“The radio signal does not pass through the plasma, but our rocket is controllable.” The plot of the Vremya program about the Zircon rocket is most like a bluff

The Vremya program aired a story by correspondent Ivan Konovalov about a new Russian weapon - the Zircon anti-ship missile. The plot is titled "The latest hypersonic missile "Zircon" changes the alignment of forces at sea." It says :

“The national interests of Russia as a great maritime power extend to the entire world ocean. <…> Effective tools are needed to protect national interests. The country's Navy will soon receive the Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, a weapon that will radically change the very principles of naval strategy and cool hot heads across the ocean.
Hypersonic missiles "Zirkon" fly at a speed 9 times higher than the speed of sound at a distance of 1000 km. Not a single Western air and missile defense system is capable of intercepting them. According to US military experts, in order to destroy the most modern American aircraft carrier Gerald Ford, it will take a volley of no more than six hypersonic Zircons, and no air defense group will protect it.
The main secret is that the Zircon rocket is controllable, despite the fact that it moves at great speed in a plasma cloud created by friction, through which the radio signal does not pass.

Further in the story, Alexander Artamonov, presented as a military expert (it is not clear where he received such qualifications: he is a graduate of the philological faculty of Moscow State University and the Higher Diplomatic Academy of France, a doctor of social sciences from the Catholic University of Paris) says:

“We are able to stop the flight at any second and control the same Zircon or any other hypersonic weapon, that is, a permanent communication channel is maintained. How is it possible to maintain a communication channel with a body flying at such speeds, provided that there is an ionized cloud around it, a plasma cloud around it, a radio signal does not pass through the plasma ... Nevertheless, our rocket is controllable. Until now, for foreign scientists and for the general public, including myself, it is not entirely clear what physical laws the controllability principle is based on, but once V.V. Putin said that we are on the threshold, we have literally crossed the line of discovering new physical laws.”

Putin, of course, has indisputable authority in matters of physics, so, according to the author of the plot, Zircon, like Russia, cannot be understood with the mind, you can only believe in it. But for some reason, not everyone believes. In December 2019, Nezavisimaya Voyennoye Obozreniye, a supplement to the completely pro-Kremlin Nezavisimaya Gazeta, published an article under the heading “Zircons will not ensure victory at sea.” There is nothing there about Putin’s alternative military-patriotic physics, but it says :

“In reality, everything is not so simple: it is not enough to develop and put into service a unique missile against which the enemy has no defense, it is also necessary to create an appropriate number of carriers for it - surface ships and submarines, which will “carry” these missiles to the salvo point. But it’s just with the carriers that things are not particularly brilliant with us - just look at the list of ships that can be armed with Zircons today. Yes, gradually there will be more of them, but the pace of this “gradualization” is so depressingly low that I don’t even want to discuss this topic. <…>
There is another point. In the United States, given the appearance of hypersonic anti-ship missiles abroad, they have long been preoccupied with the future of their aircraft carriers. The Pentagon is making titanic efforts to minimize the level of threat to its “floating airfields” in the face of confrontation with Moscow and Beijing.
Since there is no reliable protection against the Zircons themselves today due to the lack of air defense / missile defense systems that can guarantee the protection of the ship from hypersonic missiles, especially if they fly in a “flock” (and this is exactly what our anti-ship missiles have usually been doing since the days of the USSR), American the military decided to take on their carriers - submarines and surface ships. <…>
To combat enemy surface ships, the Americans quickly created a new long-range anti-ship missile AGM-158C LRASM. It was developed with the active participation of the DARPA agency on the basis of the AGM-158B JASSM-ER air-launched cruise missile and in November of this year. included in the armament of carrier-based fighters F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. <…>
Taking into account the fact that the carrier aircraft will launch LRASM not above the deck of an aircraft carrier, but several hundred miles from it, the radius of destruction of enemy ships can easily reach 1,300 km from the location of the aircraft carrier. Even when launched from the very border of this "circle of death", "Zircons" simply will not reach the "floating airfield" of the enemy. There is hope that the flight range of the Zircon is still greater than that published in the media, but at the same time, the possibility of a significant increase in the range of the Super Hornets due to their in-flight refueling should be taken into account. And given that since December 2018, the LRASM has been included in the armament of the “strategists” B-1B (each can carry up to 24 missiles), and in the future it will, apparently, be adapted for the B-2A, B-52 and, possibly , R-8A, then the situation becomes simply depressing. In the absence of our aircraft carriers and a large group of long-range coastal fighter aircraft, we have nothing to fight with air carriers of LRASM missiles.

