Frigate docks in port ahead of joint naval drills with China and South Africa, state media says

Hannah Ritchie, Eve Brennan, Stephanie Busari and Ghazi Balkiz

Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov frigate, armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles, arrived in the South African port of Richards Bay on Wednesday, ahead of planned naval exercises with South Africa and China, Russian state-run news agency TASS reported.

The exercises, scheduled to begin on Feb. 27, will take place off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal province in the area between Richards Bay and the port of Durban, which serves as the main base of the South African Navy in the Indian Ocean, according to TASS.

The trilateral drills will focus on “countering maritime security threats and demonstrating the fleets’ readiness to jointly maintain regional peace and stability,” the report said. 

China will use a destroyer, a frigate and a support ship during the drills, while South Africa will take part with one frigate and two support ships, TASS said.

Joint maneuvers: Earlier this month, TASS quoted a source close to Russia’s defense industry saying the frigate “will perform a training launch of a Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic missile during a joint exercise with South African and Chinese navies.”

The joint maritime exercise is expected to include some 350 South African National Defense Force personnel participating alongside their Russian and Chinese counterparts, according to South Africa. An earlier exercise between the three navies took place in 2019.

It’s the first time that the drills will include the Admiral Gorshkov frigate carrying Zircon hypersonic missiles, which were first tested in late 2021.

The long-range weapons travel more than five times the speed of sound and are harder to detect and intercept.

The frigate was actively involved in testing the missiles, designed and produced by the Research and Production Association of Machine-Building, part of Russia’s Tactical Missiles Corporation, according to TASS.

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