Tsirkon: Russia’s hypersonic missile


Tsirkon: Russia's hypersonic missile

Original by Ilya Novitskiy published by politrussia.com; translation by J.Hawk

United States and Russia are actively developing technologies needed to deploy hypersonic missiles and aircraft. Having such delivery vehicles would greatly expand the ability to us both nuclear and conventional munitions.

The pursuit of hypersonic technology is due to the sheer difficulty of shooting down aerial vehicles moving at that speed, since it would require almost instantaneous reaction by air/missile defense systems. And they are improbably fast: between Mach 5 and Mach 10. Or, to use more understandable numbers, between 6,150km/hr and 12,300 km/hr.

Thus a hypersonic ballistic missile could strike any target on the planet within an hour, with conventional ABM systems being unable to intercept it due to its speed.

In the US, hypersonic weapons are being developed to support Pentagon’s “global lightning strike” doctrine. Washington strategists are dreaming of disarming Russia using a massed attack using conventional weapons, which would enable them to dictate terms to Russia which would be transformed into a US colony. At the moment, Russia’s early warning and defensive systems stand in the way of the Pentagon realizing its dreams. Existing Tridents and Minutemen would require between 15 and 35 minutes to reach targets in Russia. That’s enough to detect and destroy them.

That’s why the US is financing a range of weapons capable of striking Russian targets. Even their development timelines are known. For example, the US intends to develop a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile by 2018-2020, and a hypersonic aircraft by 2030.

A few of the prototypes are already undergoing testing. Boeing conducted the fourth launch of its X-37 space plane in May 2015. It can operate at altitudes between 200 and 750km. According to the official information, the space plane was developed to deliver satellites to orbit, however, military experts are skeptical of that explanation and believe the plane’s main purpose is military. Its most benign function will be reconnaissance, but in the future it cold be armed with anti-satellite weapons and ultimately even nuclear missiles.

Incidentally, the X-37 is currently the only US hypersonic success story. In 2014, the US attempted to carry out a test of its X-43A vehicle. the missile was supposed to reach a speed of 6,500km/hr following its launch from Alaska, and strike a target in the Pacific. The missile burned up after 7 seconds fo flight. The US declared the test a success since the missile demonstrated the necessary acceleration needed to reach hypersonic speed.

In Russia, hypersonic research is highly classified, although it’s well known that USSR developed its first hypersonic vehicle in the late 1970s. In 1992 that research ceased for financial reasons. In 1997, the hypersonic vehicle was presented to the public at the MAKS air salon. The missile had a range of 3,000km and carried two warheads capable of striking targets 100km distant from one another. The Tu-160M was to be the missile’s carrier, but unfortunately the project’s development was halted.

USSR was also developing a hypersonic version of the supersonic Kh-22 Burya which armed long-range bombers and had a range of 600km. This research also ended with USSR’s collapse.

Where USSR failed Russia will succeed. Our country has major advantages when it comes to developing ultra-fast aircraft and missiles thanks to the research niches established by Soviet designers. The Buran space shuttle was capable of re-entering the atmosphere at Mach 25. Which means that Russian designers don’t need to reinvent the wheel but only figure out how to design an aircraft capable of sustaining that speed and maneuvering, rather than only gliding.

US sources claim Russia already successfully tested the Yu-71 hypersonic glider and will deploy a regiment of them armed with nuclear warheads by 2020. Russian MOD has not commented, though it pointed out that the new Sarmat ICBMs will have a special maneuvering block enabling warheads to evade ABM defenses by maneuvering at speeds of up to Mach 10, which will make them invulnerable to interception.

The only thing known about Russian hypersonic aircraft is their R&D budget. More than 2 billion rubles have been allocated for this purpose. The first vehicle was to be built by 2020, but apparently the deadline was moved up.

When it comes to missiles, in 2012 Russia presented a complete hypersonic missile model whose shape resembled an extended duck bill. The missile is officially designated Tsirkon, though it is more often referred to as Utkonos [Platypus].

The Tsirkon was developed on the basis of Oniks anti-ship missile, which means it will be able to use the same launch platforms. They include Yasen attack submarines, Antey cruise missile submarines, and Orlan heavy cruisers. Oniks is also used by Bastion coast defense missile batteries.

Each Orlan could be equipped with up to 72 Oniks or Tsirkon missiles. Then NATO strategists can worry about how many Russian hypersonic missiles have been deployed, and where they are hiding.

Therefore we can confidently say that Russia is ahead of the US when it comes to developing ultra-fast missiles and aircraft. The much ballyhooed Euro-ABM system could yet turn into another costly “white elephant.” Russian inventions will yet again force Washington to shelve its plans to destroy Russia.





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  • Dagnir

    >Thus a hypersonic ballistic missile could strike any target on the planet within an hour, with conventional ABM systems being unable to intercept it due to its speed.
    I guess they meant guided missiles, not a ballistic missile. Because ballistic missiles are hypersonic already.

