Why the US Was Shown the Hypersonic “Avangard”

The Russian military demonstrated to US specialists its latest and secret development – hypersonic manoeuvring nuclear unit “Avangard“. As was explained by the Defence Ministry: “Russia has shown the latest weapons in order to maintain the viability and effectiveness of the START Treaty”. To be exact, the last of the US-Russia arms control agreements.

Twice as fast as “Trident”

“Avangard” was presented by Vladimir Putin in a message to the Federal Assembly as a sacral artefact capable of maintaining the balance of nuclear deterrence between the two superpowers. The technical characteristics of this system should not only provide us with strategic stability, but in the event of a military conflict, it is guaranteed to inflict absolutely unrecoverable damage on the enemy.

In the cartoon demo shown during the speech of the Head of State, the promising warhead drew a “snake” and, like a “pancake” in water, “jumped” into the cosmos, then into dense layers of the atmosphere, confidently bypassing the positions of the enemy anti-missile systems and, finally, attacking the target. Some gloated over this video. Although it was clear to specialists: Russia has created a weapon of retaliation that has no analogues, as there aren’t any, and aren’t expected to be any in the future, means to counter it.

Vladimir Dvorkin, former head of the 4th Central Research Institute of the Defence Ministry (an institute dealing with the development and use of nuclear weapons), says that the American sea missile “Trident” takes 15-20 minutes to fly towards us, and the land-based Minuteman III – 25-35 minutes. It takes about the same amount of time for our ballistic missiles to travel to the other hemisphere. This time is sufficient for missile defence systems to react and decide to intercept. Hypersonic “Avangard” cuts this time by at least half. At the same time, it also performs manoeuvres that modern missile defence systems are simply unable to calculate.

By hypersonic weapon we mean flying apparatus capable of reaching speeds of mach 5-10 (6150 to 12,300 km/h). Our “Buran” fell “from space into the atmosphere at a speed of mach 25. The “Tsirkon” hypersonic cruise missile, according to Vladimir Putin, has a speed of mach 9 and a range of more than 1000 kilometers. According to the boldest calculations, this flight takes only five minutes.

“Article 4202”

In the West the existence of “Avangard” started to be suspected as early as 2004. At that time, the Defence Ministry launched an “unidentified” missile with unknown combat equipment as part of the “Security 2004” exercise. The-then Chief of the General Staff Yury Baluevsky at a colourful press conference in the building of the military department on Znamenka reported for the first time that during training strike apparatus with hypersonic flight speed, capable of speeds close to mach 10 (11,500 km/h) and “swerving” at any moment, unpredictably changing its direction of flight, was tested. “No missile defence system is able to calculate such a trajectory and put anti-missiles on the attacking block,” said the military commander back then.

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This warhead was named “Yu-71” in the West. In Russia, according to some reports, it was under the index “Article 4202”. In any case, this is how in 2012 it was named in Vladimir Putin’s New Year congratulations to the team of scientific production association of mechanical engineering as one of the most important achievements of the design bureau in recent years.

Marriage of convenience

Mikhail Gorbachev, when he signed the first disarmament treaty START-1 with President George W. Bush senior in the summer of 1991, was well aware that it was not a short-term “détente”. In the conditions of the extreme weakening of the USSR, he saved the strategic balance. The number of nuclear warheads and their carriers has repeatedly guaranteed the destruction of everything alive on Earth, but the number has not grown into quality. And the maintenance of this arsenal had a huge cost.

The subsequent period was a time of unthinkable openness for former enemies. We exchanged the coordinates of all missile silos with the Americans. The Votkinsk plant (the producer of the ballistic missiles “Topol”, “Topol-M”, “Yars”) received an American “control department”. The Americans put their permanent “checkpoint” there with X-ray cameras, which recorded that it was exactly the missile recorded in the treaty that was being taken through the checkpoint.

Later this “department” came to positions, to military units where these weapons were installed, and checked serial numbers to make sure that in the silo there was exactly the product that they inspected a few months ago in Votkinsk. On the same principle, they could “inspect” our submarines. Any of them. Those that will be armed with “Sineva“, and those included in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest – project 941 “Akula”. They still stand in Severodvinsk with the covers of missile silos “open”. This allows US satellites to know that the ships are demilitarised and do not pose a threat to US national security.

