New Russian weapon ‘renders missile defences useless’
President Vladimir Putin said the successful test of the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle will guarantee Russian security for decades.
A top Russian official has said the nation’s new strategic weapon has rendered any missile defences useless.
Deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov told Russian state television that the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle flies 27 times faster than the speed of sound, making it impossible to intercept.
He added that the new weapon “essentially makes missile defences useless”.
Mr Borisov spoke a day after Russian president Vladimir Putin oversaw the Avangard’s reportedly successful test and hailed it as a reliable guarantee of Russia’s security for decades to come.
In Wednesday’s test, the weapon was launched from the Dombarovskiy missile base in the southern Ural Mountains.
The Kremlin said it successfully hit a practice target on the Kura shooting range on Kamchatka, 3,700 miles away.
The test comes amid bitter tensions in Russian-US relations.
The Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election continue to cast a cloud over international relations.
The Russian defence ministry released footage from the test launch, in which a ballistic missile could be seen blasting from a silo in a cloud of smoke, although it has not released any images of the vehicle itself.
Mr Putin said the Avangard will enter service with the Russian Strategic Missile Forces next year.
Sergei Ivanov, a former Russian defence minister, said in televised comments that the Avangard constantly changes its course and altitude as it flies through the atmosphere.
He emphasised that unlike previous nuclear warheads fitted to intercontinental ballistic missiles that follow a predictable trajectory allowing it to calculate the spot where they can be intercepted, the Avangard chaotically zigzags on its path to its target, making it impossible to predict the weapon’s location.
A smiling Mr Ivanov likened the weapon’s flight through the atmosphere to a pebble skipping off the surface of water.
Mr Ivanov, who now serves as Mr Putin’s adviser, said the Avangard could be fitted to the Soviet-made UR-100UTTKh intercontinental ballistic missile, which is code-named SS-19 Stiletto by Nato.
He noted that Russia has a stockpile of several dozen such missiles, which are in a factory-mint condition and not filled with fuel, allowing them to serve for a long time to come.
Mr Ivanov added that they could be put in existing silos, sharply reducing the costs of Avangard’s deployment.
“The Avangard has cost hundreds of times less than what the US has spent on its missile defence,” Mr Ivanov said.
He noted that Russia began to develop the Avangard after the US withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and started to develop defences against ballistic missiles.
Moscow feared that the US missile shield could erode its nuclear deterrent, and Mr Putin announced in 2004 that Russia was working on a new hypersonic weapon.
Mr Ivanov recalled that when Russian officials warned their US counterparts about the new weapon programme at the time, American officials were openly sceptical about Russia’s ability to carry out its plan.
He said: “We aren’t involved in sabre-rattling, we simply ensured our security for decades to come.”