The Russian Navy has conducted another test of its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile, as the weapon inches closer to service readiness. The missile was test-launched from the Northern Fleet’s Admiral Gorshkov, the lead ship of the Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates, according to a statement issued by Russia’s Defense Ministry on Thursday. The test was accompanied by rare footage purporting to show a Tsirkon missile in action; a twenty-second clip, published on the Russian Defense Ministry’s Youtube channel, depicted a projectile being launched at night from what is presumably Admiral Gorshkov.
"The recording equipment data show that the hypersonic missile’s flight complied with the designated parameters. The target was destroyed by a direct hit,” according to the defense ministry, which added that unidentified warships from the Northern Fleet helped in cordoning off the area for live-fire exercises. The Russian Navy previously announced that the Tsirkon missile has entered a final stage of acceptance trials, with five further test launches planned from November to December.
The 3M22 Tsirkon, also known as Zircon and by North Atlantic Treaty Organization reporting name SS-N-33, is a winged, hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile that entered state trials in 2015. The missile can reportedly reach speeds of up to Mach 9, or around 6,900 miles per hour, and is capable of maneuvering in mid-flight. Tsirkon is widely believed to boast an effective range of up to 1,000 kilometers with some defense industry insider sources speculating that the missile can strike ground targets at a range of up to 1,500 kilometers under ideal battlefield circumstances. Russian military observers believe that Tsirkon can pose a credible threat to U.S. and NATO carrier strike groups and impede the ability of carrier air wings to operate effectively.
Some reports suggest that the Admiral Golovko, the third Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate, will become the Russian navy’s first standard carrier of Tsirkon missiles. The missile is expected to make its way to many of Russia’s latest and most advanced vessels, including the new Yasen-M nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines, Project 20385 Gremyashchiy-class corvettes and Project 20386 successor, and the Piotr Velikiy and Admiral Nakhimov battlecruisers.
Russian president Vladimir Putin announced at a defense industry conference earlier in November that the first Tsirkon missiles will be delivered to the Russian navy sometime in 2022. “The trials of the Tsirkon seaborne hypersonic cruise missile are coming to a close,” Putin said. Also, he noted that “in the course of the trials, it struck both ground and sea targets from the submerged position and from surface ships accurately and in full compliance with the assigned task. Already from next year, these missiles will start arriving for service in the Russian Navy.”
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.