The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD -

Rus­sia car­ried out the lat­est test of a new high-speed cruise mis­sile last week as part of a pro­gram that is rais­ing con­cerns in the Pen­tagon about the threat the mis­sile poses to Amer­i­can war­ships.

The test of the Zir­con hy­per­sonic mis­sile was tracked by U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with re­ports of the test. No other de­tails of the test were avail­able.

How­ever, state-run Rus­sian news re­ports say the Zir­con can reach speeds of be­tween Mach 6 and Mach 8, or be­tween 4,600 and 6,100 miles per hour — enough to out­pace any cur­rent mis­sile de­fense in­ter­cep­tors.

Such high speeds pose dan­gers for Navy de­stroy­ers, cruis­ers and air­craft car­ri­ers cur­rently out­fit­ted with anti-mis­sile de­fenses but that are not ca­pa­ble of coun­ter­ing the mis­sile.

De­fense an­a­lysts said the test was prob­a­bly car­ried out from a ground-based launcher near an area of the White Sea in north­ern Rus­sia around May 30 — the date that Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties is­sued an air clo­sure no­ti­fi­ca­tion for the re­gion.

The Zir­con has been billed by the Rus­sians as an anti-ship cruise mis­sile that me­dia have said will be de­ployed on Moscow’s nu­cle­ar­pow­ered mis­sile cruis­ers. Pro­duc­tion is ex­pected to be­gin this year.

Vladimir Tuchkov, a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst, told the state-run Sputnik web­site that Zir­con mis­siles will be de­ployed be­tween 2018 and 2020.

“The Rus­sian de­vel­op­ment of hy­per­sonic weapons is clearly a very se­ri­ous threat,” said Mark B. Sch­nei­der, a se­nior an­a­lyst at the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy and a for­mer se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cial. The mis­sile’s es­ti­mated range of up to 620 miles “would give it very great ca­pa­bil­ity against de­fenses,” he added.

Mr. Sch­nei­der said the Pen­tagon is “clearly well be­hind” in the race for de­vel­op­ing hy­per­sonic weapons, and that the prob­lem is not tech­nol­ogy but a lack of fund­ing. China also is de­vel­op­ing a hy­per­sonic mis­sile called the DF-ZF.

The Pen­tagon is plan­ning a test this year of a mis­sile called the Ad­vanced Hy­per­sonic Weapon as part of its Con­ven­tional Prompt Strike pro­gram. That pro­gram un­til re­cently was dubbed the Con­ven­tional Prompt Global Strike and is seek­ing weapons ca­pa­ble of strik­ing any lo­ca­tion on Earth within min­utes.

Pen­tagon con­fir­ma­tion of the new high­speed mis­sile test comes amid height­ened ten­sions be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia over re­ports of Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions di­rected at the 2016 elec­tions. A leaked Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency re­port pro­duced last month re­vealed that the Rus­sian GRU mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence ser­vice con­ducted cy­beres­pi­onage op­er­a­tions against Amer­i­cans in a bid to ob­tain elec­tions re­lated soft­ware and hard­ware se­crets.

The GRU “likely used data ob­tained from that op­er­a­tion to cre­ate a new email ac­count and launch a voter reg­is­tra­tion-themed spearphish­ing cam­paign tar­get­ing U.S. lo­cal gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions,” the re­port said.

The re­port sug­gests that Rus­sians at­tempted to skew vote tal­lies in vot­ing ma­chines or tam­per with ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

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