President Vladimir V. Putin sent a frigate on a mission to the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday that he said was equipped with hypersonic weapons, in a show of optimism about Russia’s defense capabilities despite multiple recent setbacks in its war. in Ukraine. However, questions linger as to whether Russia can actually implement the much-vaunted technology.
Hypersonic weapons are defined as long-range, highly maneuverable munitions capable of speeds of at least Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, or more than one mile per second. allowing them to evade traditional air defense systems.
Russia, China, and the United States are in a race to develop and deploy them, and other countries are also working on the technology, including Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea.
Multiple versions are being developed, including those launched from ships or land-based launchers, and cruise missiles launched from airborne combat aircraft. Some are being built to carry conventional explosive warheads, while others destroy their targets simply through the kinetic energy released on impact.
Russia has said that some of its hypersonic weapons will carry nuclear warheads. However, some Western military experts say they have seen no evidence that Moscow has mastered the relevant technology or is actually ready to deploy such a weapon. And if both conditions were met, some have raised doubts about the ultimate usefulness of the deployment. In fact, independent experts have argued that the technical performance of a hypersonic weapon being developed by the United States is far more limited than military claims suggest.
On Wednesday, during a virtual event honoring the frigate’s combat service entry, Putin said Russian hypersonic weapons, known as Zircons, were on board, according to the Russian state news agency, Tass. The full name of the frigate is Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Gorshkov.
“I am sure that such powerful weapons will reliably protect Russia from possible external threats,” Putin said, adding that the weapons had no peers.
The announcement comes at a difficult time for the Russian military. More than 10 months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, sparking the biggest war in Europe in decades, there are no signs the Kremlin can achieve its initial goal of overthrowing the Kyiv government. In recent months, Ukraine has made a series of territorial gains in the southern Kherson region and the northeastern Kharkiv region.
On September 30 last year, the Kremlin illegally annexed four Ukrainian provinces in the south and east of the country, but fighting continues in each area and Russia’s control is limited.
The war has also caused a setback in Russia’s economic and diplomatic position, as sanctions from the United States and Europe, as well as other countries, have left it isolated. In another coup, Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in July, strengthening the alliance.
Early in the war, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it used air-launched hypersonic missiles, called Kinzhals, to destroy an underground warehouse in Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region where missiles and aviation ammunition.
Ukraine acknowledged at the time that the missiles had hit the warehouse and videos showed it exploded, but, at the time, there was no independent verification of the type of missiles used.
John Ismay contributed reporting.