It’s not every birthday boy who has a hypersonic cruise missile launched in his honor, on his birthday.
But then again, we are talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin, who turned 68 on October 6, and celebrated in spectacular fashion, you might say.
The Russian military confirmed this week it has successfully test-launched a Zircon hypersonic cruise missile off Russia’s northern coast, in what President Putin hailed as a “big event” for the country, Radio Free Europe reported.
Speaking to Putin by video conference, General Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov said the test launch took place from the Admiral Groshkov frigate located in the White Sea.
Gerasimov said that the hypersonic anti-ship missile flew at a speed more than eight times the speed of sound and hit its target 450 kilometers (280 miles) away in the Barents Sea, Radio Free Europe reported.
“Equipping our armed forces — the army and the navy — with the latest, truly unparalleled weapon systems will certainly ensure the defense capability of our country in the long term,” said Putin, who was celebrating his 68th birthday.
Putin has repeatedly spoken about new weapons such as the Zircon, claiming that they are impossible to intercept, Radio Free Europe reported.
Last year, the Russian leader said the Tsirkon would be capable of flying at Mach 9 and have a range of 1,000 kilometers. He has pledged to beef up Russia’s military presence in the Arctic.
According to The War Zone, the Russian defense chief told Putin that the missile achieved a maximum altitude of 17.4 miles and hit its target after a flight time of four and a half minutes.
Gerasimov added that the Zircon, officially part of the 3K22 “weapons complex,” is expected to equip additional submarines and surface ships of the Russian Navy.
It’s also worth noting that a notice to airmen (NOTAM) was issued for this area of the White Sea covering the period October 5 to October 9, consistent with the test. This alerts pilots to potential hazards in the area and is standard procedure for a weapons test of this kind, The War Zone reported.
The footage that the Ministry of Defense subsequently released shows a missile fired from the 16-cell 3S14 vertical launch system (VLS) on the foredeck of the Northern Fleet’s 5,400-ton-displacement Project 22350 frigate Admiral Gorshkov, underway in the White Sea on the northwest coast of Russia.
Another view shows the weapon pulling up, apparently stabilized by vectoring rockets, and then tilting to an angle less than 90 degrees. As the missile disappears into the cloud, the video ends, The War Zone reported.
The 3M22 Tsirkon/3M22 Zircon is a scramjet-powered maneuvering hypersonic anti-ship/land-attack cruise missile, DefPost online reported.
The missile 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.
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.
This is the same principle used in the US Air Force’s experimental X-51 Waverider, in which supersonic shockwaves are used to maintain the flight vehicle’s lift and stability, The War Zone reported.
There have also been unconfirmed reports that the Zircon may employ “plasma stealth” technology, in which it’s shrouded from hostile radar by a cloud of radar-absorbing ionized particles. The US is also working on this technology.
This is the first time the Russian Ministry of Defense has spoken specifically about the missile’s top speed. That the weapon reportedly hit Mach 8 would put its performance close to previous estimates and other official statements, The War Zone reported.
According to Reuters, the Zirkon test comes amid tensions over arms control between Russia and the United States.
New START, the last major nuclear arms pact in place between the two countries, is due to expire in February.
— with files from Radio Free Europe, The War Zone, DefPost.com, Reuters