The newest Russian missile Zircon, which has already been successfully tested, leaves no chance for any warship and cannot be destroyed by existing air defense systems. Let’s see why is that.
According to numerous reports, 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 missile could be installed on Pyotr Veliky, the country’s nuclear-powered missile strike ship.
Analysts stated the missile concept can fly at 4,600 miles per hour — that’s 6 times the speed of sound — and would be practically impervious to missile defense systems, reported The Independent. This high speed is achievable using a state of the art “scramjet” engine, which takes the oxygen it needs for propulsion from the atmosphere instead of a tank on board. This makes it smaller, lighter and faster than other engines of its type.
Developed by the Russian military, it could be operational as early as next year, at which point it will likely be fitted to a nuclear-powered Kirov class warship, like Pyotr Veliky, Russia’s nuclear-powered battlecruiser, as well as strategic bombers and submarines.
Although the Zircon is believed to have a shorter range than some Russian anti-ship weapons at present – around 250 miles – and carries conventional explosives it will have a devastating impact on any target it strikes.
During an April 2017 trial, the 10-meter-long Zircon missile flew at eight times the speed of sound, which makes it absolutely impervious to the currently-existing missile defense systems of a potential enemy, according to Zvezda.
For example, the UK Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers with Sea Ceptor missile system can only shoot down missiles travelling up to 2,300mph. Travelling at a speed that can reach to between 3,800mph to 4,600mph, the Zircon missiles will be able to evade the air defence systems of the new 60,000-tonne naval carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which are currently under construction. It means the two ships, the first of which is not expected to be fully operational before 2020, could be rendered obsolete by this new development in hypersonic warfare despite costing up to £7 billion to build.
US is also being testing hypersonic cruise missile systems but experts said that the X-51A Waverider hypersonic cruise missile pales in comparison with the Zircon.
“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,” said Russian military expert Oleg Bozhov.
The US Air Force has more than doubled the amount of funding allocated to “accelerated” development and demonstration of an X-51 follow-on in its latest five-year budget submission. Funding is increased from $130 million to $309 million between fiscal years 2017 and 2020 compared to last year’s submission, plus $22 million for 2021. Another $25 million per year is allocated for continued scramjet engine development, and more money is sprinkled across different lines of effort.
China and Russia have searched for asymmetric weapons that can defeat American carriers. Hypersonic missiles are virtually unstoppable. The whole idea of the carrier is the ability to project power. But with no method of protecting themselves against missiles like the Zircon the carrier would have to stay out of range, hundreds of miles out at sea. It’s planes would be useless and the whole basis of a carrier task force would be redundant.