As recently detailed, Russia’s new hypersonic Zircon missile will soon be submarine based. This diversifies Russia’s hypersonic capabilities—from air and at sea, to underwater, for greater strategic advantage. America and U.S. allies beware.
Better than Greased Lightning
But first, what is a hypersonic missile? And why is it so dangerous? Although there are different delivery systems, hypersonic missiles are essentially a new class of missile that flies fast—extremely fast—the Zircon soars in excess of Mach 8. Hypersonic missiles targets would have very little time to react, either by evading or trying to shoot the missile down. Hypersonic missiles are so fast, they don’t necessarily need to carry any explosives, as the impact of something traveling hypersonically would create a terrific explosion.
Evasive maneuvers are difficult against hypersonic weapons because the weapons themselves are highly maneuverable. Using kinetic interceptors to shoot down a hypersonic missile would be like shooting a bullet with a bullet. Further complicating the problem is the fact that most missile defense systems are generally optimized to counter specific, existing threats and hypersonics traveling close to two miles a second are just not on their menu.
One of the truly frightening aspects of hypersonic missiles are the potential stealth capabilities inherent to some of their design. Because they move so quickly through the atmosphere, such missiles generate a plasma field around themselves that is radar absorbent, making them harder to detect. Bad news for aircraft carriers, cities, or other potential targets.
Location, Location, Location
So why are submarine-based hypersonic missiles such a big deal? After all, Zircon and other hypersonic missiles are relatively new, but not unknown, and being deployed at sea is no big secret.