TechRussia's Zircon missiles. A military marvel or major fraud?

Russia's Zircon missiles. A military marvel or major fraud?

Remains of the 3M22 Zircon missile
Remains of the 3M22 Zircon missile
Images source: © Defense Express

10:07 AM EDT, May 2, 2024

The 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missiles, a relatively new design touted by Russia for their anti-ship capabilities, have been met with skepticism. Defense Express, a notable analysis platform, has described it as the biggest fraud committed by missile manufacturers and the Russian Federation's Ministry of Defence, highlighting several concerns surrounding the Zircons.

As reported by Defense Express, Ukrainian intelligence's revelation regarding the quantity of these missiles in Russia's arsenal and their monthly production rate has sparked questions about these new designs.

These anti-ship missiles, known for their range of about 621 miles, saw their first recorded use in early February 2024. Analysts have considered the 3M22 Zircon missiles "the biggest fraud" in Russian military hardware.

Why is Russia producing so many 3M22 missiles?

The primary and most pressing question raised by Defense Express analysts concerns the surprisingly high and peculiar production rate of these hypersonic missiles. Russia reportedly manufactures up to 10 of these missiles per month despite having a limited number of launch platforms. Currently, the only vessels capable of launching these weapons are two service frigates of Project 22350 and one submarine of Project 885, along with several Bastion coastal complexes.

This situation suggests Russia might not produce the 3M22 Zircon solely as an anti-ship missile, contrary to their public claims. Defense Express proposes that it might actually be intended as a conventional medium-range missile for land attacks.

Too small a warhead

The missile's warhead size supports this theory. According to Defense Express, the Zircon's warhead weighs between 220 and 330 pounds, with a maximum of 88 pounds being explosives. This payload is deemed insufficient for targets above 5,500 tons, rendering it ineffective against larger vessels, particularly aircraft carriers with displacements nearing 110,000 tons.

The missile's reported range of 621 miles was ostensibly achieved by reducing the warhead's mass. Previous speculations about the 3M22 suggested it might carry a warhead of up to 882 pounds, implying that the range extension was primarily gained through payload reduction.

These insights from Defense Express indicate that the 3M22 Zircons may be repurposed as standard hypersonic missiles intended for land attacks, possibly from mobile platforms. While the potential integration of Zircon missiles into the Iskander system remains speculative due to limited information on the missile's exact dimensions, such developments could surface if and when Zircons begin to be actively used against deep targets within Ukraine.

Related content