In August 2020, military expert Vladimir Tuchkov wrote in the Russian edition of Military Industrial Courier:

“As soon as any weapon of significant impact power appears, it is immediately given the title of aircraft carrier killer. However, neither the multi-centre mass of the warhead, nor the significant flight speed or underwater movement, nor the ingenious maneuvering and electronic protection is far from always enough to put a floating airfield to the bottom. Or at least disable it for a long time. Because it is an extremely difficult task to deliver this potential killer to the right place at the right time. <…>
Very soon, the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile will be put into service, during the tests which they were able to accelerate to a speed of Mach 8 (hypersonic speed starts from 5 Mach). So far, not all information about Zircon has been disclosed, but it is quite possible to talk about the corridor where these characteristics are located. <...> The maximum range is 400–600 kilometers. Initially, Zircon was tested on a real carrier on the new Project 22350 frigate Admiral Gorshkov. He is still the only carrier of the rocket. However, it is rather problematic for a surface ship to approach an aircraft carrier within 600 km to fire a hypersonic cruise missile. Because on the approach it will be detected by a carrier-based AWACS aircraft "Hawkeye". AUG aircraft will take to the air. Actually, the planes do not even have to take off, because part of the aviation wing performs constant patrol flights. They will sink the Project 22350 frigate before it approaches the AVN at the Zircon firing range.

The editorial afterword to Tuchkov's article states:

“We are proud that the country is receiving new types of truly Russian national weapons: anti-ship cruise missiles. But, alas, in order to shoot them far and accurately, it is necessary to have perfect reconnaissance and target designation systems. But with them, the Russian Federation is very unfavorable.”

The range of the Zircon, as well as its speed, by the way, is constantly growing in press reports. If in 2020 the Military Industrial Courier wrote about a range of 400-600 km, now in the Vremya program it has doubled (however, the range may depend on the type of warhead). In 2017, in one of the first publications about Zircon, Popular Mechanics magazine estimated its speed at Mach 6, in September 2021 TASS reported a speed of Mach 7, a month later RBC wrote about Mach 8, and now in the program " Time” speed reached Mach 9.

However, as the same Popular Mechanics wrote, speed in general is not so important in practice:

“Speed ​​alone is not enough, because existing missile defenses are designed for much faster weapons. “It's really fast for a cruise missile, but not particularly fast when you start thinking about ballistic missiles,” said David Wright of the Union of Caring Scientists. <…>
The way the Zircon flies will ultimately tell a lot more about the rocket's power than just its speed. If a missile can fly a low trajectory and then crash into a ship at the end of its flight in a sudden and unpredictable maneuver, it really is as deadly as it is claimed to be. If not, then perhaps existing missile defense systems can handle it; however, it is unlikely that the designers and the military will stop there.

That is, everything rests on the same problem that the Military Industrial Courier pointed out: reconnaissance and target designation means. And there are big difficulties with this in Russia: the Liana satellite system intended for this still does not operate in the normal mode, while only one Pion-NKS active reconnaissance satellite with a radar station on board has been put into orbit, and for the full operation of the system at least two are required . And this is not to mention the fact that, if you do not rely on “new physical laws” that are incomprehensible even to an expert of the Vremya program, when approaching the target, in order to receive accurate guidance signals, the rocket will have to significantly reduce speed so that the plasma cloud disappears.

American Daily Newspaper

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