Russia’s Ministry of Defense has posted a video of its new Zircon hypersonic ship-killing missile as it is launched from a vertical launch system (VLS) missile tube aboard the frigate Admiral of the Soviet Fleet Sergei Gorshkov. The missile – also designated the 3M22 – traveling at least at Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound – 3,800 mph) struck a target in the White Sea.
Some reports say the missile flew at an incredible Mach 8 – or 6,100 mph.
As noted by Popular Mechanics (PopMech), in the video the missile:
briefly flies straight up until a series of divert motors pitch the missile into a roughly horizontal flightpath. At Mach 8, it would take the Zircon 157 seconds to reach a target 267miles away, although some consideration for acceleration must be taken into account.
Kyle Mikozami notes that “Current U.S. Navy defensive systems would likely struggle to deal with the Zircon and other hypersonic anti-ship missiles.”
A U.S. Navy ship’s radar should detect the missile at about 50 miles, explains Mikozami, but at Mach 8 the Zircon will close the remaining gap in just 29 seconds, “meaning the defending ship will need to detect, track, identify, launch defensive missiles, and achieve intercept in less than half a minute.”
The Navy isn’t sitting idly by, however, but “is working to adapt existing missiles to intercept new high-speed threats,” adds Mikozami.
One counter-weapon the U.S. Navy is working on improving to intercept hypersonic weapons at farther ranges is Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) ship-based missile. For shorter ranges it is also exploring using the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) surface-to-air missile, though, Mikozami notes that “might require modification to tackle hypersonic weapons.”
The SM-6 has a range of 150 miles and a top speed of Mach 3.5, making it capable of engaging even hypersonic weapons at a safe distance.
Adding the Navy’s new Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system with an E-2D Hawkeye early warning radar aircraft, or F-35 stealth fighter, would greatly expand the ship’s detection distance and add to the response time, reports PopMech.
These aircraft would fly far ahead, detecting targets like Zircon at least 100 miles before ship surface radars could detect them. The only issue being they would require aircraft carriers, or at least Marine amphibious assault “Lightning Carriers,” to employ.
Either way, rest assured the U.S. Navy will not let Russia’s new Zircon missiles threaten the fleet unchallenged.