Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sent a frigate armed with the country’s newest Zircon hypersonic missile on a transoceanic cruise as part of a show of force as tensions with the West escalate over the war in Ukraine.
Russia says the Zircon missile can bypass Western air defenses at an astonishing speed of 7,000 miles per hour (11,265 km/h).
Here’s a glimpse of the ship and its armament.
PRIDE OF THE RUSSIA NAVY
Admiral Gorshkov, commissioned by the Navy in 2018 after lengthy trials, is the first ship in a new series of frigates that are designed to replace the aging Soviet destroyers as the Russian Navy’s key strike force.
Armed with an array of missiles, the ship is 130 meters (427 ft) long and has a crew of around 200.
In 2019, it circled the world’s oceans on a journey of 35,000 nautical miles.
Admiral Gorshkov served as the main testbed for Russia’s latest Zircon hypersonic missile.
In recent years, the Zircon has undergone a number of tests, including being launched at various training targets. The military announced that the tests were successful and the Zircon officially entered service last fall.
Zircon is designed to arm Russian cruisers, frigates and submarines and can be used against both enemy ships and ground targets. It is one of several hypersonic missiles developed by Russia.
Putin hailed the Zircon as a powerful weapon capable of penetrating any existing missile defense, flying nine times faster than the speed of sound at a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (over 620 miles).
Putin emphasized that Zircon gives the Russian military the ability to strike conventionally at long range, allowing it to hit any enemy target with precision.
Russian hypersonic weapons emerged as the United States was working on its own conventional instantaneous global strike capability, which envisions striking an adversary’s strategic targets with precision-guided conventional weapons anywhere in the world within an hour.
Putin announced Zircon as Russia’s answer to this, claiming that the new weapon has no rival, giving Russia a strategic advantage.
Months before ordering the invasion of Ukraine, Putin drew the attention of the U.S. and its NATO allies by warning that Russian zirconium-armed warships would give Russia the ability to strike an adversary’s “decision-making centers” in minutes if deployed in neutral waters.
Speaking via video link at Wednesday’s farewell ceremony, Putin again praised Zirconium as a “unique weapon” with “no parallel in any country in the world.”
In response, the Pentagon said it was monitoring the ship and did not believe it was a threat that could not be countered.
“We are aware of reports about the Russian launching of the frigate Admiral Grorshkov. We will continue to routinely monitor his activities while remaining aware of our operational environment,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Roger Cabiness said. “While we do not comment on specific possibilities or speculate on hypotheses, the Department of Defense remains confident in our ability to deter our adversaries and defend the national security interests of the United States anytime, anywhere.”
OTHER RUSSIAN HYPERSONIC WEAPONS
Russia has already ordered the Avangard hypersonic gliding vehicles for some ground-based ICBMs that form part of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad. Putin praised the Avant-Garde’s ability to maneuver at hypersonic speeds while approaching the target while avoiding anti-aircraft defenses.
The Russian military also deployed Kinzhal hypersonic missiles on its MiG-31 aircraft and used them during the war in Ukraine to strike some priority targets. Kinzhal reportedly has a range of about 1,500 kilometers (about 930 miles).
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on Wednesday that Admiral Gorshkov would patrol the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, but gave no further details.
Shoigu said Admiral Gorshkov’s crew would focus on “countering threats to Russia, maintaining regional peace and stability together with friendly countries.” He added that the crew would practice with hypersonic weapons and long-range cruise missiles “in a variety of conditions.”
Some military experts say that a single warship armed with hypersonic missiles is no match for the powerful naval forces of the United States and its allies.
But others have noted that the frigate’s potential deployment near US shores could be part of Putin’s strategy to up the ante in the Ukraine conflict.
“This is a message to the West that Russia has missiles with nuclear warheads that can easily penetrate any missile defense,” pro-Kremlin political scientist Sergei Markov wrote in a commentary.
Associated Press Writer Tara Copp contributed to this report from Washington.