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Return Point

At one moment there seemed to be a perception in America that the Russian strategic nuclear forces will soon be completely degraded. They will shrink on their own, and the day will come when Washington’s hegemony will not be opposed by anything. Therefore, the START-3 in the United States was approached “carelessly”. Prepared by specialists and diplomats and signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, it regulated only the number of missiles and warheads deployed on them. The continued exchange of data about the new missile complexes being created and the provision of telemetry data from their tests was no longer required. At that time, as was believed in America, they simply did not exist in Russia.

Moreover, US nuclear weapons experts Keir Lieber and Daryl Press from “Foreign Affairs” openly declared for the first time since the end of the Cold War the total superiority of the United States over Russia in the field of nuclear weapons. This theory led to the serious belief on the other side of the Atlantic in the concept of an irresponsible nuclear strike that would destroy all Russian missiles and win a nuclear war. This formed the basis for building a “lightning strike” program to create hypersonic missiles, capable in a few minutes of hitting targets anywhere on the planet.

There were grounds for the gloating of Americans, admittedly. In 2004 Russia held a landmark strategic command exercise with the participation of Supreme Commander Vladimir Putin. Their finale was to be a double launch from the RSM-54 “Skif” strategic underwater missile carriers of Project 667 “Delfin”-class. But both boats couldn’t complete the task at the time.

The naval embarrassment did not go unnoticed. The government allocated 5 billion rubles for the modernisation of ships of this type alone. And 22 trillion rubles were allocated for the general development of the Armed Forces. The result of this work, as is said, is evident. In addition to modernised boats and seriously improved “Sineva” and “Lainer” missiles, the Navy receives new “Borey”-class vessels with the “Bulava” 955А missile. The Strategic Missile Forces are rapidly being re-equipped with modern “Yars” systems and, in the future, with “Sarmat” systems. Vladimir Putin says that this has already led to the fact that the proportion of modern weapons in strategic nuclear deterrence forces has reached 70%.

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“Nullifies missile defence”

Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov once said that the speed of “Avangard” is almost mach 30. “Practically at these speeds, no anti-missile can shoot it down. It can manoeuvre both its course and its pitch, this is its fundamental difference. It practically nullifies missile defence,” he noted. Almost 15 years of work of designers, engineers, and testers, if we recall the first statement of Yury Baluevsky, before the creation of a serially-produced product.

It is known that the first systems this year will arrive at the Dombarovsky unit of the Strategic Missile Forces in the Orenburg region. Currently there are 46 heavy “Voevoda” R-36M ballistic missiles. In the long term they will be replaced by new “Sarmat”. This is the lineal heir of “Voevoda”. But with one important difference — the new weapon will be twofold lighter. Secondly, with comparable combat qualities, it will surpass the predecessor in energy efficiency, which will allow to hit targets worldwide. Well, and the most important thing is that it will bear the “Avangard” combat block.

The commander of the Strategic Missile Forces Sergey Karakayev somehow noted that “the possibilities of such combat equipment were shown to the US technical means of control”. After that the trade publication “Janes” drew the conclusion that the Russian development will be used as a bargaining chip during Russia’s negotiations with the US on the conclusion of a new treaty on the restriction of strategic nuclear weapons that is supposed to succeed START-3, which expires in 2021. The US, seemingly, isn’t ready to either extend it or to sign a new treaty. The Americans, like us, are modernising their nuclear shield. President Donald Trump allocated $1 trillion for this purpose. A new ballistic missile to replace Minuteman III is supposed to appear before 2021. Hypersonic strike means, according to the head of the US air force logistics command, General Arnold Bunch, will appear by 2022.

In that case, if it is impossible to intercept “Avangard” with modern means of the missile defence, then why hide its appearance and technical capabilities from “partners”? Perhaps the demonstration of new Russian weapons is really intended to make Washington think that simply shelving the latest strategic offensive arms control agreement is not worth it.

Dmitry Litovkin

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