A Russian naval frigate armed with hypersonic missile systems will continue a long-distance deployment mission after completing a joint naval exercise with Chinese and South African navies, and may join other Russian forces in the Ukraine war, analysts said.
The Admiral Gorshkov, which was part of a Russian naval flotilla that included the seagoing tanker Kama, were sailing to new waters after three days of naval drills off the South African city of Cape Town on Monday, Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported.
Citing the press office for the Russian Northern Fleet, which includes the frigate and support ship, Tass said the warships took part in artillery drills, mine sweeping and maritime rescue operations during the exercises.
The report did not mention if the “Zircon” anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile system had been tested in the joint exercises, but Chinese military experts said the frigate might be deployed to the Black Sea as reinforcement.
Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov recently took part in naval exercises with the South African and Chinese navies. Photo: Reuters
“It is possible the [ship-based] Zircon missile system would be deployed by the frigate to support the Black Sea Fleet, whose combat capability was weakened in the aftermath of the sinking of its flagship, the Moskva guided missile cruiser [last April],” said Song Zhongping, a former instructor from the People’s Liberation Army.
Song said the naval drills, which took place more than 16,000km (10,000 miles) from Russia, were also aimed at testing the Russian frigate’s long-distance deployment capacity.
The Russian hypersonic weapons proved to be capable of penetrating the US-led Nato air defence systems and destroying surface targets in Ukraine, Song said.
“It’s a great test for the Russian frigate in terms of the vessel’s overall sea trial capability, which helps crew members cope with their new and challenging deployment tasks,” he added.
The Russian navy has been using the Admiral Gorshkov and three other frigates as platforms to test the powerful Zircon hypersonic weapons since 2015.
The Admiral Gorshkov frigate was the first vessel to be equipped with the missiles and test-fired a Zircon for the first time in the Barents Sea in October 2020. The missile reached Mach 8 and an altitude of 28km.
In a test-launch the following month, Russia said a Kinzhal hypersonic missile struck a sea target 450km away.
The Kinzhal, or “Dagger” missile is an air-launched weapon, and its air-to-ground version is still under development. The Zircon is a more powerful naval weapon intended to target big ships.
A few weeks after its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, Moscow said it had deployed hypersonic missiles to hit targets inside Ukraine. Since then, the Russian military has been using Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to strike “high-value targets” in Ukraine.
The Admiral Gorshkov is a multi-role frigate that can also be used for air defence and anti-submarine purposes to support the Black Sea Fleet, Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said.
“The Admiral Gorshkov frigate is one of the few advanced warships in Russia’s navy since the sinking of the Moskva cruiser,” Li said. “The Ka-27 helicopter on the frigate can help deter Nato warships in the Black Sea.”
According to Tass, the Ka-27 helicopter on board the frigate also took part in the recent naval exercises.
However, Song said it is too early to conclude if the ship-based hypersonic missile systems could help the Russian military overcome its disadvantages on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“Not a single weapon system – including a new type of aircraft or a new advanced warship – can turn the tide of battle, it is just one of the players in the whole fight,” Song said.
Source : Scmp