Russia's hypersonic missile system: should we be anxious?

Geraldine Edwards
December 28, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin, seated far left with leaders of Russia's defense ministry, viewed the test launch of the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle from the Defense Ministry's control room in Moscow.

It was launched from southwest Russian Federation and successfully hit and destroyed a target 3,700 miles (5,954km) away in the country's far east, he said.

"The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defence means of the potential adversary", Putin said after the test, adding that the new weapon will enter service next year with the military's Strategic Missile Forces.

Earlier this month, Putin said at a Russian defense ministry meeting that Russia had already started the serial production of the Avangard missile systems.

Russian weapon test
Russian president Vladimir Putin and chief of general staff of Russia Valery Gerasimov

The weapon was one of several that Mr Putin touted in his state-of-the-nation speech early this year as Russia's answer to U.S. missile defences.

The new weapon "essentially makes missile defences useless", he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov told Russian state television Thursday that the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle flies 27 times faster than the speed of sound, making it impossible to intercept.

Next year Avangard system will be deployed into service.

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The military has previously said the Avangard glider was sacked from the Dombarovsky site in southern Russian Federation and targeted the test range in Kura in the Kamchatka Peninsula.

When the missile closes in on its target, it can adjust both altitude and direction to avoid defenses and fly low enough to avoid most interceptors.

It comes amid strained relations between Russia and the USA and Europe, with tensions stoked by Ukraine, the Syrian war and allegations of Russian meddling in America's 2016 presidential election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches through a video link a successful test launch of the Avangard intercontinental strategic missile with a gliding hypersonic warhead. "This is a wonderful, excellent gift for the country for the New Year", Putin said after the test.

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The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty forced both countries to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between approximately 300 and 3,400 miles.

"Russia is the first in the world to receive a new type of strategic weapon and this will reliably ensure the security of our state and of our people for decades to come", Putin added.

The weapon travels in the dense layer of the atmosphere, much higher than other ballistic missiles, and uses a maneuvering glider warhead.

He noted that Russian Federation began to develop the Avangard after the U.S. withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and started to develop defences against ballistic missiles.

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