Admiral Gorchkov, the first Russian ship equipped with the Zircon hypersonic missile, en route to the Mediterranean

The most modern Russian frigate, still in the Norwegian Sea on January 6, is closely followed by NATO. She must cross as far as the Indian Ocean.

On January 6, a P3-Orion maritime patrol aircraft from the Norwegian Navy’s 333rd Squadron closely followed the route of a russian ship sailing in international waters off the coast of the NATO member country, precisely north of the Lofoten Islands, the Oslo authorities said the next day. Nothing surprising in that, the thing is current. Except that the building in question is theAdmiral Gorchkov the most modern Russian frigate, admitted to active service in 2018.

Above all, after a modernization of several months completed by a ceremony on January 4 in the presence of Vladimir Putin, she became the first Russian ship to implement the Zircon, the only hypersonic cruise missile in the world to date. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, for his part, announced that theAdmiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorchkov – its full name – was going to be deployed for a long mission in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

SEE ALSO – A Russian ship loaded with hypersonic missiles will “travel” in the Mediterranean

Soon in Pas-de-Calais

After leaving its base in Severomorsk, headquarters of the Northern Fleet near Murmansk, the frigate passed through the Barents Sea and then the Norwegian Sea, where it was spotted by the Norwegian patrol. Everything indicates that it is now further south, in the North Sea because, if theAdmiral Gorchkov navigates without activating its AIS (Automatic Identification System), which makes it possible to locate vessels, this is not the case for the tanker which accompanies it, the Kama, and which was spotted on January 8 at 23:55 GMC in the south-west of Norway and only 900 kilometers from the Strait of Pas-de-Calais making the junction between the North Sea and the English Channel. In all likelihood, theAdmiral Gorchkov should pass there shortly, then should reach the Atlantic Ocean before, in about a week, passing the Strait of Gibraltar to end up in the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s in “MEDOR– the name that sailors give to the eastern part of this sea – that the Russian frigate should find a good number of Russian ships which are already there, as well as a very strong concentration of NATO warships. Tension in this area, which dates back several years now in the wake of the war in Syria, has been particularly heightened since the start of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Nevertheless, despite its plethoric armament, theAdmiral Gorshkov won’t be a game changer the conflict between Moscow and the Ukrainians. Indeed, the Turks having closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits (under the Montreux Convention), the Russian frigate will not be able to reach the Black Sea and will have to remain in the eastern Mediterranean. It is impossible for her, under these conditions, to fire salvoes of missiles towards kyiv, except that the latter travel through the territories of several NATO member countries, which would mark a serious escalation. And that would make little operational sense as Russian ships in the Black Sea can take on land strike missions themselves.

L’Admiral Gorchkov on January 4, 2023 in Severomorsk. RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY / REUTERS

The use of the new hypersonic Zircon could certainly be politically symbolic, but, in this regard, the Russian Air Force has already announced that it has used the Kinzhal, airborne missile also hypersonic and carried by bombers. When releasing theAdmiral GorchkovSergei Shoigu said “be sure that [ces armes] would pass through any current modern anti-missile system“. We can simply expect, at some point during the deployment of the frigate, tests. “The ship’s crew will carry out exercises with hypersonic weapons (reference to the Zircon, editor’s note) and long range (probable reference to another missile, the Kalibr, editor’s note)“, has indeed announced the minister.

Mach 9

In practice, the Zircon missile, put into service on January 4, is a so-called “hypersonic” missile because its speed exceeds five times that of sound – in this case, it even reaches Mach 9, or nearly 11,000 km / h – while being “hypermaneuverable” – that is to say that it describes a complex trajectory, unlike conventional ballistic missiles for example. The Kalibr family missiles are more conventional, with the land-strike version being the Russian equivalent of the American Tomahawk. Widely used in Ukrainethey have a range of 2000 to 2500 km (against 1000 to 1500 for the Zircon).

For the rest, the presence of the frigate will be above all a deterrent, in the same way as the role assigned to the old Russian cruisers and destroyers which have spent several months in MEDOR since February 24. If theAdmiral Gorshkov is indeed the flagship of the Russian Navy, its relative solitude underlines the limits of this aging fleet. The frigate, 135 meters long and 5,400 tons displacement, whose size places it in the same category as the French FREMMs, certainly has on paper state-of-the-art, versatile and numerous armaments: Poliment-Redut missiles for air defence, Paket-NK system for anti-submarine warfare, Kalibr, Onyx and Zircon missiles for anti-ship warfare and land strikes… But, with its sister ship theAdmiral Kasatonovwhich is incidentally deployed in MEDOR since January 2022 – a record number of days at sea – she is the only modern Russian offshore vessel.

SEE ALSO – Russian troops continue their operations in the direction of Donetsk

A third GorshkovI’Admiral Golovko, began its sea trials at the end of 2022 and five other ships of the same class are under construction, at various stages of completion. Which is lean. For the rest, the Russian fleet only fields large ships that are largely obsolete and built before the fall of the USSR, like the cruiser Moskva sunk by the Ukrainians in the Black Sea.

Admiral Gorchkov, the first Russian ship equipped with the Zircon hypersonic missile, en route to the Mediterranean