President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday sent a frigate on a mission to the Atlantic Ocean that he said was equipped with hypersonic weapons, in a show of bullishness over Russia’s defense capabilities despite multiple recent setbacks in its war in Ukraine. However, doubts persist about whether Russia can actually deploy the vaunted technology.
Hypersonic weapons are defined as long-range, highly maneuverable munitions capable of reaching speeds of at least Mach 5 — five times the speed of sound, or more than a mile a second — enabling them to evade traditional air defense systems.
Russia, China and the United States are in a race to develop and deploy them, and other countries are also working on the technology, including Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea and South Korea.
Multiple versions are in development, including those launched from ships or ground-based launchers, and cruise missiles launched from warplanes in midair. Some are being built to carry conventional explosive warheads, while others destroy their targets simply through the kinetic energy released upon impact.
Russia has said that some of its hypersonic weapons will carry nuclear warheads. However, some Western military experts say they have seen no evidence that Moscow has mastered the relevant technology or is actually ready to deploy such a weapon. And were both conditions met, some have raised questions about the ultimate utility of the deployment. Indeed, independent experts have argued that the technical performance of a hypersonic weapon being developed by the United States is far more limited than military claims suggest.
On Wednesday, during a virtual event honoring the frigate’s entry into combat service, Mr. Putin said that the Russian hypersonic weapons, known as Zircons, were on board, according to the Russian state news agency, Tass. The frigate’s full name is the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov.
“I am sure that such powerful weapons will reliably protect Russia from potential external threats,” Mr. Putin said, adding that the weapons had no peers.
The announcement comes at a difficult moment for Russia’s military. More than 10 months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, sparking the biggest war in Europe for decades, there is no sign that the Kremlin can achieve its initial objective of toppling the government in Kyiv. In recent months, Ukraine has secured a series of territorial gains in the southern region of Kherson and the northeastern region of Kharkiv.
On Sept. 30 last year, the Kremlin illegally annexed four Ukrainian provinces in the south and east of the country, but fighting persists in each area and Russia’s control is limited.
The war has also caused a reversal in Russia’s economic and diplomatic standing, as sanctions by the United States and Europe, as well as other countries, have left it isolated. In a further blow, Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in July, strengthening the alliance.
Early in the war, Russia’s defense ministry said that it used air-launched hypersonic missiles, called Kinzhals, to destroy an underground warehouse in the western Ukrainian region of Ivano-Frankivsk, in which missiles and aviation ammunition had been stored.
Ukraine acknowledged at the time that missiles had struck the warehouse, and videos showed it exploding but, at the time, there was no independent verification of the type of missiles used.
John Ismay contributed reporting.