    • Joe Freeman

      I think that the concept of the Russian, Chinese, and for that matter US and Indian hypersonic missiles is that they are boosted into orbit aimed in the general vicinity of the desired target/s. After initial boost and separation, and ballistic flight to the general vicinity a rocket engine or scramjet cuts in. This furnishes additional speed to the descending warhead which may or may not be carrying penaids or decoys. The warhead and terminal boost vehicle are programmed for evasive action rather than a predictable curving descent. The speed, penaids, and maneuvering abilities theoretically would make the missile extremely difficult to find a firing solution for, time would be very short, and it is questionable whether algorithms for the computer to find aiming and firing solutions currently exist.
      That said, there are obvious difficulties in all of the above, including structural stress on a vehicle trying to maneuver significantly at very high Mach numbers (say 7-12) , heat, and so forth. The decoys to be effective would have to mimic the behavior of the weapon itself, this would seem to mitigate against effective decoys. Penaids including jamming and chaff would complicate firing solutions.
      The probable answers for being able to intercept such vehicles would include railguns with a high cyclic rate of fire (which do not currently exist), very high powered lasers in considerable numbers (remember the reentry vehicle will be shielded against high heat any way), directionally focused EMP cones (which do not currently exist), and possibly an Australian concept called MetalStorm which suffered from HIIH and was to the best of my knowledge allowed to die aborning. It would probably be possible to use relatively low powered nuclear anti-missiles which obviously would not have to hit the incoming missile to be effective, but these would likely interfere with and/or damage the defensive radar units or interfere with their operation.

  • LiberalsRLost

    I’ll be watching for a critical target getting a test…….soon…..

  • Joe Freeman

    Well, it’s really comforting to know that Russia has foiled yet another dastardly US plot to take over Russia…..

    Does this also mean that Russia will continue to take over its neighbors?

    And if the missile defense systems being installed by NATO are complete white elephants why is russia sniveling about them so much? I’d think the Russians would instead be rolling on the floor with laughter at the stupid Yankees.

    something is not quite right here.

    • Rodney King

      Putin stopped snivelling years ago. He is simply disgusted with US Admins for being so arrogant and refusing to talk honestly about balance. He warned years ago that whatever the USA did Russia would counter it. In its normal arrogant way the USA tore up the ABM treaty and even refused fro about a decade to limit the number of active nukes believing that Russia would not be able to match the USA in this area and the USA would be able to dominate completely. Typical US culture both at home and abroad. In recent times Putin now only talks about the stupidity of the USA going down this track. Trying to get through to a largely ignorant US public how there Admins waste trillions on systems that Russia has been able to counter for billions. He simply can’t understand US arrogance and how US Admins get away with robbing US citizens of there hard earned dollars pursuing ridiculous schemes to dominate the world. In many ways the US today is very similar to Hitler in this respect continually pursuing miracle weapons that will allow them to dominate the world. Just like the USA, Hitler found out the hard way that a practical USSR with a less than an ideal leader in Stalin defeated him in WW2 winning about 75-80% of WW2 in Europe.

      • Joe Freeman

        There is more than some truth in some of the things that you are saying. In my opinion a great opportunity was missed when Russia was not welcomed into NATO as a coequal partner to the US Germany Britain.
        It is also true that since the World Trade Center incident the US foreign policy and actions have been illogical and destructive in the extreme to several nations including most particularly the US.
        I don’t blame Putin for wanting to look after Russia’s security and economic interests. That is his job, and in many ways I respect him. for some of the things that he has done and continues to do. I think he’s making a mistake with the Chinese similar to what the US did in 1968, but that’s his call.

        I disagree as to who the chief culprit was in engineering WWII, and I disagree that russia won 75 to 80 percent of the war. That’s nonsense, since Russia essentially didn’t even fight the Japanese until the very end when Japan was already essentially defeated. The fact that Russia sustained casualties in wWIIO of approximately 27 million people was, in my opinion more attributable to Ribbentrop agreement and partitioning Poland, and getting caught by Hitler’s preemptive attack as Stalin was ordering his army into attack positions from very strong defensive positions. Shooting most of his competent generals out of paranoia wasn’t a lot of help either.

        Right now, the fact of the matter is that in an all out nuclear exchange the US would be destroyed. A cadre of Russians would be protected, and the Chinese would then rule the eurasian continent and somewhat thereafter the world.

        So the sooner there is sanity and cooperation between the US and russia the better off the world and our two countries will be. Assuming the leaders can manage it.

        Nice talking to you.

        Joe Freeman

      • Caesar Vespasian

        LOL Putin is snivelling even more, his economy is being crippled and his reputation for invading and annexing countries who prefer to with the more civilized NATO alliance is well known. LOL Forver lagging behind superior USA technologies, Russia and Putin are done!

  • robinjoe1

    How much better off would Russians be if they were a US colony? Japan was essentially a US colony and they prospered and were granted full autonomy. The assertion is absurd. The recent US administrations are ridiculously arrogant and have caused untold misery and death in the Middle East, but that’s part of a centuries old Muslim vs Christian conflict. Russians vs The West conflicts have mostly been caused by ego maniacs getting control of both sides in the conflicts such as Hitler vs Stalin.