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Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Missile and Space

A Look at the Complementary Roles of Russia's Sarmat and Avangard Hypersonic Missiles

March 26th - 2018

Revealed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018 alongside the RS-28 Sarmat 'Satan 2' missile, the RS-26 Avangard is set to enter service in the Russian Strategic Missile Forces as the world's fastest and most capable intercontinental ballistic missile. The platform entered serial production in March 2018, and according to the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, the missile would enter active service by the end of 2018. The Russian military has recently revealed that rather than develop an entirely new launch vehicle for the ramjet powered hypersonic platform, it will instead modify tried and tested vehicles to launch the Avangard. Russia will use surplus UR-100 UTTKh (SS-19 Stiletto as referred to by NATO) launchers, highly reliable Soviet era platforms in service in large numbers since 1980.

Russia has retained a surplus of UR-100UTTKh missiles since the early 2000s, when large numbers were delivered from Ukraine as payment to settle its energy debts to Russia. After the disintegration of the USSR, the missiles were kept in storage warehouses in their unfueled condition, meaning they still remain essentially new. A part of these missiles will be used to carry the first of the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles into orbit. While the UR-100UTT is dated by modern standards, its launch vehicle remains a viable and highly capable platform. For later variants of the Avangard, Russia will use modified variants of the more modern launch vehicles developed for its RS-28 Sarmat. While they will make use of the same launch vehicle, the Avangard will differ significantly from the Sarmat in its capabilities.

Both missiles are critical to modernising Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent forces, and are designed to deliver massive nuclear payloads anywhere in the world. Both are hypersonic platforms invulnerable to all modern air defences, including planned future systems such as the S-500, which will ensure the future feasibility of Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent. While the Sarmat will travel at speeds of approximately Mach 10, the Avangard is set to deliver warheads at over Mach 20 - 'like a meteorite, like a fireball' in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin when unveiling the system. While the Sarmat will carry multiple nuclear warheads, enough to devastate an area the size of France with a single strike, the Avangard will carry a single massive two ton warhead - approximately 3-4 times as powerful as those carried by the Sarmat. The Avangard can be said therefore to hit faster and deliver a more concentrated strike, whereas the slower and larger Sarmat will be able to destroy targets over a far wider area. The differences between the two platforms thus allow them to fulfil complementary roles.

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