BEIJING, (BM) – In January of this year, the launch of the project 22350 frigate of the Admiral Gorshkov type was the first successful launch of the 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missile. The missile hit the ground target located at the military range of the Northern Urals, the flight range was more than 500 kilometers.
This is the third hypersonic complex after the Dagger aviation hypersonic complex and the Avangard ground hypersonic complex and the first sea-based hypersonic complex in Russia. Although the test target was on land, foreign media believe that the target of this missile will be an aircraft carrier strike group.
Hypersonic ramjet engine (scramjet)
The Zircon rocket was first tested in 2016. It was originally planned to equip the Russian Navy with missiles of this type in 2018. However, due to the large technological gap and the high complexity of development, the project implementation deadlines have been repeatedly extended. In February 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned a rocket in his message on the situation in the country, saying that its maximum flight range is 1000 kilometers and its maximum speed is 9 Machs.
Since then, the government has not released any information or even photographs of the rocket. Russian media described Zircon as a kind of hypersonic aircraft equipped with a ramjet engine that can be launched from offshore platforms such as surface ships and nuclear submarines, and is also used to launch attacks on enemy aircraft carrier groups.
The key technology of the Zircon rocket is its hypersonic ramjet engine. The scramjet engine is a direct descendant of ramjet engines that have been widely used in the past. In a ramjet engine, before entering the combustion chamber through the inlet, the supersonic flow is reduced to subsonic speed and compressed, and then ignited and thrown out with the fuel into the combustion chamber, thereby setting the rocket in motion.
The speed of the rocket can reach 5 to 6 Machs. In a supersonic ramjet engine, a supersonic stream is compressed to a lower supersonic speed in the inlet channel, then mixed with fuel in the combustion chamber, then ignited and emitted, accelerating the rocket. This type of engine usually uses hydrocarbon fuel or liquid rocket fuel, since it completely burns out in a supersonic stream and produces more traction, increasing the speed of the rocket to from 6 to 25 Machs.
Difficulties in research and development of scramjet engines are encountered worldwide. In the design of the X-51 hypersonic missile, the United States also used this type of engine. But due to serious technical difficulties, the project was closed at one time. Thus, thanks to its key technology, the Zircon rocket is the world’s first hypersonic missile using a hypersonic ramjet engine.
The “killer” of new generation aircraft carriers
Russia attaches great importance to the development of hypersonic weapons and currently has three types of hypersonic missiles. Hypersonic missiles “Avangard”, which are in service with the Strategic Missile Forces, carry out strategic strike missions. The “Dagger” hypersonic missile system, used by aerospace forces, is installed on the MiG-31M “Fox Hound” interceptors and performs operational and tactical missions. Various surface ships and submarines of the navy can act as carriers of the 3M22 Zircon missile, it is mainly designed to destroy surface and ground targets at a remote distance.
According to foreign media, the Zircon missile is inherently a hypersonic anti-ship missile, in terms of the way it conducts operations, it adopts the tactics of supersonic breakthrough of an air defense system and delivering strikes against an area with continuous destruction at a remote distance, which was used by the navy in Soviet times.
During the Cold War, faced with an aggressive U.S. aircraft carrier group, the Soviet navy, thanks to space, air and sea-based reconnaissance systems, created a complex that allows attacking aircraft carriers using supersonic anti-ship missiles, based on surface, underwater and air launch platforms. In this complex, supersonic anti-ship missiles launched from various platforms can create waves of attacks.
At one time, this terrified the US carrier group. Before the Aegis missile defense system appeared, the Russian complex made it possible to detect, recognize and intercept the air targets of American ships, gradually balancing the balance of anti-ship systems.
On August 12, 2000, an accident occurred on the Kursk Russian nuclear submarine. On its board was found anti-ship missile “Granite”. It was found that the main weapon of the Soviet anti-aircraft complex was an anti-ship missile with a ramjet engine, the flight range was 550 kilometers, and the final speed was 2.5 Mach.
For comparison, the Zircon rocket is much smaller in size, but its speed has been increased to Mach 9, and the flight range reaches thousands of kilometers. The missile can be launched at a safer distance, reducing the reaction time of the enemy ship’s anti-aircraft missile system.
Versatility brings benefits
The Zircon missile was launched by installing a 3S-14 vertical launch from the Admiral Gorshkov frigate, which is also the launch system of the Caliber-NK series cruise missiles. This indicates that the design of the Zircon rocket took into account the versatility of the launch platform.
Zircon missiles can be deployed on all Russian ships equipped with the 3C-14 vertical launch system, the head of the Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation said. This means that missiles can be launched both on a 4000-ton frigate of project 22350, and on a small missile ship with a displacement of less than 1000 tons, if a vertical launch system is installed on it. In addition, upgraded Kirov-class nuclear-powered cruisers, large Udaloy-type anti-submarine ships, and Oscar II-class nuclear submarines could theoretically deploy Zircon missiles after refitting launchers.
This suggests that this type of missile will become a key weapon in the tactical strike system of the Russian Navy and will receive an operational advantage over the American aircraft carrier strike group.
According to Western media, the Zircon rocket will become a “killer” for US aircraft carriers. If the missile’s flight speed of Mach 9 is true, this means that the Aegis missile system, including Standard SM-3 Standard series missiles to intercept high-range medium-range ballistic missiles and Standard SM-6 missiles to intercept anti-ship missiles in sea will be significantly inferior to Russian missiles.
If the Zircon breaks through the enemy’s medium and long range intercept system and rushes over the horizon at high speed, the enemy’s defensive system of warships may not even have enough time for one shot. If this is true, then the successful development and adoption of Zircon missiles will have a serious impact on future naval battles.
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Editorial team / Inosmi
The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.