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Report: Russia fires 12 of its new hypersonic nuke-capable Zircon missiles

A 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missile launches from the Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov, July 19, 2021. (Ministry of Defense of Russia/Released
January 03, 2022

Russia test-launched 12 of its new 3M22 Zircon (Tsirkon) hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles in 2021, all of which may have taken place in a “salvo” launch during two Dec. 24 tests from a submarine and a frigate, Russia revealed last week.

“Last night or, to be more exact, this morning, the Tsirkon hypersonic system was salvo-launched,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a joint meeting of the State Council and the Council on Science and Education on Dec. 24, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported. “This is our latest missile that can strike both naval and ground targets. The tests were successful and impeccable.”

“This is a big event in the country’s life and a considerable step towards enhancing Russia’s security and its defense capability,” Putin added.

Neither Putin nor Russian defense officials specified how many Zircon missiles were launched during the Dec. 24 “salvo” launch. However, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated last week the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet conducted a total of 12 Zircon missile launches over the course of 2021, adding to a total of 70 tests of new weapons in 2021.

Those tests saw the Russian Project 22350 frigate, known as “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov,” launch ten different Zircon missile tests. The crew of a Northern Fleet’s Project 885 Yasen nuclear submarine conducted another two test launches of the Zircon missile.

According to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, the Northern Fleet missile submarine “Severodvinsk” conducted both Zircon missile tests in October. The first submarine test was launched from a surfaced position and the second was launched from a depth of 40 meters (131 feet) under the water.

The Zircon hypersonic missile was previously tested in October 2020 and is projected to officially enter service in 2022. Putin has touted the Zircon as part of a new generation of unmatched weapons.

Following a July 2021 test launch, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the missile flew seven times the speed of sound (Mach 7), about 5,370 miles per hour. The Zircon missile can carry both conventional warheads, for use as an anti-ship weapon, or nuclear warheads. The missile’s speed and its suspected in-flight maneuvering capabilities could make the weapon difficult to track and intercept.

In addition to the Northern Fleet’s 12, Zircon missile tests, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said the Russian Navy fleet conducted tests of another hypersonic weapon, the air-launched Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” (Dagger) nuclear-capable missile.

Russia introduced its Avangard hypersonic weapon into service in 2019 and the sea-based Zircon hypersonic missile will reportedly enter service by early 2022. A land-based version of the Zircon is also believed to be in development.

While the U.S. is actively pursuing hypersonic weapon technology, such hypersonic weapons have not yet entered service with any U.S. military branches. In October, Bloomberg reported that NATO allies like France and Germany have only just begun researching hypersonic weapon technology.

Russia has increasingly touted its hypersonic weapons in recent weeks. Amid an ongoing Russian troop buildup on the border with Ukraine, the Russian government issued a list of demands for how it wants the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to deescalate tensions, including a commitment not to allow Ukraine into the NATO alliance.

Russian television host Dmitry Kiselyov recently called on the U.S. to accept Russia’s demands, or risk being “reduced to radioactive ash” by Russia’s hypersonic weapons.