Putin is planning a warship armed with hypersonic missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced the frigate Admiral Gorshkov is said to be armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles and set out on combat patrol in January 2023, state news agency Tass reported.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said delivery of these missiles to the Russian Navy has already begun. The frigate will be armed with these weapons before “embarking on a mission in the ocean,” he said.

Zircon hypersonic missiles can travel at up to nine times the speed of sound with a range of more than 620 miles, Putin said. One was tested on May 28 this year when it was fired from a warship in the Barents Sea, hitting a umbilical target over 600 miles away in the White Sea.

hypersonic missile
Illustration of a hypersonic missile. Hypersonic missiles can travel at over five times the speed of sound.
iStock/Getty ImagesPlus

Russia has used hypersonic missiles at least once during the conflict, hitting the port city of Odessa with Kinzhal missiles in mid-March.

China is also considered to be at the forefront of the technology, having conducted multiple tests and demonstrations throughout 2022. In October it was reported that a Chinese missile had orbited the globe before striking its target – although China declined to conduct tests. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry, said financial times it was a “routine test of a spacecraft”.

Geopolitical tensions are now spurring the US to develop hypersonic weapons. Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems program, told CNN in October, “Until recently there was no real reason for us to take this technology and integrate it into a weapons system. It wasn’t necessary there. The need is there now, so we have a sense of urgency to address it.”

The US Air Force successfully tested a hypersonic missile off the coast of Southern California on December 9th. The prototype rocket reached speeds more than five times the speed of sound. But what are hypersonic weapons and why are they important in modern warfare? news week explained…

What are hypersonic weapons?

Hypersonic missiles can travel at up to 25 times the speed of sound – over 30,000 km/h.

Hypersonic weapons include hypersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles. The former is limited to altitudes below 100,000 feet, while hypersonic gliders can fly higher in the atmosphere.

Hypersonic weapons move slower than ballistic weapons, but their atmospheric motion allows them to be more easily maneuvered and therefore less easily defended by missile defense systems.

“They’re very difficult to shoot down, not only because of their high speed, but also because they’re flying in a region of the atmosphere that we didn’t have to defend before,” said Iain Boyd, director of the Center for National Security Initiatives and a professor of air and aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Newsweek. “They fly higher than airplanes and normal missiles, but lower than satellites and ballistic missiles.

“Additionally, modern hypersonic weapons maneuver in a way that makes them much more difficult to track than ballistic missiles.”

Other types of hypersonic weapons include airplanes, capable of flying at speeds in excess of Mach 5 (about 3,800 miles per hour) themselves, and cannons, which fire guided projectiles traveling at the same speed, such as missiles. B. Rail guns.

How do hypersonic missiles fly so fast?

Hypersonic cruise missiles use scramjet engines to accelerate to high speeds in the atmosphere, while hypersonic glide vehicles use a ballistic first stage to reach high speeds in space before re-entering the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

“Much of the interior of a hypersonic missile resembles slower weapons. A unique aspect of a hypersonic missile is the need for special materials on its outer surface to protect it from the very high temperatures created when it travels through the air at incredibly high speeds,” Boyd said.

“Hypersonic missiles are fired at missiles that accelerate them to their high speed. To make them faster just use a bigger rocket. The fastest hypersonic missiles could travel 3 to 4 miles per second.”

Above their upper limit of about Mach 25, the molecules of the atmosphere dissociate into a plasma as the hypersonic object passes, making communication with the weapon more difficult and thus more difficult to control.

What are hypersonic missiles used for?

The main application of hypersonic technology is currently in warfare.

“Hypersonic missiles, like other missiles, are used to destroy targets. Of particular concern to the US Navy is that a hypersonic weapon could incapacitate an aircraft carrier, limiting our ability to project violence far from our homeland. Russia appears to be using them against conventional targets such as ammunition depots,” Boyd said.

Hypersonic missiles have so much kinetic energy that they can do tremendous damage without containing a lot of explosives. Additionally, their immense speed allows them to travel extremely far in a short amount of time, giving them both an element of surprise and a long range.

supersonic jet
Archive image of an F18 jet hitting Mach 1 with the Prandtl-Glauert singularity visible.
iStock/Getty ImagesPlus

Boyd said that NASA and other commercial space companies use hypersonic vehicles — not rockets — for space exploration around Earth and the solar system: “When a rover lands on Mars, it first enters the Martian atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. When astronauts return to Earth from the International Space Station, their capsule enters the atmosphere at supersonic speeds.”

There is also hope for use of this technology on Earth in a non-war context, including shipping and perhaps even mass transit. Russian entrepreneur Mikhail Kokorich has announced his new company Destinus’ plans to develop a transcontinental cargo drone capable of traveling at Mach 15 and using only hydrogen as fuel.

“There have been studies by NASA and others looking at hypersonic passenger transport,” Boyd said. “However, it has not been possible to sustain commercial supersonic transport (the Concorde) and the engineering challenges for hypersonic are greater. So I think it will take decades for this to become a reality.”

Currently, hypersonic missiles are primarily used in the Russia-Ukraine war, with Russia moving some aircraft carrying hypersonic missiles to Belarus in November. China has also recently equipped several nuclear submarines with hypersonic missiles.

According to TASS, Russia is said to have ordered several dozen Zircon hypersonic missiles in mid-November. On December 1, three MiG-31K fighter jets, capable of carrying Russian Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, were spotted flying from Belarus to Russia.

Do you have a tip for a science story for Newsweek to cover? Do you have a question about hypersonic missiles? Let us know at science@newsweek.com.

https://www.newsweek.com/hypersonic-missiles-how-fast-why-used-1761788 Putin is planning a warship armed with hypersonic missiles

Rick Schindler

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