Russia Says New Weapon—'Invulnerable' to All Defenses—Is 'Answer' to U.S. Missile Shield

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the development of a state-of-the-art hypersonic weapons system was his response to the United States's attempts to establish a global missile shield.

Putin made the comments to journalists Wednesday following his State of the Nation speech, in which he hailed the success of new, nuclear-capable weapons systems first revealed a year ago in his last annual address. These include the Avangard system, a hypersonic glide vehicle reportedly capable of delivering a strike at up to Mach 20—or 20 times the speed of sound.

Putin said such an accomplishment was "absolutely equivalent" to Moscow's launch of the first-ever artificial satellite, the Sputnik, in 1957. The Russian leader explained that the event, "from the point of view of security at that time period, meant that the Soviet Union had the means of delivering a nuclear charge to the territory of a potential enemy—these are ballistic missiles."

"But against ballistic missiles, our American friends came up with missile defense," he added. "Therefore, we needed to give an adequate or asymmetrical, but serious answer. What kind of answer can be considered as such? This is the Avangard."

RussiaAvangardTest
Russia test launches its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle from the western Dombarovsky region toward the Kura training ground in the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, December 26, 2018. Its unique and speedy approach would reportedly allow it to thwart existing U.S. defense systems. Russian Ministry of Defense

During his 2018 State of the Nation speech, Putin showed a simulation of how the Avangard worked and told the audience it was developed in response to nations not listening to Russia's concerns about arms control, warning that those nations would "listen to us now." He said the Avangard was "absolutely invulnerable to any air or missile defense system" and "flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire" with surface temperatures reaching up to 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then-Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov assured media less than two weeks later that the Avangard was "well-tested." CNBC cited two U.S. intelligence officials in May claiming that the weapon had been tested twice in 2016 and would be ready for service by 2020. In late December, Moscow released footage of an Avangard test, during which the weapon was fired more than 3,760 miles across the country.

After the video was presented at a Russian Defense Ministry meeting, Putin said the Avangard was "invulnerable to today's and prospective air defense and missile defense systems" and hailed the event as "a wonderful, great gift to the country for the New Year!"

U.S.-Russia relations have continued to fall out in the months since, with the White House suspending the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty earlier this month. The agreement banned the deployment of ground-based missiles with ranges from 310 to 3,420 miles, but the U.S. claimed that Russia violated the treaty with its Novator 9M729 missile. Moscow has argued the Pentagon broke the deal through its missile defense shield based in European NATO member nations.

PutinStateNationAddress2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed 2,000 government officials in Moscow as part of his annual State of the Nation address, February 20. He warned of deteriorating relations with the U.S. and touted his own country's military advances. The Kremlin

President Donald Trump had already prompted further concerns in Moscow last month with plans to install a global missile defense system that include space-based interceptors as part of the 2019 Missile Defense Review. Russia and China blasted the report as an attempt to instigate an "arms race" among world missile powers.

Putin also said Wednesday that Russia has "launched serial production of the Avangard system" and the "the first regiment of the Strategic Missile Troops will be equipped with Avangard" by the end of the year. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu later echoed this in an appearance with journalists, who he told that "the preparation of the missile infrastructure in the Orenburg region for the deployment of the first regiment with the Avangard complex is already in full swing."

Both men also informed journalists of updates on other advanced weapons being developed by Russia, including the RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile, the Poseidon underwater drone, the Peresvet combat laser system and the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile. Putin also confirmed reports of ongoing tests being conducted for the T3M22 Tsirkon anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile.