiral Gorshkov as a testing platform, test-fired a Zircon hypersonic missile for the first time in October 2020. The Russian defense ministry said it flew at speeds of Mach 8 before hitting a target nearly 300 miles away. Several tests have occurred since then, most recently last May.
—Минобороны России (@mod_russia) October 7, 2020
The Admiral Gorshkov is also outfitted with various other weapons, such as air defenses and torpedoes, TASS cited the ship’s captain Igor Krokhmal as saying, though the Zircon hypersonic missiles are perhaps the most noteworthy.
“We will continue to develop the combat potential of the Armed Forces, make advanced models of weapons and equipment that will guard Russia’s security in the coming decades. This is a promising weapon,” Putin said at the Wednesday ceremony, according to Russian state media.
Hypersonic missiles are highly maneuverable and fast, and they can fly along unpredictable flight paths, thus creating headaches for traditional air defenses. Standard ballistic missiles, by contrast, travel on set parabolic trajectories.
Hypersonic weapon development by Russia — and also China — is a concern for the US military, which is working on its own systems.
In December, a US B-52 bomber successfully launched a fully-operational hypersonic missile prototype in a milestone weapon test for the Air Force that could pave the way to production and fielding. The Army is planning to field its first hypersonic missile unit later this year, and the Navy is looking to have these weapons on Zumwalt-class destroyers by 2025.