First submarine launch test for the Russian Zircon missile. A “success” for the Moscow Ministry of Defense, according to which the carrier would have reached nine times the speed of sound, traveling at over three kilometers per second.
The Zircon departed from the Yasen-class Severodvinsk submarine (Ssgn category, nuclear-powered submarines with missile-launching capabilities) to hit its designated target in the Barents Sea. It is not the first test on the hypersonic cruise missile, but it is the first from a nuclear-powered submarine, an element which (as the Aukus agreement demonstrates) is of particular importance in modern operational scenarios.
As noted by the Missile Threath portal of the authoritative CSIS, American intelligence had already reported the first tests on the vector in 2015, followed by another more relevant (in terms of distance) in December in 2018. The official plans were unveiled by Vladimir Putin in February 2019 during the annual speech in the Duma. The president then confirmed the entry into service of the Zircon in 2022, also announcing that the missile would be capable of reaching Mach 9 with a range of one thousand kilometers.
The target has been centered on speed, for a carrier that presents itself as a hypersonic cruise missile launchable by naval and submarine units, with prevailing anti-ship functions and described by (Russian) experts as invisible to radar, both for the high speed that it can reach, both due to the cloud of heat that surrounds it during the flight and that would allow it to absorb radio frequency rays.
On 7 October last year, the test from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, located in the White Sea, was the gift of the Russian Navy for President Putin’s 68th birthday. On that occasion the Zircon traveled for 450 kilometers at a maximum height of 28 kilometers, taking four and a half minutes to reach the goal set in the Barents Sea and reaching Mach 8. The last test before the one announced today dates back instead to last July. Also launched in this case by the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, the missile would have successfully hit the target located 350 kilometers away, reaching Mach 9.
Among other things, the July test brought forward the military parade for the 325th anniversary of his Navy by a few days. “We can detect enemies underwater, on the surface or in the air and target them, if necessary, with a lethal attack,” Putin explained, attending the maneuvers in the Neva bay, in St. Petersburg, with over fifty ships and submarines. “The work on the Zircon system and the successful tests of this missile are a great event in the life of both the Armed Forces and the whole of Russia,” added the president.
On the other hand, the carrier in question is part of a variegated and already extensively tested arsenal, even in operational scenarios. In June 2017, a Russian naval unit launched 26 Kalibr missiles from the Caspian Sea against ISIS positions in Syria. On that occasion they traveled about 1,500 kilometers, flying at a few tens of meters of altitude (thus remaining difficult to identify by radar) and accelerating in the final phase of the flight. Kalibr are cruise missiles with stealth capabilities, the development of which dates back to the Soviet attempt to respond to the American Tomahawks.
The attention reserved by Russia to hypersonics appears to be impressive, considered by experts to be the real “game changer” of future operational scenarios. In December 2018, the Russian Defense tested the Avangard, a hypersonic glide missile, capable of overcoming the atmosphere like an ascending ballistic missile, and then re-entering it at hypersonic speed, changing trajectory and increasing unpredictability. Also on that occasion, Putin personally intervened for the test, announcing his commissioning of the system by 2019. It was added, among other things, to the tests carried out in the previous months on the aviation-launched “invincible” hypersonic cruise missile. (the Khinzal, literally dagger), as well as on the more than intercontinental ballistic missile Satan 2.
As for Zircon, industrial sources told Tass that there should be a second submarine launch test by the end of the year. The actual deliveries to the Russian Navy are expected in 2022 and therefore the entry into service.

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