Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates displace 4,500 tonnes and can develop a speed of 29 knots. Credit: Handout.

The race for hypersonic superiority continues.

The 3M22 Tsirkon/3M22 Zircon (NATO reporting name: SS-N-33) is a scramjet-powered maneuvering hypersonic cruise missile being developed by Russia.

It reportedly has a maximum flight speed of Mach 9 and a range of over 1,000 km, and it can reportedly hit both naval and ground targets, making it both an anti-ship missile (or ship-killing missile) as well as a land-attack cruise missile.

Which makes it a very dangerous weapon, indeed.

According to the TASS news agency, the Russian Navy’s lead Project 22350 frigate Admiral Gorshkov quietly departed Belomorsky Naval Base this week to conduct the second test firing of the new Zircon hypersonic missile, DefPost reported.

“On Saturday, Gorshkov went to sea from the Belomorsky Naval Base for a second test launch of the Zircon rocket,” the report quoted one source as saying. A second source noted that the launch of the rocket from the frigate “should take place in the next two weeks.”

According to the report, the second test firing was originally scheduled earlier but the coronavirus pandemic reportedly delayed the launch, the report said.

The first test firing of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the Admiral Gorshkov frigate was conducted earlier this year. The missile was fired against a ground target in the Northern Ural mountain range while the ship was in the Barents Sea, a distance reportedly exceeding 500 km, sources say.

The 3M22 Tsirkon/3M22 Zircon (NATO reporting name: SS-N-33) is a scramjet-powered maneuvering hypersonic cruise missile being developed by Russia. Credit: Handout.

Zircon missiles are launched from the UKSK (“universal ship firing complex”) 3S-14 vertical launching system (VLS). These launchers, in particular, are equipped on Project 22350 frigates, Project 20380 corvettes and Yasen-class cruise missile submarines, the report said.

The 3M22 Tsirkon/3M22 Zircon is designed and developed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya as a further development of its HELA (Hypersonic Experimental Flying Vehicle) concept that was on display at the 1995 MAKS Air Show.

It 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, the report said.

Admiral Gorshkov (417) is an Admiral Gorshkov class frigate of the Russian Navy and the lead ship of the class. The ship is named after Hero of the Soviet Union Sergey Gorshkov.

Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates displace 4,500 tonnes and can develop a speed of 29 knots. They are armed with P-800 Oniks and Kalibr anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, and the Poliment-Redut air defense missile system, the report said.

With the addition of Zircon missiles, analysts say Gorshkov-class frigates will boast more firepower than America’s cruisers and heavy destroyers.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.