Everything secret ...
Until recently, one could only hear about the mysterious Zircon hypersonic rocket in the media. However, it gradually became clear that it was most likely a real product. Recall that back in 2019, experts drew attention to the transport and launch containers installed on board the frigate "Admiral Gorshkov", which were allegedly related to the "Zircon".
And recently, the Ministry of Defense announced that on October XNUMX this year, from the waters of the White Sea, "Admiral Fleet Soviet Union Gorshkov "fired for the first time with a product of this type. The rocket was shown on video, albeit without any discernible details.
She hit the target, which was at a distance of 450 kilometers. At the same time, the flight speed was more than Mach 8. These data generally confirm the previously announced unofficial characteristics of the product, which is designed to change the balance of power at sea. Recall that some sources indicated the missile's flight range of 400-600 (however, according to some sources, it can reach 1000) kilometers. And in 2017, a source in the defense industry said that, as part of early tests, the rocket was able to reach eight speeds of sound.
Ninth october появились new data about the planned tests of the product. Two sources in the military-industrial complex told TASS about it. “As part of the ongoing flight tests of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, three more fires will be fired by the end of this year. The nearest launch will take place in late October - early November, ”the source told the agency. "All three launches will be carried out with real destruction of sea or ground targets, in particular, imitating aircraft carriers or strategic objects of a conditional enemy," another source noted.
Many countries have ships that can be conditionally (or not conditionally) called aircraft carriers, including universal amphibious assault ships-helicopter carriers. However, it must be assumed that in this case we are not talking about them. Most likely, they mean the American "supercarriers": "Nimitz" or the newest "Gerald R. Ford".
A game-changing weapon
However, a conceptual difficulty arises here. If against a conditionally equal adversary such a missile can become a guarantee of victory, then in the case of aircraft carrier strike groups it cannot be regarded as something that gives a decisive advantage.
After the Zircon is adopted, the US Navy will continue to have a strong military-technical superiority - at least in terms of the range of destruction of naval targets. A few years ago, the US Air Force armed itself aviation long-range anti-ship missile AGM-158C LRASM, and in 2019 the missile reached initial combat readiness as part of the arsenal of the USS Super Hornet carrier-based fighter.
The missile itself, although based on the JASSM-ER (range of about 930 kilometers), is likely to have more modest performance than its basic version. Due to the new equipment, the range of the new product is estimated at about 560 kilometers. Taking into account the combat radius of the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet aircraft of more than 700 kilometers, this is, if not an ultimatum, then very serious weapon.
Deck aviation is not only the long arm of the naval forces, but also flexibility that nothing else can provide. A fighter-bomber can carry a wide range of aircraft weapons and appear where it was least expected. The latter will be fully realized by the Americans after the full-fledged introduction of the deck-based F-35C with all the intended functions. Initially, we can talk about the placement of LRASM on external suspensions with the loss of stealth. However, in the future, it is theoretically possible to place missiles on internal holders.
It is possible to discuss for a long time about the need for Russia to have something even remotely similar to American aircraft carriers. However, we must admit that now there is simply no opportunity to build such ships. Neither financial nor, in all likelihood, purely technical. The USSR had a similar experience with its unfinished "Ulyanovsk" - a conditional analogue of "Nimitz", but that was then. Now the situation is different.
In this regard, Russia with its "Zircon" went the only way available to it, having decided, in all likelihood, to arm all new relatively large surface ships and modern multipurpose submarines with it. It is known that in 2021 test firing of the Zircon is to be carried out from the side of the Project 885 Severodvinsk multipurpose nuclear submarine. The tests will include the surface and submerged position of the submarine.
In March, a source in the OPK said that this submarine was preferred to the newer Kazan submarine of project 885M, since its tests were delayed. The aircraft carrier killer, the Project 949A Antey nuclear submarine, and the promising Husky, which could become the world's first fifth-generation submarine, are also being considered as a possible carrier.
With regard to surface ships, then theoretically "Zircon" can be launched from anyone with a universal shipborne firing system 3S14 (UKSK). And this (in addition to frigates of project 22350, to which the aforementioned "Admiral Gorshkov" belongs) frigates of project 11356, corvettes of project 20385, missile ships of project 11661, small missile ships of project 21631 and small missile ships of project 22800.
Again, you need to understand that the widespread use of "Zircon" in the Russian Navy (assuming that it will be) will not make the Russian fleet the strongest in the world and will not put it on a par with fleets that have full-fledged aircraft carriers. However, we repeat, this is the only reasonable decision in the current circumstances.
The reaction of the West
Western experts are closely monitoring the tests of Zircon. Some of them, in particular the infamous Popular Mechanics, even use frightening headlines. At the same time, American experts do not consider Zircon invulnerable. According to them, the US Navy is investigating the possibility of using the shipborne SM-6 missile to intercept a hypersonic missile.
According to the magazine, the SM-6 has a range of 150 miles (240 kilometers) and a maximum speed of Mach 3,5, which makes it capable of hitting hypersonic weapons at a relatively large distance from protected ships. Attempts to intercept the Zircon are possible with a medium-range RIM-162 ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile) anti-aircraft missile, although this may also require modification to counter hypersonic weapons. Now this missile has a range of about 50 kilometers and a speed of more than 4 M.
The publication notes that the naval forces can detect "Zircons" at long distances using the new fire control and air attack countermeasures (NIFC-CA). It allows the E-2D Hawkeye early warning aircraft, or even an F-35 fighter jet, to detect such targets long before the ships' radar detects a threat. At least in theory.
On the whole, the West is not inclined to either overestimate or underestimate Zircon and consider it, obviously, a more breakthrough Russian development than other novelties of the military-industrial complex.