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“Unbeatable” hypersonic Avangard system to come into full service no later than 2019

Testing of Avangard hypersonic system confirmed and complete, serial production contract signed by Russian Defense Ministry

Computer rendering of Avangard evading defenses in flight. (c) Russian Defense Ministry

The Russian News Agency TASS reported on 12 March that the Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said that the Ministry has signed a defense contract on the most advanced Avangard hypersonic missile complex.

According to an unnamed additional source, the complex is expected to come into full service no later than 2019.

After the first series of glide vehicles is produced and a controlling launch of a missile with this armament is carried out successfully, the Avangard complex may be accepted for service already in late 2018. At the latest, it will be accepted for operation and placed on high alert in 2019,” the source said.

At this time, according to Sergey Karakayev, Commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Force, the trials for Avangard are complete.

Avangard is a strategic intercontinental missile system equipped with a gliding maneuverable warhead that flies to its target at hypersonic speeds. To be precise, the system is not really “ballistic”, for that means that the missile’s accuracy depends on a proper trajectory being set by the aiming and guidance of the missile while it is under powered flight.

A ballistic missile flies several hundred or even several thousand miles out into space before falling back to Earth and onto its target in a precisely controlled “coast” trajectory. While warhead trajectories can be slightly adjusted, it is mostly like trying to adjust the course of a falling boulder – not a lot can happen.

Avangard is something entirely new.

After the missile is launched, the glider warhead (“spacehead”) travels part of its flight path at an altitude of several dozen kilometers, in the denser layers of the atmosphere. During this atmospheric phase of flight, Avangard maintains a speed in excess of Mach 20, or about 15,300 miles per hour (four miles per second). The glide vehicle is understood to be about 5.4 meters long (about 17 feet), and it can carry a warhead that is conventional, or a nuclear warhead with a yield from 150 kilotons to 1 megaton of TNT.

Commander Karakayev stated that the body of the glide vehicle is made of composite materials that make it resistant to aerodynamic heating caused by such high speeds in the atmosphere. As such temperatures carry into the thousands of degrees, the vehicle’s resistance to flight-generated heat also means it is resistant to laser irradiation. This means military lasers cannot hurt it. Avangard carries a thermoregulation system that was developed by the Nauka (Science) Research and Production Association.

During the glide phase, the vehicle is highly maneuverable, and can change its course to avoid radar and defense installations that would be able to stop a traditional incoming ballistic warhead. Avangard detects defense measures and simply flies around them on the way to its target.

According to unofficial reports, tests of what has been called “object 4202”, which we now know of as Avangard, were in progress since 2004 at the Baikonur and Yasny spaceports, using the RS-18B rocket, which itself is based on the 15A35 intercontinental ballistic missile. Object 4202 testing was carried out in conjunction with the flight development tests of the Sarmat ICBM. According to Minister Borisov, the system has been “well tested.”

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