Russian official suggests stationing hypersonic missile at Syrian naval base
A Russian defence official suggested on Monday that Russia could station its new Zircon hypersonic missiles in the Syrian port of Tartus, where, they said, it could hit any target in the Mediterranean Sea.
The chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said in an interview with Russian media that “Zircon missiles can dock [in the port of Tartus], which will cover the entire sea.”
Russia leased the Tartus naval base from Syria in 2017, for a period of 49 years. The site is Russia’s only base in the Mediterranean, and is mostly used to deliver supplies to its mission in Syria and to repair its warships.
Kartapolov said that placing the Zircon in Tartus was intended to “create direct threats to the enemy, prompting him to think about his subsequent actions.” He added: “When they realize they face a direct threat to destroy their offensive assets, which are in Eastern Europe … what’s the point of starting something if you’re already losing?”
The Zircon missile is a hypersonic cruise missile that Russia has been testing since early 2019. The US, China and France have also been testing variants of the missiles, which can travel faster than the speed of sound, or at speeds higher than Mach 5.
Hypersonic missiles fly at a blistering speed and at a lower altitude than traditional ballistic missiles, allowing them to evade existing early-warning missile detection systems. According to Defense News, the US is developing new sensors to contend with the genre of missiles.
Russia conducted a successful test of the Zircon missile in November, striking a target from a warship 400 kilometres away. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the new missile could hit targets 1,000 kilometres away at a speed of Mach 9 (6,900 miles per hour).
Delivery of the missiles is expected to begin in 2022, according to Russian news outlet RT.
However, the Russian official’s comments should be viewed mostly as “PR,” Tom Cooper, a warfare analyst and the edit of the Middle East at War series, told The New Arab. “If they [Zircon missiles] were to be deployed there [Tartus], their appearance would change nothing,” he said.
“From purely a military point of view, for such weapons like Zircon to work, one has first to detect and then to track the enemy,” Cooper said. He added that Russia lacks the network of sensors necessary to “track its targets” in the Mediterranean.
The comments of the state official came as tensions rise between Russia on one side, and NATO on the other. Reports of Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s borders have sent western countries into a frenzy as they fear a repeat of 2014 when pro-Russian forces entered Eastern Ukraine.
On 7 December, US President Joe Biden warned Putin that the US and EU allies would “respond with strong economic measures” if Russia invaded Ukraine.
Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015, helping turn the tide against opposition fighters in the Syrian regime’s favor. Since then, thousands of civilians have been killed in Russian airstrikes, earning widespread condemnation from human rights groups.
In recent years, Russia has extracted a number of economic and political concessions from Syria, such as natural gas contracts and the Tartus naval base.