Hypersonic showdown: Putin tests terrifying new weapon – days after US missile launch

The Zircon, or Tsirkon, missile has been touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of his arsenal of supposedly unrivalled arms systems. Russia’s defence ministry said that the Severodvinsk submarine had fired the missile in the Barents Sea, successfully hitting its chosen target.

The launch took place at night, video footage released by the ministry showed.

Russia tested firing the Zircon missile from a warship in July.

At the time, the defence ministry said the missile had been fired from the Admiral Gorshkov, a warship located in the White Sea, travelling at around seven times the speed of sound before hitting a ground target on the coastline of the Barents Sea more than 217 miles away.

A statement explained: “The tactical and technical characteristics of the Tsirkon missile were confirmed during the tests,” the ministry said.”

Mr Putin announced a range of new hypersonic weapons in 2018 in one of his most bellicose speeches in years, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a US-built missile shield.

However, some Western experts have questioned how advanced Russia’s new generation of weapons is, while recognising that the combination of speed, manoeuvrability and altitude of hypersonic missiles makes them difficult to track and intercept.

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DARPA said: “The missile, built by Raytheon Technologies, was released from an aircraft seconds before its Northrop Grumman scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) engine kicked on.

“The HAWC vehicle operates best in oxygen-rich atmosphere, where speed and manoeuvrability make it difficult to detect in a timely way.

“It could strike targets much more quickly than subsonic missiles and has significant kinetic energy even without high explosives.”

Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon’s Missiles & Defense business unit, added: “The DoD (Department of Defense) has identified hypersonic weapons and counter-hypersonic capabilities as the highest technical priorities for our nation’s security.

“The United States, and our allies, must have the ability to deter the use of these weapons and the capabilities to defeat them.”

China, meanwhile, is trying to build a hypersonic weapon able to ‘fry’ telecoms systems in 10 seconds.

With a range of more than 2,000 miles, the missile would deliver an intense electromagnetic pulse which would wipe out communication and power supply lines.

It would cruise at six times the speed of sound, reaching its target in 25 minutes.

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