Russia Arrests Hypersonic Aircraft Expert on High Treason Charges

Russia has arrested a physicist specializing in sensitive hypersonic aircraft research, accusing him of high treason.

Anatoly Gubanov was arrested by FSB intelligence officers, the state-run Tass news agency reported Thursday. The agency cited an anonymous law enforcement source who said Gubanov was suspected of having "handed over secret aviation development data abroad."

Darya Rozmakhova, a spokesperson for Moscow's Lefortovo District Court, told Tass Thursday: "The court has chosen custody for a term of one month and 30 days, i.e. until February 2, 2021, as a measure of restraint for Anatoly Aleksandrovich Gubanov suspected of committing a crime stipulated by Article 275 of Russia's Criminal Code," an offense classified as high treason.

The case is being held behind doors. If Gubanov is convicted, he could face up to 20 years behind bars.

Gubanov has been working at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute since 1979, rising to oversee a section in the department dealing with aircraft and rocket aerodynamics, Tass reported. Gubanov is focused on high speed aircraft, the agency said.

Gubanov is part of a prominent family in Russia's aircraft-building industry, Tass reported. His father-in-law Leonid Shkadov is a prominent scientist and was a key figure in the Soviet aviation industry. Three of Gubanov's five children also work in the aviation industry.

RFE/RL cited Russia's Interfax news agency as reporting that Gubanov participated in international conferences and projects involving hydrogen-powered hypersonic aircraft. Interfax cited unnamed sources for its report.

Gubanov is also listed as a lecturer on the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology website. Contacted by Tass for comment, MIPT Rector Nikolai Kudryavtsev said: "I don't know a man with such a name. We have a lot of employees and I have a lot of tasks. Possibly, I will be able to clarify later who he is but I can't say anything so far."

Russia is a leader in hypersonic technology, which has the potential to revolutionize weapons systems. Hypersonic missiles, for example, can travel at speeds of Mach 5 and above—around 3,836 miles per hour—at relatively flat trajectories while maneuvering mid-flight, making them difficult for existing defenses to intercept.

President Vladimir Putin and military officials have repeatedly lauded Russia's hypersonic research. Unveiling a host of new weapons in 2018, for example, Putin said a new hypersonic cruise missile was "invincible in the face of all existing and future systems of both missile defence and air defence."

In October, the Russian military said it successfully test-launched a Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. The weapon flew at more than eight times the speed of sound, the military said. Putin celebrated the test as a "big event" for the country.

The U.S. is believed to be lagging behind Russia and China in its hypersonic development programs. The U.S. is now investing heavily to close the gap. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump's administration proposed a 23 percent increase in funding for hypersonic weapons.

The Army and Navy are working on a joint hypersonic weapon known as the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body. The prototype had its first successful flight in March, hitting within six inches of its target according to U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

The Air Force, meanwhile, is forging ahead on Lockheed Martin's AGM-183A air-launched rapid-response weapon, also known as ARRW. The Air Force has now completed the ARRW's early testing phase, successfully mounting a prototype of the weapon on a B-52 strategic bomber. It is slated for operational testing in October 2021.

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This file photo shows Russian MiG-31 jets carrying hypersonic Kinzhal missiles over Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2018. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images/Getty