Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sent a frigate armed with next-generation hypersonic cruise missiles into the Atlantic Ocean, signaling to the West that Moscow will not back down over the war in Ukraine.
Russia, China and the United States are competing to develop hypersonic weapons, which are seen as a way to gain an advantage over any adversary due to their speed – five times the speed of sound – and maneuverability.
During a video conference with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and commander of the Admiral Gorshkov frigate Igor Krokhmal, Putin said that the ship was armed with the Zircon hypersonic weapon.
“This time, the ship is equipped with the latest Tsirkon hypersonic missile system,” Putin said. “I am confident that such powerful weapons will reliably protect Russia from potential external threats.”
This weapon, according to Putin, “has no analogues in any country in the world.”
More than 10 months after Putin sent troops into Ukraine, there is no end in sight to a war that has escalated into grueling winter artillery battles that have killed and wounded tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides.
Russia has also used Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in Ukraine.
Along with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, which entered combat duty in 2019, the Zircon is the centerpiece of Russia’s hypersonic arsenal.
Russia sees the weapons as a way to penetrate the increasingly sophisticated US missile defenses, which Putin has warned could one day shoot down Russian nuclear missiles.
Shoigu said that “Gorshkov” will sail in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as in the Mediterranean Sea.
“This ship, armed with Zircons, is capable of inflicting pinpoint and powerful strikes against the enemy at sea and on land,” Shoigu said.
Shoigu said that hypersonic missiles can overcome any missile defense system. The missiles travel at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of more than 1,000 km, Shoigu said.
According to Shoigu, the main tasks of the voyage were to counter Russian threats and maintain “peace and stability in the region together with friendly countries.”
A US Congressional Research Service report on hypersonic weapons states that Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles are designed for use with nuclear warheads.
The target of hypersonic weapons is much more difficult to calculate than for ICBMs due to their maneuverability.
In addition to Russia, the US and China, a number of other countries are developing hypersonic weapons, including Australia, France, Germany, South Korea, North Korea and Japan, according to the US Congressional Research Service.