Moscow: Russia’s new hypersonic missile system, which Moscow claims is “invulnerable” to the US defences, will enter service in 2019, President Vladimir Putin said after conducting a test of the missile.
The Avangard hypersonic system was tested from the Dombarovsky military airbase in southwest Russia, Putin was cited as saying on Wednesday by the state-run Tass news service.
“Starting from next year, a new intercontinental strategic system Avangard will enter service in the Russian Army and the first regiment in the Strategic Missile Troops will be deployed,” he said.
“Russia is the first in the world to receive a new type of strategic weapon and this will reliably ensure the security of our state and of our people for decades to come,” Putin added.
Earlier reports said that the Avangard had intercontinental range and the ability to fly as fast as Mach 20, more than 15,000 miles per hour.
As it closes in on its target, the missile with a manoeuvrable gliding warhead can adjust both altitude and direction to avoid defences and fly low enough to avoid most interceptors, Tass said.
“It will be practically invulnerable,” Putin had said about the Avangard during a March address to the Russian Parliament.
There was no immediate Pentagon comment on Putin’s announcement, but a US official expressed doubt to CNN about the weapon systems which the Russian leader talked about in March, saying they were not close to operational.
General John Hyten, the four-star head of US Strategic Command, had earlier warned that the current generation of US missile-detecting satellites and radars won’t be capable of spotting weapons such as the Avangard.
“We are going to need a different set of sensors in order to see the hypersonic threats,” Hyten told CNN at the time.
The geopolitical intelligence website Stratfor, earlier this year, had described hypersonic weapons as destabilizing. “These missiles will trigger a new arms race for offensive superiority,” it said, adding that “hypersonic weapons encourage first strikes because they leave an opponent little time to consider options”.
Moscow’s Avangard announcement came less than a month after Washington said it would stop adhering to a decades-old nuclear treaty in 60 days unless Russia returns to compliance with it.
The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty forced both countries to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between approximately 300 and 3,400 miles.
The US said that Russia violated the INF when it developed and fielded the 9M729 missile system in 2017. Russia denies violating the pact.