Russian Zircon missile lethality has been manipulated – Ukraine

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Over the past few days, numerous claims have emerged from Ukraine that their armed forces successfully intercepted and downed two Russian 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missiles. Further scrutiny of the missile’s warheads has sparked allegations from Ukraine that Russia misled them about their weight. 

Photo credit: Sputnik News

Revelations of what Ukrainian analysts are terming the ‘greatest deceit’ by the designers of Russia’s Tactical Missile Corporation have surfaced. They are accused of duping their client, the Russian Ministry of Defence, by tailoring the specifications of the 3M22 Zircon to meet the Ministry’s requirements without divulging the truth about the missile’s actual capabilities.

What’s the buzz in Ukraine, you ask? Based on the Ukrainian examination of the remnants of the two toppled missiles, they each preliminarily weigh in at around 100-150 kg. According to Ukrainian conjectures, the actual explosive component contained in the warhead only tips the scale at just 40 kg. 

Photo credit: Twitter

The weight is reduced

The Ukrainians have singled out the 3M22 Zircon, pointing to its unique form and surprisingly lightweight profile, considering its intended roles, such as an anti-ship missile, among others. “Consider a Zircon, boasting a projected striking distance of up to 1000 km, not to mention a costly ramjet hypersonic engine. This missile is more valued as a diamond than gold,” they analyzed.

Upon close examination, we can observe that the battle potential of the 3M22 Zircon, which carries a standard 150 kg warhead, falls remarkably short when compared to missiles such as the Kh-47 Dagger, boasting a hefty warhead of a projected 500 kg. The same comparison can even be extended to the cruise missiles of Kh-101, Kh-555, and the Kalibr missile, all of which have a warhead weight of around 400 kg, surpassing the Onyx warhead’s weight by a significant 300 kg. 

To find a comparable class, we should look towards the anti-ship missile category, specifically mentioning the Kh-31 and Kh-35, which carry 150 kg and 135 kg of explosives respectively. It’s important to note that the weight of the warhead can directly influence the type of ship it can potentially sink. Given this weight capacity, we are referring to a ship with a water displacement of around 4500-5000 tons.

Because of the range

The decision behind Zircon’s surprisingly low warhead weight is quite straightforward, as explained by our colleagues in Ukraine. They assert that to achieve a range of 1,000 km, the weight of the warhead had to be reduced from its initial estimate. In other words, if the missile is unable to carry the assigned weight over the specified range, the most practical solution is to decrease the weight of the warhead. This theory conveniently explains the unusual increment in the range of the 3M22 Zircon over time—from 400 km to 600 km and, most recently, to around 1000 km as reported by Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

So, according to Ukrainians, this is the logic: the Tactical Missiles Corporation decided to reduce the warhead’s weight to the most viable minimum. This strategy ultimately allowed them to hit their long-range target. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense seemingly overlooked the inevitable fact that this reduction wouldn’t necessarily aid in the destruction of their specified targets. As a reminder, the 3M22 Zircon was officially adopted by Russia on January 4, 2023, according to BulgarianMilitary.com.

As pointed out by BulgarianMilitary.com, initial studies suggest that the Russian military utilized a hypersonic Zircon missile to target Kyiv, marking its debut in the conflict that is now entering its third year. This information, officially announced by the head of a Kyiv-based research institute, poses a fresh challenge for the air defense system of Ukraine. 

What Kyiv says

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Oleksandr Ruvin, who oversees the Kyiv Research Institute of Forensics, shared on his Telegram channel that his institute has conducted a preliminary examination of missile shards from a Russian strike carried out on February 7. In his contribution, he shared a video of what was speculated to be missile debris, pointing out unique identifiers. “What we’re observing here are features that are suggestive of the 3M22 Zircon missile. The engine parts and bits and pieces of the guiding mechanisms exhibit certain markings,” he wrote. 

According to the unconfirmed details, it appears the Zircon can cover a distance of 1,000 km [approximately 625 miles] and moves at a velocity nine times the speed of sound. Experts in military affairs have suggested that such hypersonic speed could lead to significantly shorter air defense response times and the capability to target large, deeply embedded, and fortified structures. Russia publicly announced the successful completion of Zircon missile trial runs in June 2022; Russian President, Vladimir Putin, classified the Zircon as part of a new breed of invincible weapon systems.

Should its application in Ukraine be confirmed, the weapon could pose an additional challenge to the nation’s already stretched air defense systems, amidst uncertainties about forthcoming military aid from Western nations. Regular air attacks on Ukraine by Russia involve a variety of drones and long-range missiles. The Zircon, originally designed as a maritime launch weapon, has since been modified for terrestrial deployment.

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