Russia Arms 3rd Warship With Hypersonic Zircon Missiles; To Boost Northern Fleet Amid NATO Threats

The Russian Navy commissioned three new warships into its Northern Fleet on December 25. One of them, named after the former Commander of the fleet, Admiral Golovko, will be equipped with Zircon or Tsirkon missiles, making it the third Russian vessel to get a hypersonic weapon.

Three additional ships were added to the Russian Navy’s combat composition on December 25: the mine defense ship “Lev Chernavin” for the Baltic Fleet, the small missile ship “Naro-Fominsk,” and the missile frigate “Admiral Golovko,” which will serve in the Northern Fleet, Izvestia reported.

The solemn ceremony was held in St. Petersburg, Kronstadt, and Baltiysk, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance. Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu accompanied the President to commission Admiral Golovko in St Petersburg.

Admiral Golovko is an Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate of the Russian Navy named after the outstanding Soviet naval commander who commanded the Northern Fleet during the Great Patriotic War. The vessel is the third in the series of Gorshkov-class frigates. It has an updated design and more capabilities than its predecessors.

The armament of the vessel consists of three missile types: the 9M100 missile, which can reach up to 10 kilometers; the 9M96E missile, which can reach up to 50 kilometers; and the long-range missile 9M96E2-1 missile, which can hit targets up to 150 kilometers away. It has also been outfitted with the cutting-edge Kalibr cruise missile, which has successfully demonstrated its capability against Ukraine.

However, the Russian Ministry of Defense sources who spoke with Izvestia claim that the ship’s primary armament will not be the Kalibr missile. Admiral Golovko will be equipped with the Zircon hypersonic missiles, as well as other munitions that the vessels of this class carry.

Earlier this year, Admiral Gorshkov sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea armed with the Zircon missile.

In January this year, the Russian Defense Minister announced Admiral Gorshkov’s far-sea voyage at the ceremony marking the frigate’s entry into combat service. It has recently been learned that Admiral Gorshkov’s frigate performed a test launch of a Zircon hypersonic missile at over 900 kilometers (559 miles) at a sea target in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Admiral Gorshkov leaves port on January 4, 2023

A few days ago, Commander-in-Chief of the Navy Nikolai Evmenov briefed President Putin on potentially equipping all ten of the project’s missile frigates with Zircon missiles.

Admiral Golovko will deploy to the Northern Fleet’s Severomorsk-based 43rd Division of missile ships. According to sources in the Northern Fleet, the primary role of the Zircon carrier ships would be to patrol the Northern Sea Route and oppose NATO forces in the North Atlantic.

Zircon, a multi-purpose hypersonic missile designed to strike sea and ground targets, has a range of over 1000 kilometers and can travel at Mach 9 (11,113 kilometers per hour). Earlier in 2020, Russia said the Tsirkon had reached the mass manufacturing stage. The missile could evade even the most advanced American defenses.

Russian Naval Commander further claimed that the vessels operated by NATO countries in the region were completely exposed to the Russian Zircon hypersonic missiles and were yet to field an air defense system that could intercept this lethal munition that travels more than the speed of sound itself.

According to Russian naval commanders, the Zircon would create effective deterrence with NATO states that have recently begun boosting their presence in the north, especially in the Arctic region.

Admiral Golovko To Strengthen Northern Fleet

The Project 22350 frigate Admiral Golovko was earlier anticipated to be the first Russian Navy warship to be equipped with Zircon hypersonic missiles. The warship has 3S14 VLS cells, which can launch Kalibr, Oniks, or Zircon anti-ship cruise missiles.

Admiral Golovko arrived at the Northern Fleet’s main base on March 31. At the time, the Russian MoD announced that the vessel was there to undertake factory sea trials, state testing, and test firing at the fleet’s combat training ranges in the Barents Sea.

Admiral Golovko is the third warship of its class. The lead and first production frigates, “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov” and “Admiral of the Fleet Kasatonov” have already been inducted into the Russian Northern Fleet. Project 22350 ships are 1st-rank frigates designed for operations in the far sea zone. They are the largest warship of the modern Russian fleet of fresh construction.

In March this year, Russian media noted that frigates of this Project carry Kalibr-NK and/or Oniks cruise missile systems as their primary strike weapons and will eventually be armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles. 

Russian frigate Admiral Golovko - Wikipedia
Russian frigate Admiral Golovko – Wikipedia

Admiral Golovko has a potent “Polyment-Redut” anti-aircraft missile system in addition to the strike missile complex. The system can shell targets in the air and the sea, and it is based on the land-based S-350 “Vityaz.”

Military experts believe that the number one priority for Admiral Golovko will be to guarantee the deployment of the Borey project’s strategic submarine missile carriers and strengthen the surface ship strike groups. This will become particularly important after the nuclear missile cruiser “Admiral Nakhimov” and the heavy aircraft carrier cruiser “Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov” have been fully repaired.

Additionally, it is suggested that upgraded Oscar-class and Yasen-class submarines be equipped with Zircon missiles. Military analyst Dmitry Boltenkov told Izvestia that Admiral Golovko is a multipurpose ship that can strike with missiles like Onyx, Kalibrs, and in the future with the Zircons. He noted that the warship will be able to fire from the Barents Sea in northern Finland if needed.

This assertion made by the Russian military expert may be significant given that Moscow has been on a head-on collision course with Helsinki joining NATO. At sea, the newly commissioned warship and its two other sisters would bolster the Russian Northern Fleet’s might amid the constant threat of NATO.