Zircon: What’s known about the new Russian hypersonic missiles

The state-of-the-art cruise missiles will be adopted by Russia’s Navy “in the coming months”

Russia’s naval fleet will begin receiving new hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles in the coming months, President Vladimir Putin announced on Sunday. Despite its imminent adoption by the Navy, the new weapon remains shrouded in secrecy. 

  1. What exactly is the Zircon?
    Officially known as the 3M22 Zircon, the new armament is a sea-launched anti-ship hypersonic missile. It was first unveiled by Putin back in 2019.
    The Zircon was first test launched from a naval vessel in January 2020, when one was fired from a warship in the northern Barents Sea and successfully hit a target on training grounds ashore some 500km away.
  2. What is the missile capable of?
    The Zircon can travel at hypersonic speeds reaching at least 9 Mach – just over 11,000kph – while retaining the ability to maneuver. Such a speed makes the missile effectively impossible to intercept – and, likely, even to detect – by any existing anti-aircraft defenses, which are designed to tackle much slower projectiles.
    Conceived as an anti-ship cruise missile, the Zircon is reportedly quite versatile and is capable of striking both naval and ground targets.
  3. Which platforms will carry the new missiles?
    The first ship to carry the Zircon is set to be the Admiral Gorshkov, a modern missile frigate with Russia’s Northern Fleet, according to Putin. Apart from surface ships, the hypersonic weapons will also be deployed on Russian submarines. The first submarine test launch of the Zircon was performed by the nuclear-powered Severodvinsk in October 2021.
    Zircon missiles reportedly fit into the standard tube launchers used to fire other munitions employed by the Russian armed forces, such as cruise Kalibr or anti-ship Oniks missiles. In theory, such compatibility allows the Zircon to be fit onto any of the cruise missile-carrying vessels of the Russian Navy.
  4. What’s the operational range of the Zircon?
    The operational range of the new missile has never been explicitly announced by Moscow. In February, Igor Krokhmal, the commander of the Admiral Gorshkov, stated the maximum distance it can cover as being 1,500km (932 miles).