Russian Navy to be first to field hypersonic cruise missiles on submarines


It was not until the conflict in Syria that Russia began using submarine-launched cruise missiles in a similar way to the US Navy’s Tomahawk missile; as a long-range surgical strike weapon.


Russian Navy to be first to field hypersonic cruise missiles on submarines 925 001 Zircon hypersonic missiles (Picture source: Russian Ministry of Defense)


The Russian Navy is expected to be the first country to field Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles on its submarines, potentially giving it some strategic advantages in naval warfare. The greater speed will better enable Russia to strike time-critical targets and will increase the missile’s survival rate against modern air defences.

Zircon can reportedly fly at Mach 8 with some estimates being even higher. For comparison, the Tomahawk cruise missiles carried by US Navy and Royal Navy submarines fly at around Mach 0.75. the new weapon is a natural development of Russia’s experience with cruise missile submarines. For much of the Cold War, the missiles carried by Russian submarines were focused on hitting ships at sea, particularly the US Navy’s formidable aircraft carriers. It was not until the conflict in Syria that Russia began using submarine-launched cruise missiles in a similar way to the US Navy’s Tomahawk missile; as a long-range surgical strike weapon.


The plan, originally reported in Russian sources in March, is for the first test launch from a submarine to take place next year. This will involve firing a Zircon type missile from the latest nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine K-561 Kazan which is already armed with subsonic and supersonic missiles. The timing may have been prophetic given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s quip to sell hypersonic missiles to President Trump during the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan at the end of June. The US has been researching similar technologies but does not have an equivalent weapon in its inventory.

"Kazan" (K-561) is the first modernized multipurpose submarine of the Yasen-M class after "Severodvinsk" was handed over to the Northern Fleet in 2013. There are considerable changes in the auxiliary systems on "Kazan" compared with "Severodvinsk." While construction on "Severodvinsk" started just after the breakup of the U.S.S.R. in 1993, "Kazan" was laid down 16 years later, in 2009.


Russian Navy to be first to field hypersonic cruise missiles on submarines 925 002 K-561 Kazan Submarine (Picture source: Russian Ministry of Defense)


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