Tsirkon: Russia’s hypersonic missile

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Tsirkon: Russia's hypersonic missile

Original by Ilya Novitskiy published by politrussia.com; translation by J.Hawk

United States and Russia are actively developing technologies needed to deploy hypersonic missiles and aircraft. Having such delivery vehicles would greatly expand the ability to us both nuclear and conventional munitions.

The pursuit of hypersonic technology is due to the sheer difficulty of shooting down aerial vehicles moving at that speed, since it would require almost instantaneous reaction by air/missile defense systems. And they are improbably fast: between Mach 5 and Mach 10. Or, to use more understandable numbers, between 6,150km/hr and 12,300 km/hr.

Thus a hypersonic ballistic missile could strike any target on the planet within an hour, with conventional ABM systems being unable to intercept it due to its speed.

In the US, hypersonic weapons are being developed to support Pentagon’s “global lightning strike” doctrine. Washington strategists are dreaming of disarming Russia using a massed attack using conventional weapons, which would enable them to dictate terms to Russia which would be transformed into a US colony. At the moment, Russia’s early warning and defensive systems stand in the way of the Pentagon realizing its dreams. Existing Tridents and Minutemen would require between 15 and 35 minutes to reach targets in Russia. That’s enough to detect and destroy them.

That’s why the US is financing a range of weapons capable of striking Russian targets. Even their development timelines are known. For example, the US intends to develop a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile by 2018-2020, and a hypersonic aircraft by 2030.

A few of the prototypes are already undergoing testing. Boeing conducted the fourth launch of its X-37 space plane in May 2015. It can operate at altitudes between 200 and 750km. According to the official information, the space plane was developed to deliver satellites to orbit, however, military experts are skeptical of that explanation and believe the plane’s main purpose is military. Its most benign function will be reconnaissance, but in the future it cold be armed with anti-satellite weapons and ultimately even nuclear missiles.

Incidentally, the X-37 is currently the only US hypersonic success story. In 2014, the US attempted to carry out a test of its X-43A vehicle. the missile was supposed to reach a speed of 6,500km/hr following its launch from Alaska, and strike a target in the Pacific. The missile burned up after 7 seconds fo flight. The US declared the test a success since the missile demonstrated the necessary acceleration needed to reach hypersonic speed.

In Russia, hypersonic research is highly classified, although it’s well known that USSR developed its first hypersonic vehicle in the late 1970s. In 1992 that research ceased for financial reasons. In 1997, the hypersonic vehicle was presented to the public at the MAKS air salon. The missile had a range of 3,000km and carried two warheads capable of striking targets 100km distant from one another. The Tu-160M was to be the missile’s carrier, but unfortunately the project’s development was halted.

USSR was also developing a hypersonic version of the supersonic Kh-22 Burya which armed long-range bombers and had a range of 600km. This research also ended with USSR’s collapse.

Where USSR failed Russia will succeed. Our country has major advantages when it comes to developing ultra-fast aircraft and missiles thanks to the research niches established by Soviet designers. The Buran space shuttle was capable of re-entering the atmosphere at Mach 25. Which means that Russian designers don’t need to reinvent the wheel but only figure out how to design an aircraft capable of sustaining that speed and maneuvering, rather than only gliding.

US sources claim Russia already successfully tested the Yu-71 hypersonic glider and will deploy a regiment of them armed with nuclear warheads by 2020. Russian MOD has not commented, though it pointed out that the new Sarmat ICBMs will have a special maneuvering block enabling warheads to evade ABM defenses by maneuvering at speeds of up to Mach 10, which will make them invulnerable to interception.

The only thing known about Russian hypersonic aircraft is their R&D budget. More than 2 billion rubles have been allocated for this purpose. The first vehicle was to be built by 2020, but apparently the deadline was moved up.

When it comes to missiles, in 2012 Russia presented a complete hypersonic missile model whose shape resembled an extended duck bill. The missile is officially designated Tsirkon, though it is more often referred to as Utkonos [Platypus].

The Tsirkon was developed on the basis of Oniks anti-ship missile, which means it will be able to use the same launch platforms. They include Yasen attack submarines, Antey cruise missile submarines, and Orlan heavy cruisers. Oniks is also used by Bastion coast defense missile batteries.

Each Orlan could be equipped with up to 72 Oniks or Tsirkon missiles. Then NATO strategists can worry about how many Russian hypersonic missiles have been deployed, and where they are hiding.

Therefore we can confidently say that Russia is ahead of the US when it comes to developing ultra-fast missiles and aircraft. The much ballyhooed Euro-ABM system could yet turn into another costly “white elephant.” Russian inventions will yet again force Washington to shelve its plans to destroy Russia.



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