Putin’s ‘invincible’ missile has a very common problem

A new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched from the Barents Sea by the Russian Navy's frigate Admiral Gorshkov in this image taken from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry press service on Saturday, May 28, 2022.

Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov launches a Zircon hypersonic missile in the Barents Sea in May 2022.Russian Ministry of Defense press service via AP

  • Putin has advertised that it is impossible to defend against Russian hypersonic weapons like Zircon missiles.

  • Zircon in particular is powerful, but Western experts say there are limits to what it can do.

  • As with any fast weapon, the Zircon’s speed can come at the expense of its accuracy.

A Russian Zircon hypersonic missile can do two things: It flies at about 7,000 mph, making it very difficult to shoot down or hit a moving ship. But you can’t do both.

This is the conclusion of British experts who say that zircon is a powerful weapon with great limitations.

“Zircon’s operational deployment is an important development, but its importance should not be overstated.” According to Sidharth Kaushala naval warfare expert at the Royal United Service Institute, a British defense think tank.

President Vladimir Putin calls Russia’s hypersonic weapons “invincible” Russian officials said 3M22 Zircon It can travel at Mach 9, or about 6,900 mph, which may be too fast for current tactical anti-missile defenses.

But Putin’s rhetoric cannot change the laws of physics. The problem is that objects moving at hypersonic speeds (above Mach 5) ionize the surrounding air, creating a sheath of plasma around the object that blocks the radar signal.

Radar, however, shows exactly how well a guided missile hits its target. When the missile arrives near the designated point, the nose active his radar seeker turns on, scanning the area and locking onto the target. Similar issues affect other high-velocity missiles such as: Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile.

putin missile

President Vladimir Putin watches a missile launch from a warship during a Russian Arctic exercise in August 2005.Reuters/ITAR-TASS/Presidential Press Service

“Because the missile’s plasma layer prevents the use of active radar and other on-board sensors to track the target ship in the final stages, the missile travels at well below hypersonic speeds to track moving targets. It is highly probable that we will have to slow down to ,” Koshal wrote.

There is no need to slow down against stationary targets, such as buildings on land. But when hunting ships, the Zircon will probably have to slow down to supersonic speeds to use its radar. If so, the Zircon would not move faster than early anti-ship missiles, such as the Russian anti-ship missile, when it approaches its target. P-800 Onyxthe speed is about Mach 2.5, or 1,900 miles per hour.

supersonic missiles are US Navy SeaRAM gun/missile system.

Additionally, once the Zircon is launched, the rocket will boost to the high altitude and supersonic speed required to fire up the Zircon’s scramjet engine and reach hypersonic speed. The downside is that unlike supersonic anti-ship missiles, which can glide just above water to avoid radar detection, the Zircon must remain at an altitude of about 12 miles until relatively close to its target. The higher you fly, the more visible you are to radar.

“Missiles can be hypersonic or low observable, but not both in tandem,” Kaushal wrote.

Zircon should never be underestimated. For example, a destroyer might not detect a missile until it’s within about 15 miles, Kaushal said. “From this point on, assuming the missile is a Zircon flying at a speed of Mach 5-6, the ship has 15 seconds for him to react.”

Koshal, however, is skeptical of Russia’s claims that Zircon is in fact working.

Russian Navy Frigate Zircon Hypersonic Missile SS-N-33

The Russian frigate Admiral Groshkov launches a Zircon hypersonic missile over the White Sea in October 2020.Russian Ministry of Defense press service via AP

This weapon was developed significantly faster than previous Russian missiles. “Furthermore, there do not appear to be any reported test failures, which is unusual for a new missile, especially one as complex as a hypersonic cruise missile,” Kaushal noted.

The Zircon has a reported range of about 621 miles, but this is dependent on the missile being accurately guided to the target zone. Onboard her radar can only scan a limited range, small objects that even an aircraft carrier can detect. big sea.Russia’s maritime surveillance and detection capabilities are also limited beyond its coastal waters.

“Not much is known about Zircon’s navigation system, but plasma blackout risks appear to require very accurate inertial guidance. Guidance from GPS or its Russian counterpart, GLONASS, is reliable.” It cannot be assumed that

Nonetheless, Zircon may end up giving many Russian warships hypersonic strike capabilities. Weapons are approximately 26 to 32 feet in length. Admiral Gorshkov class frigate and submarines like Yasen-class warships plaguing NATO commanders.

“It’s pretty big even by cruise missile standards,” Kaushal told an insider. “That said, most ships in the Russian fleet are equipped to carry cruise missiles, so it’s definitely a design principle, even for smaller elements of the fleet.”

Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He holds a master’s degree in political science.follow him twitter and LinkedIn.

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