Russia Successfully Tests Tsirkon, Its Hypersonic Cruise Missile

The hypersonic missile went seven times the speed of sound and hit a target over 200 miles away.
Ameya Paleja
Russia testing its Tsirkon missile in the White SeaRussian Ministry of Defense

Russia successfully tested its hypersonic cruise missile Tsirkon (Zircon) in the White Sea. Fired off the frigate, Admiral Grigorovich, the hypersonic missile hit a land target over 200 miles (350 km) away on the coast, the Russian Ministry of Defense tweeted on July 19, also sharing footage of the firing. 

The Russian missile test comes two years after President Putin had claimed that the Tsirkon would travel at a speed of Mach 9 (nine times the speed of sound) and have a range of over 600 miles (1,000 km). Earlier, this month, the U.S. Navy canceled its plans to pursue railguns, electrically powered missiles that could reach Mach 7 while continuing its efforts on the hypersonic missiles. 

Typically hypersonic missiles are capable of achieving speeds of Mach 5 and are classified into two major types: Hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic glide missiles. The hypersonic cruise missiles are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines while the glide missiles are launched by rockets to an initial height after which they glide to their targets at hypersonic speeds. 

While Russia intends to use nuclear warheads for its hypersonic missiles, the U.S. is experimenting with unconventional warheads that can cause high damage for its Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missiles. 

Unlike conventional ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles fly at low altitudes and have high maneuverability. Coupled with their high speeds, hypersonic missiles are difficult to detect and defend against, making them a challenge even for sophisticated systems like the Iron Dome or THAAD systems. The Missile Defense Agency has requested a budget of $427 million for hypersonic defense alone, while Pentagon plans to spend over $3.8 billion in 2022 for the development of its hypersonic missiles.  

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