Pentagon Criticises Russia’s Test of World’s Fastest ‘Ship Killer’ Cruise Missile Zicron

Russia’s Zircon anti-ship cruise missile officially entered service in 2019 but has continued to undergo testing before widespread deployments. 

In January 2021 Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexey Krivoruchko said state tests of the Zircon would culminate in 2021 with submarine launches, and that serial production for the Russian Navy would begin 2022. 

Missiles currently in service were individually built on a much smaller scale. Russian state media outlet Sputnik reported in May 2021 that the country was going to complete Zircon testing for surface ships by the end of the summer, with tests for land and underwater launches expected to be completed by the end of 2021. It is uncertain whether the COVID-19 crisis has affected this schedule. 

Russia carried out three tests of the Zircon from its frigate the Admiral Gorshkov in 2020 - the most modern surface combatant in Russian service larger than a corvette. Two tests were against sea targets and the third against a ground target. 

The Russian Navy carried out the latest test of the Zicron missile in the White Sea on July 19, with the Russian Defence Ministry reporting as follows: "the lead frigate of project 22350, Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov, fired a Zircon hypersonic cruise missile at a ground target located on the coast of the Barents Sea... According to objective control data, the Zircon missile successfully hit the target by a direct hit at a distance of over 350 kilometers.” 

The missile traveled at speeds of Mach 7. The Zichron is reportedly capable of engaging targets at ranges over 1000km and at speeds approaching Mach 9. A report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service earlier in the month focusing on hypersonic weapons highlighted that the U.S. lagged far behind Russia and China in hypersonic weapons development, with all Navy, Air Force, and DARPA programs being far from entering service. 

The Pentagon announced that it was aware of the latest test of the Zircon missile, and criticized it as a destabilizing activity. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stated: "Certainly, we are aware of [Russian] President Putin’s claims [regarding hypersonic missile systems]. 

It is important to note that Russia's new hypersonic missiles are potentially destabilizing and pose significant risks because they are nuclear-capable systems." The new missile is considered a potential game-changer due to its high precision, the sheer force of its impact, and perhaps most importantly its ability to evade all known Western air defense systems.

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