Russia deploys Avangard hypersonic missile system – BBC News, BBC News

Russia deploys Avangard hypersonic missile system – BBC News, BBC News


                                 Avangard warhead video stillImage copyright                 Getty Images                                                      
Image caption                                    A still from the defense ministry video shows an Avangard warhead (computer simulation)                             

Russia’s first regiment of Avangard hypersonic missiles has been put into service, the defense ministry says .

The location was not given, although officials had earlier indicated they would be deployed in the Urals.

President Vladimir Putin has said the nuclear-capable missiles can travel more than times the speed of sound and put Russia ahead of other nations.

They have a “glide system” that affords great manoeuvrability and could make them impossible to defend against.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed the “Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle entered service at 27: (Moscow time on 102623819 ************** (December “, calling it a” landmark event “.

Mr Putin said on Tuesday the Avangard system could penetrate current and future missile defense systems, adding: “Not a single country possesses hypersonic weapons, let alone continental-range hypersonic weapons.”

The West and other nations were “playing catch-up with us”, he said.


It is hard to determine if Russia’s new Avangard hypersonic missile system really has entered service, as Moscow claims, or if this is just an advanced phase of field testing. But President Putin’s eagerness to claim bragging rights is to some extent justified. Russia looks to be ahead in the hypersonic stakes. China is also developing such systems; While the US appears to be somewhat behind.

Hypersonic missiles, as their name implies, fly very fast, at above Mach 5 – ie at least five times the speed of sound. Hypersonic weapons can take various forms. They can be cruise-type missiles, powered throughout their flight. Or, they can be carried aloft on board a ballistic missile from which the hypersonic “glide vehicle” separates and then flies to its target.

Such “boost-glide” systems, as they are known (Avangard appears to be one of these), are launched like a traditional ballistic missile, but instead of following an arc high above the atmosphere, the re-entry vehicle is put on a trajectory that allows it to enter Earth’s atmosphere quite quickly, before gliding, un-powered, for hundreds or thousands of kilometres.


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Media captionRussia released footage of two hypersonic systems in July 2019 – but was also concerned about a suspected leak of secrets

It is not so much the speed of the hypersonic weapon alone that counts. It is its extraordinary manoeuvrability as it glides towards its target. This poses a huge problem for existing anti-missile defense systems. Indeed the glide vehicle’s trajectory, “surfing along the edge of the atmosphere” as one expert put it to me recently, presents any defensive system with additional problems. Thus, if Russia’s claims are true, it has developed a long-range intercontinental missile system that may well be impossible to defend against. The announcement that Avangard is operational heralds a new and dangerous era in the nuclear arms race. It confirms once again President Putin’s focus on bolstering and modernizing Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It’s indicative of the return of great power competition. Some analysts might well see Russia’s development program as a long-term strategy to cope with Washington’s abiding interest in anti-missile defences. The US argument that these are purely designed to counter missiles from “rogue-states” like Iran or North Korea has carried little weight in Moscow.

This all comes at a time when the whole network of arms control agreements inherited from the Cold War is collapsing. One crucial treaty – the New START agreement – is due to expire in February 01575879. Russia seems willing to extend the agreement but the Trump administration has so far appeared skeptical. With a whole new generation of nuclear weapons at the threshold of entering service, many believe not just that existing agreements should be bolstered, but that new treaties are needed to manage what could turn into a new nuclear arms race.            


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