The race for hypersonic missile supremacy is in full swing, with Russia testing yet another advanced platform this month. On December 10th, Russia conducted a test launch of their new Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile. According to reports, the platform’s engines fired as they were intended and the missile achieved a sustained speed of approximately 6,138 miles per hour, or right around Mach 8.
While Russian defense media is prone to exaggeration, particularly when it comes to new missile technology, that Mach 8 figure actually comes from a CNBC report that claims to have discussed the topic with two government officials with first-hand knowledge of a classified intelligence report regarding the test. NEWSREP, however, has not been able to independently corroborate those claims, so for now, the Mach 8 figure may be best considered plausible, rather than confirmed.
Nonetheless, plausible is a pretty impressive feat when we’re talking ordnance moving at hypersonic velocities. American and foreign defense experts agree: a hypersonic missile with a reliable targeting apparatus would be nearly impossible to intercept or defend against. Until a way to engage such fast-moving projectiles is developed, hypersonic weapons are quickly becoming the “magic bullet” for national militaries looking to establish themselves as a formidable global power. To date, only Russia, China and the United States have hypersonic programs under development, with both Russia and China enjoying a sizeable lead over America’s recent efforts.
This most recent test also seemed to indicate that Russia is looking to expand the capabilities offered by the Zircon, adding land based targets to its repertoire on top of its primary role as an anti-ship platform. This most recent test did not apparently demonstrate the missile’s ability to accurately and reliable close with a target, but it did prove that Russian tech can sustain hypersonic flight — a significant achievement in its own right.
This was the second high-profile hypersonic test Russia conducted this month. The Kremlin also released footage of their Avangard platform being test launched last week, which utilizes a very different approach to achieving extreme velocities touted by Moscow as potentially faster than “Mach 20.”
Glide vehicles are carried into orbit via ICBM, and then launched back toward earth at extremely high speeds. Despite Russia’s claims of overall success in the test, however, the footage shows only the ICBM launch vehicle leaving its silo, and nothing further — offering very little in the way of indications that the glide vehicles work, let alone are capable of finding their targets.
Feature image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force