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9 Dec, 2019 14:56

Russia to expand number of Zircon hypersonic cruise missile-capable ships

Russia to expand number of Zircon hypersonic cruise missile-capable ships

In a new push towards re-arming the country's military with modern weaponry, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has ordered an expansion in the number of vessels fitted with cutting-edge Kalibr and Zircon cruise missiles.

Russia has introduced a whole range of state-of-the-art arms in recent years, and is now seeking to equip at least 70 percent of troops with them. So far, however, the goal has not been met and the tally of the newest hardware in the military's possession is currently at about 68 percent.

Beefing up the capabilities of the country's navy is among the top priorities, and Russia's defense minister ordered that the trusted Kalibr and perspective Zircon missiles be added to additional blue-sea military vessels.

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The 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles boast an impressive operational range of up to 600km, and they have already been battle-tested during Russia's counter-terrorist operation in Syria, proving able to strike targets with pinpoint accuracy.

The 3M22 Zircon hypersonic missile is still under development, and a new test-fire is expected to be conducted late this year. While little is known about the munition, it is said to be able to travel at least eight times faster than sound.

It was not immediately clear whether this would involve building new ships from scratch or upgrading ones that are already commissioned or under construction – most likely, it means both. Last month, for instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the unexpected addition of Zircon cruise missiles to a new corvette, which is set to join the country's Pacific Fleet in late December.

Aside from bolstering the ranks of the navy, Shoigu said that the military must also increase its stock of unmanned aerial vehicles and robotic weaponry, as well as of weaponry "based on the new physical principles." While the minister did not elaborate on the latter, it likely means the military is set to receive more hypersonic munitions and the mysterious combat laser complex, which were unveiled back in 2018.

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In the meantime, the Russian military has already met its goal of refurbishing its fleet of strategic, nuclear-capable aircraft, namely the iconic Tu-95MS bombers, Shoigu said. While the machines are quite old, they were fitted with modern avionics and other electronic equipment – basically only the original airframes remain in place. Following the upgrade, Russian strategic aviation possesses "the planned number of combat-ready bombers," the minister added.

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