In an unusual move, the Russian Defence Ministry broadcast that one of its newest warships, the Admiral Gorshkov, had tested the strike capabilities of a hypersonic Zircon missile in a virtual drill.
On Wednesday the ship’s commander, Igor Krokhmal said in a video that the crew practiced “delivering a missile strike against an enemy surface target.”
The Zircon is a long-range weapon that purportedly can travel more than five times the speed of sound and hit targets within a range of 900 kilometres.
David Perry, President of the Global Affairs Institute, says this new weapon in the Russian arsenal is harder to defend against.
“The Russians have modernized their missiles and made them more effective. [The Zircon] can move a lot faster than previous missiles and that makes it more difficult to intercept. Some of them are maneuverable in mid-flight,” he told CTV National News.
Perry said this test could be in part “Russian signalling,” designed to attract attention.
“I expect a lot of eyeballs on it.”
U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND 'VIGILANT' AND 'READY'
The announcement of the computer-simulated missile launch on board the Admiral Gorshkov came as naval tracking apps showed the frigate in the western Atlantic Ocean, near Bermuda, according to analysts who spoke with CTV National News.
“U.S. Northern Command is aware and monitoring the presence of the Russian Navy vessel in the Atlantic Ocean,” said Col. Elizabeth Mathias, the Director of Public Affairs for NORAD in an email to CTV National News. “This kind of activity is not new for Russia, we remain vigilant, ready and capable to counter any threat that risks destabilizing this peaceful region and hemisphere.”
Retired Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the former commander of the Royal Canadian Navy says that monitoring would be a co-ordinated effort among NATO allies, and likely include satellite tracking from space and by long-range patrol aircraft, as well as shadowing by other surface ships.
Norman says this is likely more propaganda than provocation. That the Russians want to send a strong message both domestically and internationally as the one-year anniversary of its war on Ukraine approaches.
“This is the Kremlin trying to get attention and potentially demonstrating both to the West and potentially to their own people, that it has a strong, capable navy and that they can go anywhere they want and do anything they want to do,” Norman told CTV National News, pointing out that navies around the world participate in mock engagements without publicly announcing them.
“This isn’t a threat. It’s part of an incredibly dynamic chess game,” he said.
RUSSIAN DEFLECTIONS AND NAVAL PARTNERS
The Russian warship is set to participate in naval drills with China and South Africa in February. Norman says he’s surprised that South Africa is joining in these military exercises off the African coast, and that this shows to the world that Russia isn’t as isolated as some would think.
“This is an opportunity for them to demonstrate they do have friends. And from a Western perspective, it is concerning because China and Russia together represent formidable concerns for our way of life and our interests,” said Norman.
Sam LaGrone, editor for U.S. Naval Institute publication USNI News, says in the Atlantic Ocean the Russians usually show their strength underneath the water with their fleet of nuclear submarines that can “hit 70% of European capitals.”
It is unusual for a Russian surface ship to venture so far west. LaGrone believes Vladmir Putin is using the voyage of the Admiral Gorshkov to deflect attention from Russia’s naval losses in the Black Sea since its attack on Ukraine.
The most high-profile loss was the sinking of the Moskva, a guided-missile cruiser that Ukrainian forces claimed to have hit with missile strikes.
“Their naval power in the Black Sea has been blunted,” LaGrone told CTV National News. “In general they’re hitting the limits of what they can do as a naval force. Most of their surface ships are old.”
LaGrone says an old Russian saying about their military holds true for its navy.
“Russia had a big modern military, but the part that’s modern isn’t very big and the part that’s big isn’t very modern.”
CANADIAN WARSHIP HEADING TO BALTIC
On Thursday, Defence Minister Anita Anand said Canada is monitoring activity in the western Atlantic Ocean, and that Canadian vessels were being sent into the Baltic region to support Ukraine.
HMCS Fredericton and HMCS Montreal are currently participating in military exercises off the coast of Halifax, along with the supply ship MV Asterix.
When the exercises are complete, HMCS Fredericton will sail to the Mediterranean Sea to participate in Operation Reassurance. As part of NATO commitments, 250 crew members on board the Fredericton and a CH-148 Cyclone detachment will help track Russian activity in the region alongside ships from France, Italy and the U.S.
With a file from CNN