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It is probably no coincidence that as international tensions have ratcheted up following on the US missile strike on Syria and the US military deployments around North Korea, that Russia has announced that its new hypersonic Zircon anti-ship missile has achieved speeds of Mach 8 in tests.
This claim appears in an article carried by the official Russian news agency TASS.
Unlike other Russian news agencies and media outlets, TASS is and always has been the official news agency of the Russian government. Though its name refers to the USSR (Telegrafnoye agentstvo Sovetskogo Soyuza – “Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union”) it was actually set up by the tsarist government in 1902, when it was called the Commercial Telegraph Agency (TTA, Torgovo-Telegrafnoe Agentstvo). Following the fall of the USSR in 1992 it called itself for a time “ITAR-TASS” (“Information Telegraph Agency of Russia – TASS”) before reverting to its old and better known name TASS in 2014.
The point is that since TASS is the official news agency of the Russian government, articles which it carries have the official stamp of approval, and are especially authoritative.
On the subject of the Zircon test, it has been known for some time that Russia has been developing this hypersonic anti-ship missile.
TASS does not say when the test took place, but it does pointedly say that Zircon’s range is 400 kilometres – more than the current reported distance between the US navy and their presumed targets in North Korea (said to be 300 kilometres) – and that Zircon can be launched from existing launch platforms used by existing anti-ship missiles like Kalibr and Onyx, some of which are shore based.
The claim about the results of the test are made in this comment from an anonymous but undoubtedly high ranking source within the Russian defence complex
During the tests of the missile it was confirmed that its speed on the march reaches eight Mach (number that takes into account the dependence of the speed of sound on the altitude of flight – TASS)
The TASS article says that Zircon’s usual speed is Mach 4 to 6, and it seems from the above comment that the Mach 8 speed was achieved in unusual flight conditions. However TASS pointedly also says this
Hypersonic weapons are missiles and aircraft capable of reaching speeds of Mach 5 and more – or five times the speed of sound. They are extremely difficult to intercept due to their overwhelming speed and maneuvering capabilities.
The Russians of course know that US intelligence routinely scans articles in TASS for information about Russian weapons systems. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the article about the Zircon test is intentionally timed to remind the US after the Syrian missile strike and the US navy deployments near the Korean Peninsula that such moves are dangerous if made against Russia, and will shortly become (after Zircon is deployed) more dangerous still.