Russia's Zircon Hypersonic Missiles Could Be Ready to Use Within Weeks

The hypersonic missile that Russia has been testing and touting for the last two and a half years reportedly could be put into service several months ahead of schedule.

Russian military sources last week told the Tass news agency that tests of the 3M22 Zircon (Tsirkon) cruise missile had been completed and that it would be deployed to Russia's navy by the end of the year.

But on Thursday, the agency cited an unnamed military source as saying that following the tests: "All the documents for putting the product into service have been prepared."

"It is expected that in September the surface Zircon will be put into service with the fleet," the source told the state news agency, which reports the Kremlin line.

russia missiles
This image shows the testing of Russia's Zircon hypersonic cruise missile. Tass reported that it would be deployed to the Russian Navy by September 2022, several months ahead of schedule. Russia Defense Ministry

President Vladimir Putin has been boasting for years about his hypersonic program and his country's "super weapons." Their speed and agility makes them hard for missile defense systems to intercept.

Russia first tested the Zircon in January 2020 from the Russian Northern Fleet's Admiral Gorshkov, claiming it can reach speeds of up to Mach 9 (6,600 mph) and hit targets at a range of up to 660 miles, although this hasn't been independently confirmed.

The optics of having the Zircon ready for the Russian navy could be significant even if there is doubt that the nuclear-capable missile can make any difference in the war in Ukraine, which has now entered its sixth month.

Hypersonic missiles are designed to penetrate sophisticated air defense systems, which Ukraine doesn't have.

Russian sources have said the first carrier of the missile will be the vessel Admiral Golovko, an Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate, but this has been hit by delays due to technical issues.

Also, as Richard Connolly, director of the Eastern Advisory Group consultancy told Newsweek, despite its hypersonic program, Russia hasn't improved the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that are needed to make its weapons effective.

"Developing these hypersonic missiles without all of those other elements of the kill chain that you need in order for a system to be effective, doesn't really change things much," he said.

Meanwhile, Mark Almond, director of the Crisis Research Institute, in Oxford, England told Newsweek, that the Zirkon, "is part of Putin's saber-rattling to distract the West from his ongoing operations in south-east Ukraine."

"That said, the West is inhibited by Putin's silent nuclear blackmail from going too far in helping Ukraine. The Kremlin wants to win a limited war against the West inside Ukraine and the West wants to defeat Russia in a limited war inside Ukraine."