Russia fired Putin’s ‘invincible’ hypersonic Zircon missile for the first time in Ukraine, experts say

Russia has used a Zircon hypersonic cruise missile for the first time in Ukraine, according to experts.

Oleksandr Ruvin, director of the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise, said in a Telegram post on Monday that staff at the institute had found identifying markings among the missiles launched in an attack last Wednesday.

“This is evidenced by the markings on parts and fragments, the identification of components and parts, and the features of the relevant type of weapon,” Ruvin wrote, per a translation by the Kyiv Independent.

He said the missile wreckage had characteristics unique to a 3M22 Zircon missile, including the inscription “3L22” engraved on some fragments, as well as the number 26 on the bolts holding the steering systems.

Ruvin shared a video of the debris to back up his claim.

The attack killed at least five people and injured more than 50 others, according to the report.

The Zircon missile, also known as Tsirkon, is part of a hypersonic program that Russia has been working on in recent years, per a report by the Congressional Research Service. 

The missile is launched from a ship and can reach speeds of Mach 6 to Mach 8, or between about 4,500 mph and 6,000 mph, the CRS report said. This means it can fly at up to 8 times the speed of sound.

Russian officials claim that it can actually travel at Mach 9, or about 6,900 mph.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called weapons like the Zircon “invincible” and impossible to defend against.

In this image taken from video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Saturday, May 28, 2022, a new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched by the frigate Admiral Gorshkov of the Russian navy from the Barents Sea.

The Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov firing a Zircon hypersonic cruise missile in the Barents Sea in May 2022.

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

According to Russian state-owned media, it’s not the first time Russia has fired the missile.

Zircon missiles were successfully launched in January, October, and December 2020, and May 2022, as well as from a Yasen-class submarine in October 2021, the CRS said, citing a TASS report.

Russia also deployed the missile on a frigate in January 2023.

At the time, Putin said the weapon had “no analogues in any country in the world.”

The capabilities of the missile should not be overstated, Business Insider’s Michael Peck reported last year.

When an object travels at Mach 5 or faster, it ionizes the air around it and creates a plasma sheath that obstructs radar signals, which is an issue when approaching moving targets, he wrote.

Even though the missile debris is still being analyzed, researchers at the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise said that “the weapon does not meet the tactical and technical characteristics claimed” by Russia, per a translation by the Kyiv Independent.

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