Russia’s successful test of its Avangard hypersonic glide missile will almost certainly ignite a full-on arms race panic in the US, according to German newspaper Die Welt. As we noted earlier this week, the missile was launched from a base in the southern Ural Mountains on Wednesday and successfully hit a practice target on Kamchatka 3,700 miles away.
The test launch will likely alarm US intelligence analysts and “provoke a panic” among Pentagon officials because the US has nothing to defend against the missile, the newspaper said, despite the fact that Russia has been working on the weapon since 2002 when the US withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and began developing anti-ballistic defenses. Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin teased that the weapon would be ready to deploy within “months”.
The test, according to the paper, is proof of “saber rattling” between the US and Russia as tensions between the two super powers climb to their most intense level since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Although the glider, able to carry megaton-class nuclear weapon, was presented along with SARMAT missile system tests, super-fast drone torpedoes, cruise missiles with nuclear power plants, the air missile system “Kinzhal” as well as laser and hyper-sonic weapons as one of the newest additions to the Russian arms complex in March, the newspaper claims it to be proof of sabre-rattling by the great powers in the wake of US President Donald Trump announcing his country’s withdrawal from the 1987 INF Treaty in October.
What makes Avangard unique is its manoeuverability as the vehicle constantly changes its course and altitude while it flies through the atmosphere, zigzagging on its path to its target, making it impossible to predict the weapon’s location, as former Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov revealed. This characteristic ensures that the target this hypersonic missile is actually heading to remains virtually secret, according to the US think tank Rand Corporation.
As Die Welt explained, US radar and NATO ABM cannot detect or stop the Avangard, which could be a problem considering the US’s decision to withdraw from the INF.
“You have to cover thousands of miles, not hundreds”, chief engineer of the Pentagon and ex-chief of NASA Michael Griffin told an expert panel shortly before the test launch, pointing out at the curvature of the globe, limiting the coverage of radars, taking the vastness of the western Pacific Ocean and the lack of islands for radar.
“There are not many places where radars can be parked. And if you find them, they’ll probably become targets,” Griffin said.
To detect the missile’s launch, the US would probably have to install a network of reconnaissance sensors in space. And as if Russia’s latest test wasn’t troubling enough, Russian engineers noted that China has carried out similar tests.
“China tested more hypersonic weapons last year than we did in a decade. We have to change that,” he stated.
Still, though it has lagged behind in hypersonic weapons development, the Pentagon is struggling to catch up. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency revealed this week that it is seeking new designs for cooling super-hot leading edges of hypersonic vehicles as they rip through the atmosphere as it works to develop its own hypersonic missile. Considering that the New START arms control treaty between the US and Russia will likely expire without an agreement to renew by 2021, that task is probably taking on a renewed urgency.
Watch video of the test below: