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Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Missile and Space

Russia's New Mach 20 'Avangard' Hypersonic Missiles and Why They Matter

March 04th - 2018

Image Credit : Sputnik/ Maksim Blinov

Addressing an audience of hundreds of senior defence official, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that his country had successfully tested new strategic weapons including hypersonic weapons platforms superior to those found anywhere else in the world. In reference to the Western bloc and growing tensions between it and his country the President stated with confidence: "I want to tell all those who have fuelled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduces unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country's development: all what you wanted t impede with your policies have already happened. You have failed to contain Russia." He referred to hypersonic nuclear missiles capable of travelling at speeds of Mach 20 and higher, striking "like a meteorite, like a fireball." Complementing its high speeds, the missile also has a high degree of manoeuvrability characteristic of modern Russian ballistic missiles which makes it a truly lethal platform. This new nuclear missile has come to be known as the “Avangard."

The true value of this weapon, carrying a strategic nuclear payload of several megatons, is that it is capable of evading Western anti missile systems with impunity. Following massive deployments of THAAD, Patriot, Aegis and other Western air defence systems on Russia's Eastern and Western borders to deny the country its strategic deterrent, the deployment of the new missile has rendered the Western bloc's attempt to gain such an advantage futile. The most sophisticated and accurate U.S. anti missile systems, the Aegis and Aegis Ashore, can only fire interceptors at Mach 5. In order to intercept a missile traveling at Mach 10, one must have an interceptor running at Mach 15. The 'Avangard,' travelling at Mach 20, will thus prove essentially impossible to intercept - likely for decades to come. 

Russia has since the collapse of the USSR long relied on its strategic and tactical nuclear forces as key to its security. With the fall of the Warsaw Pact the country faces overwhelming conventional superiority fielded by NATO forces, which though they may lack a qualitative advantage can compensate for this many times over in the quantities of equipment and manpower they can deploy. Investment in maintaining and modernising nuclear delivery systems, preventing the Western bloc from ever nullifying this asset, thus remains critical to Russia's security - and a more cost effective way of deterring adversaries than matching the quantities of conventional arms fielded. While other nuclear states such as India, North Korea and China have pledged no first use of nuclear weapons, Russia has repeatedly reiterated its willingness to deploy nuclear weapons should it come under any hostile attack, nuclear or otherwise, which threatens its existence. The importance to Russia of inducting cutting edge new nuclear delivery vehicles such as the Avangard, ensuring the feasibility of its nuclear deterrent for decades to come if not indefinitely, cannot therefore be underestimated.

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