The Russian Navy has carried out the first launch of the Zicron hypersonic anti ship cruise missile from one of its nuclear powered submarines, with the Yasen Class warship Severodvinsk launching a missile which successfully hit its target. The country’s Defence Ministry stated regarding the launch: “The Russian Navy carried out the first tests of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the nuclear submarine Severodvinsk. The missile was test-fired at a conditional sea target in the Barents Sea.” The Zicron saw its first launch from a surface ship in February 2020, and is currently a totally unique missile with no near peer competitors. It is prized for its high manoeuvrability, Mach 9 speed at very long range of around 1000km. With Western navies still reliant on modernised variants of the very short ranged subsonic Harpoon and Exocet missiles from the Cold War era, the Zicron provides an even greater advantage than its predecessor the Kalibr which was already a much more modern and overall capable design than its known Western competitors. The Zicron first entered service in late 2019, and can notably be deployed by almost any Russian surface combatant ranging in size from small corvettes to nuclear powered Yasen Class submarines and Kirov Class battlecruisers.
The Russian Navy currently has two Yasen Class submarines in service with seven more either under construction or in sea trials. The deployment of the Zicron from these ships represents a game changer for their capabilities and allows them to engage enemy targets from much further away and with a much higher chance of evading advanced air defences. As noted by U.S. Navy Admiral Charles A. Richard in August, Russian hypersonic missiles posed a considerable threat because current American defences could struggle to even track them – which was the most basic requirement to engage such a target. With Russian nuclear submarines deployed to patrol seas and oceans across the world, the Zicron could drastically increase their ability to perform ‘hit and run’ attacks with enemy anti submarine warfare assets likely to struggle immensely to track or engage the ships from close to 1000km away. With each ship capable of deploying 32-40 Zicron missiles, depending on the Yasen variant, and with the Zicron capable of knocking out even very large warships with a single well placed hit due to the sheer speed of its impact, a single Yasen Class ship can have the firepower needed to disable a carrier strike group twice over. Although the Zicron is a highly costly asset, it has the potential to serve as an effective force multiplier for the Russian Navy’s tactical nuclear powered submarines and allow them to exercise a far wider area of control particularly in the open oceans.