October 20, 2021

Will Russia’s hypersonic missile test restart the Cold War-style arms race?


Russia announced on Monday that it had launched a hypersonic missile from a nuclear submarine for the first time.

It is completely black in the video when suddenly after about ten seconds a bright light appears and shoots upwards towards the sky. for the Russian The government’s flash of light indicates the world’s first successful launch of a hypersonic missile from a submarine.

The missile hit its target, the Defense Ministry said in a statement Monday, adding that the hypersonic weapon was fired from a Seurodonsk nuclear submarine into the Barents Sea.

“It was a demonstration of strength that is in line with Russia’s vision to resume the strategic arms race,” said Alexander Waters, a defense and security expert and editor-in-chief of The Review Military Switzerland.

Zircon is a hypersonic missile, capable of exceeding Mach 5 (6.174 km / h). This means that it can “hit any target at a distance of 1000 km”, Putin He noted in a speech in December 2018 that he had confirmed that Russia was developing a new generation of weapons.

Unlike conventional ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons can also be guided, which cannot change course in mid-flight. This means that this type of weapon will be more effective than targets such as warplanes. Gustav Grissel, a Russian military expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Zircones were the first and most important anti-ship missiles, although they could also be used to hit targets on the ground.

Russia began working on the zircons in the early 2010s and has conducted several tests over the past five years.

But Monday’s launch from a submarine marks a significant breakthrough. Such weapons are usually carried secretly on potential ships, and in the case of Russia, “these are submarines, because the country does not have the appropriate technology for long-range stealth bombers capable of evading US radar systems.” Have “.

“If Russia ever gets involved in a military confrontation against NATO forces, the submarines are the only part of the Russian navy that has a chance to survive against US and NATO military might,” Grisel said. He added that Russia had developed a “real sense of bullying about the United States”, and that it had always made Moscow wonder what would happen in the event of a conflict.

Restarting the arms race?

Weapons such as hypersonic missiles are a boon to Russia at the moment as Western powers invest less in strategic missiles, Voters notes: “Europe and the United States have been slow to modernize their strategic weapons systems in recent years. “And their technology is sometimes outdated until the 1990s.”

In light of this, it looks as if Russia has embarked on an arms race thanks to the launch of a hypersonic missile – which many analysts see as the weapon of the future from a nuclear submarine.

Russia is the only country that has demonstrated its ability to use these weapons operationally. The United States has also conducted experiments, but especially with launchers designed for this type of missile. [instead of from an operational vessel like a submarine]A And there is absolutely no reliable data on the progress of the Chinese program in this area.

Nevertheless, Grisel continued, no one should underestimate Russia’s capabilities: “To be able to launch hypersonic missiles, you have to overcome two major obstacles: you have to fly them without tearing them to pieces, and You have to show that you can guide them. Distance so that they can hit targets on the move – and the Russians have shown that their missiles can fly, but there is no evidence that they can speed up these missiles. Can adjust in mid-flight.

Grissel added that the videos released by the Russian Defense Ministry after each “successful” launch focus only on the launches and “only show blurry images”. “I would like to know how big the target was, and whether it was a fixed target or a moving target.”

The United States has no particular cause for concern. But if Russia has mastered the technology, it could be a game changer. Currently, efforts to develop the US Missile Defense Shield – which began with the “Star Wars” program launched by then-President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s – have failed to develop a defense system that already exists. Capable of launching all missiles, such a system would be even less effective against hypersonic missiles.

As Russia demonstrates its expertise in hypersonic missile technology, Voters said the United States must choose whether to focus on its anti-missile defense system or make hypersonic missiles its new priority. If Washington takes such a path, voters will conclude that “the global arms race will resume.”

This article has been translated. Original in French.


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