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Russia to equip its advanced submarines with hypersonic missiles

by Ameya Paleja, Interesting Engineering

Work is already underway and the first batch of equipped submarines could be ready as early as 2026.

Russia plans to equip the Yasen-class submarines with its Zircon hypersonic missiles, Reuters reported. Also known as Project 885M, the Yasen-class is the most advanced Russian submarine powered by nuclear energy, and the addition of hypersonic missiles will strengthen its capabilities.

Russia is one of the few countries that is not only working on developing hypersonic missiles but has also successfully demonstrated their development on more than one occasion. These missiles can travel at speeds five times faster than sound and are considered the next frontier of weapons technology since they cannot be countered with conventional missile defense systems.

Russia’s hypersonic missile

Russia first tested the Zircon (also written as Tsirkon) back in 2021. The weapon demonstrated its hypersonic abilities by traveling at Mach 7 and then hitting a target nearly 200 miles away.

For the first demonstration, Russia fired the Zircon from its multi-purpose frigate Admiral Gorshkov. Later that year, though, it fired the missile from a submarine on two occasions, including one when it was at a depth of 131 feet (40 m).

Back then, Interesting Engineering had reported that the test fire was carried out from the nuclear-powered submarine of the Severodvinsk class, which is the NATO nomenclature for the Yasen-class submarines. The Zircon missile has been further developed and now boasts a range of 560 miles (900 km).

In a recent interaction with state media,  Alexei Rakhmanov, chief executive officer of the United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), added that the Zircon missiles would be a regular feature on the Yasen-M submarines and work in this direction was already underway.

What are Yasen-M submarines?

Weighing 13,800 tons, the Yasen class submarines are built at the Sevmash Shipyard in Severodvinsk, hence the NATO name. These submarines are regarded as “crown jewels” of the Russian Navy and were further upgraded with advanced noise reduction technology and a nuclear reactor in the Yasen-M variant.

This class of submarines is equipped with Oniks (3M55) missiles which can hit targets 320 nautical miles (593 kilometers) out in the sea. For land-based attacks, it uses the Kalibr (3M14K) missiles which have a range of 1,600 nautical miles (2,963 kilometers). A Yasen-M submarine in the mid-Atlantic can potentially hit a target on the US eastern coast.

Although the Zircon has a relatively shorter range than the Kalibr missiles, its ability to evade missile defense systems makes it a bigger threat to the US. Currently, Russia only has one 885 vessel and two more of the 885M submarines, although reports suggest that as many as six more vessels are in various stages of production.

By inducting hypersonic missile technology into these upcoming vessels, Russia intends to keep its most-advanced submarines tactically agile for future use. The first of the 885M submarines with Zircon missiles could be floated by 2026, Eurasian Times reported.

US attempts at developing similar technology have so far met limited success, even as adversaries like China and North Korea boast about having developed their own hypersonic missiles.

Earlier this year, Russia sent hypersonic missiles on a frigate to missions in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

Source: Interesting Engineering – Russia to equip its advanced submarines with hypersonic missiles