Russia Deploys First of 'Invulnerable' Hypersonic Missiles Putin Claims Can Defeat Any American Defenses

Russia has deployed its first regiment of Avangard hypersonic missiles—which Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed can defeat any American defense system—to combat duty, the country's armed forces have announced.

Russia's Defense Ministry said Friday that the first batch of missiles "assumed combat duty from 10:00 a.m. Moscow time on December 27, 2019," according to the Tass state news agency.

Tass reported last year that the Avangard would first be deployed with the Dombarovsky division of the Strategic Missile Force, based in Orenburg in the Urals region of central Russia. Friday's announcement did not specify where the first Avangard regiment had gone on duty.

The Avangard is an intercontinental ballistic missile system equipped with a nuclear-capable hypersonic boost-glide vehicle. The weapon can travel at more than 20 times the speed of sound, according to the Kremlin.

The re-entry vehicle can also move horizontally and vertically when re-entering the atmosphere before striking a target, making interception extremely difficult.

When he announced the new weapon in February 2018, Putin said it would be "invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary."

The president added that the weapon represents, "a great success and a big victory. This is a wonderful, excellent gift for the country for the New Year."

Russia has conducted successful tests of the Avangard, firing the weapon to hit a target 3,700 miles away.

Russia also recently hosted U.S. inspectors for a test of the Avangard, under the terms of the New START bilateral nuclear arms control treaty, which is set to expire in 2021.

The Avangard's development has not been without its problems. According to unnamed U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to CNBC, a nuclear accident near the northwestern town of Nyonoksa in August may have been caused by an Avangard system.

The officials said the accident—which killed five scientists and caused a local radiation spike—may have occurred as researchers tried to retrieve a missile from the seabed after a test.

Russia began developing the Avangard system after the U.S. withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. Another landmark arms control agreement—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty—collapsed this year after the U.S. withdrew, accusing Russia of developing a cruise missile that violates the accord.

The New START treaty is also now at risk. The agreement will expire in 2021, but the U.S. has still not committed to renewing it, despite Russia's assertions that the Kremlin is happy to extend the pact.

New START, which came into force in 2011, introduced a cap of 1,550 accountable deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs for both the U.S. and Russia.

The agreement also limited the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers used for nuclear missions to 700. The total number of deployed and non-deployed assets is capped at 800.

VLadimir Putin, Avangard, hypersonic, missile, nuclear, weapons
This file photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the State Council's meeting at Grand Kremlin Palace on December 26, 2019 in Moscow, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty