Avangard: Russia deploys hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles

Following years of tests, first missile unit equipped with Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle enters combat duty.

Russian Avangard hypersonic strategic missile system
A handout still image from video footage made available in July 2018 by the Russian Defence Ministry shows the Avangard hypersonic strategic missile system equipped with a gliding hypersonic maneuvering warhead [Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/EPA]

Russia‘s defence minister reported to President Vladimir Putin that a new hypersonic weapon of intercontinental range became operational Friday following years of tests.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Putin that the first missile unit equipped with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle entered combat duty, the Defence Ministry said.

The military has said that the Avangard is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound.

“I congratulate you on this landmark event for the military and the entire nation,” Shoigu said during a conference call with top military officials.

The Strategic Missile Forces chief, General Sergei Karakayev, said during the call that the Avangard was put on duty with a unit in the Orenburg region in the southern Ural Mountains.

Putin unveiled the Avangard among other prospective weapons systems in his state-of-the-nation address in March 2018, noting that its ability to make sharp manoeuvres on its way to a target will render missile defence useless.

“It heads to target like a meteorite, like a fireball,” he said then.

Putin described the Avangard’s creation as a technological breakthrough comparable to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite.

The Russian leader noted that Avangard is designed using new composite materials to withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 Celsius (3,632 Fahrenheit) resulting from a flight through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

The new Russian weapon and a similar system being developed by China have troubled the United States, which has pondered defence strategies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits National Defense Control Center
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, second left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, third left, and Head of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, First Deputy Defence Minister, Army General Valery Gerasimov, fourth left, visit the National Defense Management Center in Moscow, Russia in December 2018 [Michael Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/Sputnik/EPA]

Putin has charged that Russia had to develop the Avangard and other prospective weapons systems because of the US efforts to develop a missile defence system that he claimed could erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Moscow has scoffed at the US claims that its missile shield is not intended to counter Russia’s massive missile arsenals.

Earlier this week, Putin emphasised that Russia is the only country armed with hypersonic weapons. He noted that for the first time in history, Russia is now leading the world in developing an entirely new class of weapons, unlike in the past when it was catching up with the US.

In December 2018, the Avangard was launched from the Dombarovskiy missile base in the southern Urals and successfully hit a practice target on the Kura shooting range on Kamchatka, 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away.

Russian media reports indicated that the Avangard will first be mounted on Soviet-built RS-18B intercontinental ballistic missiles, code-named SS-19 by NATO.

It is expected to be fitted to the prospective Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile after it becomes operational.

The Defence Ministry said last month that it demonstrated the Avangard to a team of US inspectors as part of transparency measures under the New Start nuclear arms treaty with the US.

The US has mulled new defence strategies to counter Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons.

US officials have talked about putting a layer of sensors in space to more quickly detect enemy missiles, particularly the hypersonic weapons. The administration also plans to study the idea of basing interceptors in space, so the US can strike incoming enemy missiles during the first minutes of flight when the booster engines are still burning.

The Pentagon also has been working on the development of hypersonic weapons in recent years, and defence secretary Mark Esper said in August that he believes “it’s probably a matter of a couple of years” before the US has one.

He has called it a priority as the military works to develop new long-range fire capabilities.

Source: AP