MOSCOW — Russia has commissioned the frigate Admiral Golovko, the country’s first ship built to launch Zircon hypersonic missiles, the government announced.

At the Dec. 25 flag-raising ceremony, President Vladimir Putin said that by 2035 the Severnaya Verf shipyard will build a series of small- and medium-displacement corvettes. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had previously announced that all frigates and corvettes under construction would be armed with Zircon missiles.

However, experts have doubts about Russia’s ability to build both the vessels able to launch Zircons and the missiles themselves in the planned timeline.

“Despite the statements about the start of serial production, this is still a piece[-by-piece] production,” Pavel Luzin, senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told Defense News.

The vessels will likely use “a universal launcher, which includes Kalibr, Oniks and Zircon missiles. Given that the Zircon missile is more expensive, the basis of the anti-ship armament of these vessels will be Kalibr and Oniks. In addition, there are few carriers for Zircon,” Luzin added.

The Severnaya Verf shipyard, a subsidiary of United Shipbuilding Corp., is currently under contract to build or prepare to launch seven Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates, also known as Project 22350. Three frigates of this type are in service with the Russian Navy.

Russia is also developing a modernized frigate, dubbed Project 22350M, and plans to build 12 of the ships.

“Severnaya Verf has produced three warships over the past three years, but plans to produce two frigates per year only of this class,” according to a Russian military expert and lieutenant colonel in the reserves.

“United Shipbuilding Corp. wants to create new shipyards, although they have problems with the old ones. The Severnaya Verf lacks a new boathouse; repairs, modernization and additional equipment are needed,” the officer told Defense News on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

In addition, Steregushchiy-class corvettes under projects 20380 and 20385 are to be armed with Zircons. Ten corvettes are in service, and nine are reportedly under construction, with plans for a total fleet of 29. But as a result of sanctions, “high quality components for the creation of radar complexes and diesel engines are either impossible to obtain or very expensive,” the officer explained.

“Because of this, many things need to be developed independently from scratch. But I am not sure that the Russian industry is ready for this. It would be long, expensive and with unclear results, and the corvette was supposed to be cheap. It is not clear how manufacturers will solve these problems and coordinate this with the Defence Ministry,” the officer added.

Meanwhile, it’s unlikely industry can produce the Lider-class destroyer, according to the state-owned media organization RIA Novosti, citing an interview with Aleksey Rakhmanov, the general director of United Shipbuilding Corp. And the battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy is set to be decommissioned, per Russian media.

Attack on Russian ship

Earlier this week, Ukrainian aircraft damaged a Russian ship moored in the Black Sea off Crimea, both countries said, bolstering Ukrainian morale after battlefield disappointments and doubts about the future of Western aid.

The attack marks a recent setback in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022.

The planes fired guided missiles at the landing ship Novocherkassk, which is moored at a base in the city of Feodosia, Russia’s Defence Ministry said. Video on Russian and Ukrainian social media showed an explosion in the port.

Ukrainian authorities claimed the ship was destroyed. They said it was likely carrying ammunition and possibly drones.

The 360-foot Novocherkassk can carry 10 tanks and 225 sailors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Maxim Starchak is a Russia correspondent for Defense News. He previously worked as an editor for the Russian Defence Ministry and as an expert for the NATO Information Office in Moscow. He has covered Russian nuclear and defense issues for the Atlantic Council, the Center for European Policy Analysis, the Royal United Services Institute and more.

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