The location of the deployment was not disclosed, although officials had previously indicated the missiles would be deployed in the Ural mountains.
President Vladimir Putin said the missiles with nuclear capabilities could accelerate more than 20 times the speed of sound and put Russia ahead of other countries. The missile has a “sliding system” that makes it capable of maneuvering in a sophisticated manner and can make it impossible to fight.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed “Avangard’s hypersonic missile launch system began operating at 10:00 am Moscow time on December 27”. He called it an “important event”.
Putin said on Tuesday that the Avangard system could penetrate the missile defense system now and in the future. He added: “Not a single country has hypersonic weapons, let alone hypersonic weapons on a continental range.”
He further said, Western countries and other countries “will continue to do something so as not to miss us,” he said. Putin launched Avangard and other weapons systems in his annual state address in March 2018, which likened him to a “meteor” and “fireball”.
In December 2018, the weapon hit the target of a 6,000km training target during a launch test at the Dombarovskiy missile base in the southern Ural Mountains.
“Avangard missiles are immune to being intercepted by existing missile defenses,” Putin said after testing.
Mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles, Avangard can carry nuclear weapons of up to two megatons. Russia’s defense ministry has released a video of the Avangard system, but weapons experts are skeptical about its effectiveness. In a statement, the Pentagon said it “had no idea whatsoever about Russian claims” about Avangard’s capabilities. The US has its own hypersonic missile program, like China, which was tested in 2014.
On November 26, Russia allowed US experts to inspect Avangard under the rules of the 2010 New START agreement, an agreement that seeks to reduce the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers. The New START Agreement, which ends in February 2021, is the last major nuclear weapons control agreement between Russia and the United States. In August this year, the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces INF, which was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. The INF was signed to defuse a crisis in which US and Soviet missiles were placed within the reach of European capitals.
US President Donald Trump said he wanted a new nuclear pact signed by Russia and China. It is difficult to determine whether Russia’s new Avangard hypersonic missile system is actually operational, as Moscow claims, or whether this is only an advanced stage of field trials.
But President Putin’s claim, within certain limits, can be justified. Russia seems to be at the forefront of the hypersonic missile race. China also developed such a system; while the US seems somewhat behind. Hypersonic missiles, as the name suggests, are capable of shooting very fast, above Mach 5 – which is at least five times the speed of sound. These missiles can be cruise-type missiles, which can be doubled in strength during their launch. It’s not only the speed of hypersonic weapons that counts. This missile has exceptional maneuverability as it glides towards its target. This poses a big problem for the existing anti-missile defense system.
Indeed the trajectory when gliding, which “surfs along the edge of the atmosphere” as an expert recently told me, presents a defense system with additional problems. So, if Russia’s claim is true, the country has developed a long-range intercontinental missile system that might be impossible to conquer. The announcement that Avangard was put into operation marks a new and dangerous era in the nuclear arms race. The operation of the Avangard missile confirms once again that President Putin’s focus is strengthening and modernizing its nuclear weapons.
This marks the return of competition between the major powers. Some analysts consider this to be Russia’s long-term strategy to overcome Washington’s interest in continuing to prioritize anti-missile defense. Of course, the US argument that this is building an anti-missile defense system to deal with missile attacks from “evil nations” such as Iran or North Korea does not have much effect on Moscow.
All of this happened when the entire network of arms control agreements inherited from the Cold War had collapsed. An important agreement – the New START agreement – will end in February 2021. Russia seems willing to extend the agreement but the Trump administration has so far been skeptical. With a whole new generation of nuclear weapons in operation, many believe not only that existing agreements must be supported, but new agreements are needed to manage what can turn into a new nuclear arms race.