Key Point: Russia's continued development of hypersonic technology poses a threat to western Europe.
Britain’s new aircraft carriers can’t defend themselves against Russia’s latest hypersonic antiship missile.
The problem? Russia’s 3M22 Zircon streak toward their target as fast as Mach 6, or 4,600 miles per hour. But the Sea Ceptor defensive missiles on the Queen Elizabeth–class carriers can only intercept targets traveling up to Mach 3, or about 2,300 miles per hour, anonymous British defense officials told the British press.
“Hypersonic missiles are virtually unstoppable,” a senior naval source told the Daily Mirror. “The whole idea of the carrier is the ability to project power. But with no method of protecting themselves against missiles like the Zircon, the carrier would have to stay out of range, hundreds of miles out at sea. Its planes would be useless and the whole basis of a carrier task force would be redundant.”
The Zircon has an estimated range of 250 miles. Traveling six times the speed of sound, it could reach that maximum distance in a little over three minutes.
Concluded British newspaper the Independent: “It means the two ships, the first of which is not expected to be fully operational before 2020, could be rendered obsolete by this new development in hypersonic warfare despite costing up to £7 billion [US$8.9 billion] to build.”
And if that news wasn’t bad enough, it now turns out that estimates of the Zircon’s speed may have been premature. Russia’s TASS news agency now reports that the Zircon achieved a speed of Mach 8 during recent tests. That would mean the missile reached a speed of 6,138 miles per hour.
“During the tests of the missile, it was confirmed that its speed on the March reaches eight Mach,” according to what TASS described as an unnamed “source with Russia’s defense sector.”