Estimated appearance of the Zircon rocket. Figure Riafan.ru
Russia continues to develop a promising anti-ship missile 3M22 Zircon. This is hypersonic weapon with the highest characteristics will become a unique and extremely dangerous means of combating surface fleet probable adversary. Accordingly, the probable enemy already now - without waiting for the appearance of serial missiles - needs to work out the issue of countering such a threat. How can I protect my ships from a Russian missile?
Unfortunately, very little is known about Zircon. The main features of this complex have been announced, but most of the characteristics have not yet been announced. There are various estimates, however, they may not correspond to the real state of affairs.
It is known that the product 3M22 will be a missile with the possibility of application on surface and underwater platforms; possible appearance aviation modifications. Earlier, the creation of only anti-ship weapons was mentioned, but recently it became known that the Zircon will also be able to hit ground targets.
According to press reports, the flight speed of the Zircon rocket can reach M = 8. The range, according to various estimates, is up to 400 or up to 600 km. Product dimensions are limited by the size of the cell 3C14 universal launcher. Technical details of the project, such as engine type, type of GOS, etc., remain unknown.
Frigate "Admiral Gorshkov" with TPK of unknown type at the stern. Presumably, in containers - 3M22 missiles. Photo TC "Star"
It is expected that due to hypersonic speed and the special flight profile of the anti-ship missile system, Zircon will pose a special danger to the ships of a potential enemy. So, the final section of the trajectory will be overcome in a minimum time, which will reduce the chances of successful interception by existing or promising air defense systems. The enemy literally will not have time to carry out all the necessary procedures. The defeat of the target will be made both due to the warhead of the rocket, and with the help of its kinetic energy.
The carriers of the 3M22 product due to the installation of 3C14 can be domestic surface ships of several projects. There are more than 20 such combat units in service and a comparable number of ships are at different stages of construction. Submarines of the “Ash” type will also receive new weapons - one is already in service, several others are not yet ready for surrender. It will be unknown whether Zircon will be introduced on other submarines unified in armaments.
Air Defense Issues
A key factor affecting the high performance of Zircon is hypersonic flight speed. In addition, on the approach to the target, the missile decreases and flies literally above the waves, performing evasion maneuvers, which makes it difficult to detect and track it. As a result, the detection and defeat of an attacking hypersonic RCC turns into an extremely difficult task.
The first issue in the context of air defense is the timely detection of a flying rocket. At a RCC speed of the order of M = 8, the passage of the responsibility zone of a typical naval radar will take only a few minutes - this may not be sufficient to repel a missile strike, especially a massive one. In this case, it makes sense to use additional radar.
RTO "Serpukhov" pr. 21631 "Buyan-M". The ship is equipped with a 3C14 installation, which theoretically allows him to carry Zircons. Wikimedia Commons Photos
In this context, one should recall the composition of the carrier-based carrier group of the U.S. Navy. They necessarily include long-range radar patrol aircraft E-2D Hawkeye. This technique, while on duty at a distance from the AUG, is able to make the boundaries of detecting threats over long distances and significantly increase the time for the reaction of ship's air defense. Fortunately for ship formations, hypersonic missiles are not stealthy, and their detection is not a particularly difficult task.
The defeat of hypersonic low-altitude anti-ship missiles with modern anti-aircraft systems is still a serious problem without an explicit solution. Means of short-range action, including artillery must be immediately excluded as obviously ineffective. Even with the successful defeat of the target missile at distances of less than several kilometers, its fragments will cause significant damage to the ship.
Thus, to combat the Zircon, medium or long-range missiles with high flight speed and the ability to intercept high-speed targets are needed. To obtain the possibility of a second attack in case of failure of the first, it is advisable to push the intercept line as far as possible, which places higher demands on SAM.
An example of a weapon that has some potential against hypersonic anti-ship missiles is the American RIM-174 Standard ERAM / SM-6 missile. It has a speed of M = 3,5 and has a range of 240 km. Thus, the flight to the maximum range takes no more than 4-6 minutes. A multi-mode radar seeker is used. Using third-party target designation, the ship can launch the SM-6 missile “over the horizon” and get some chances to intercept a flying RCC of the 3M22 type - perhaps not at the first attempt.
Multipurpose nuclear submarine “Severodvinsk” pr. 885 “Ash” is another possible carrier of 3M22 products. Photo by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation / mil.ru
However, such protection against RCC has significant drawbacks. First of all, this is the price. One SM-6 product costs US taxpayers $ 4,9 million. Since 2009, less than 300 serial missiles have been produced, and the total production, including future years, will be limited to 1800 units. Due to the high cost and complexity, the SM-6 is so far limited in use and makes up a small fraction of the ship’s ammunition.
Intercepting a flying Zircon is extremely difficult, if at all feasible at the current level of technology. In this case, the first blow with the defeat of carriers of such weapons should be considered a more convenient and realistic way to combat the enemy’s anti-ship missiles. The timely detection of enemy ships or submarines with especially dangerous weapons, by definition, will exclude its effective use.
The already mentioned U.S. Navy has a sufficiently developed set of tools for searching and detecting ships and submarines of the enemy. In fact, the entire structure of the AUG and other naval formations, patrol aviation, submarine forces, etc. defined to solve such problems.
The main means of combating surface objects are still the Harpoon family missiles used by ships, submarines and aircraft. They are being replaced by the modern anti-ship missile system AGM-158C LRASM, but its real combat capabilities are not too great. Only F / A-18E / F fighters can carry it in the Navy, and the initial operational readiness of such a complex was obtained only a few weeks ago. The ship’s version of the rocket is not yet ready for service.
Possible use of "Zircons" in the t / p version of "News of the Week"
To combat submarine missile cruisers in the United States there is a developed fleet of multipurpose nuclear submarines, and the construction of such equipment continues. Not so long ago, another contract appeared for 10 ships of the Virginia type. Ammunition of such submarines includes torpedoes and rockets of several types.
Thus, the US Navy has the ability to detect and attack Russian carrier ships of promising hypersonic weapons. However, the success of such an attack is not guaranteed. Not all US-made anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons are new and highly effective, and the Russian Navy has means of defense against such attacks.
Success is not guaranteed.
Around the Zircon project, a very interesting situation is taking shape. The exact characteristics of the future weapons have not yet been announced, but approximate capabilities and strengths are known. And already on the basis of this, assessments and conclusions are made, incl. far reaching.
Apparently, 3M22 will really be a unique weapon for our time with the highest combat efficiency. In a hypothetical conflict, ships, submarines or aircraft with the Zircons will become an extremely dangerous force, capable of inflicting the most serious damage to the enemy with minimal risks for themselves.
Start missiles SM-6 American ship. US Navy Photos
At the same time, one hundred percent effectiveness will not last forever. The appearance of hypersonic anti-ship missiles at the Russian Navy will force other countries to intensify the development of promising defenses. In addition, one should expect increased attention to systems for combating carriers of such missiles.
With the help of existing or prospective weapons, a likely adversary may get some chances to repel the Zircons attack. However, such a defense will be difficult from the point of view of organization and expensive due to the consumption of the most advanced ammunition. In addition, its successful outcome is not guaranteed - and failure threatens with the loss of combat units and extremely unpleasant consequences for the fleet.
Apparently, for a long time hypersonic anti-ship missiles “Zircon” will indeed be a unique and highly effective weapon capable of fighting enemy ships and guaranteed to destroy them. Until the advent of decent defenses, such a missile will remain the most important military and political instrument. In fact, it can be considered as another means of strategic non-nuclear deterrence. How long Zircon will be able to maintain this status - time will tell.