The Buzz

Russia's Killer Mach 20 Avangard Hypersonic Weapon Is About to Enter Production

Russia’s new Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle is about to enter production.

The Russian Defense Ministry has already signed a contract for the weapon to enter into serial production according to Yuri Borisov, Russia’s deputy defense minister. Borisov told the Russian-language newspaper Red Star that the Avangard (or Vanguard in English) is not a “bluff.”

“The Avangard system that the president [Vladimir Putin] mentioned is well tested,” Borisov told Krasnaya Zvezda—or Red Star in English.

“It came about through considerable effort, because temperatures on the surface of a combat unit reach up to 2000 degrees [Celsius]. It really does go through the air surrounded by plasma. Thus, the challenges involved in controlling and defending the system were considerable, but did eventually find resolution. Practical tests have confirmed the chosen approach’s feasibility. In fact, we have secured a contract for mass production of these systems. So this is no bluff, but a serious undertaking.”

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Borisov simply reinforced what Putin had said earlier—the Avangard is a real weapon. However, unlike other new weapons such as the Kinzhal aero-ballistic missile, the Russians are unwilling to show any visuals of the new hypersonic boost-glide missile.

“For obvious reasons we cannot show the outer appearance of this system here,” Putin said during his March 1 speech. “This is still very important. I hope everyone understands this. But let me assure you that we have all this and it is working well.”

According to Putin, the Avangard can travel at speeds greater than Mach 20 at intercontinental ranges.

“In moving to its target, the missile’s gliding cruise bloc engages in intensive maneuvering – both lateral—by several thousand km—and vertical,” Putin said. “This is what makes it absolutely invulnerable to any air or missile defense system. The use of new composite materials has made it possible to enable the gliding cruise bloc to make a long-distance guided flight practically in conditions of plasma formation. It flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire. The temperature on its surface reaches 1,600–2,000 degrees Celsius but the cruise bloc is reliably guided.”

It is not clear if the weapon is dual capable, but given that American efforts at developing a conventional prompt global strike weapon, it would make sense for Moscow to develop an equivalent. An article from the TASS news agency suggests that the weapon can be equipped with a conventional warhead or nuclear warhead—ranging in yield from 150 kilotons to one megaton.

If the Russians are not bluffing and the Avangard is ready for production, the Kremlin is ahead of Beijing and the United States—both of which are trying to develop similar hypersonic boost-glide weapons. Given that the Russians have been working on such efforts since at least 2004, there is a good chance that Putin is not bluffing.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons.