Putin Highlights How Deployment of Avangard Hypersonic Glide Vehicles Leaves U.S. Missile Defences Obsolete

Russian President Vladimir Putin has highlighted that his country’s Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle has negated hundreds of billions of dollars of investment by the United States and its Western allies in missile defence technologies. “If you calculate how much [America’s] well-known missile defences cost them, one of the main components for overcoming these missile defences that we have is the Avangard, an intercontinental missile with an intercontinental-range glide unit. So you cannot compare budgets. We’ve basically nullified everything they’ve done, everything they’ve invested in this missile defence system,” the Russian leader stated. He remarked that these investments in the U.S. had been highly wasteful. The first Avangard-equipped ICBM regiment was activated in September 2020 at the Yasnensky missile compound around 1,200 km southeast of Moscow, with a second regiment going on combat alert in June 2022.  

As an intercontinental range hypersonic glide vehicle, the Avangard was designed to fly at Mach 27 speeds and to manoeuvre in both course and pitch. This included the ability to carry out lateral manoeuvres several thousand kilometres into space, making it very difficult for enemy missile defence systems to even detect much less engage. Its speed allowed it to fly between continents in under 10 minutes, with each carrying a two megaton nuclear warhead. The systems have a near unlimited range, allowing them to approach targets such as the United States mainland from unexpected directions. An estimated ten glide vehicles can by carried by larger Russian ICBMs such as the RS-28 Sarmat. The system has one significant vulnerability, however, which is the possibility of strikes on silos hosting the missiles carrying them or attacks on the missiles in their early launch stages before the reach the atmosphere to launch the glide vehicles. Growing contingents of F-35 fighters deployed near Russia’s borders, which are expected to integrate anti ballistic missiles before 2030 and are well optimised for deep penetration of Russian airspace, are but one of multiple assets which could be used to threaten Russian ICBMs before they can deploy their hypersonic glide vehicles. 

The Avangard has frequently been referred to since its unveiling in March 2018 as an example of Russian strength due to its unique striking power, and has been described by President Putin as impacting targets “like a meteor, like a fireball.” He otherwise stated regarding its viability: “There are no analogues. They probably will appear in a few years, but nobody has them yet… If it were not for the new materials, it would be impossible [to have created the weapon].” Putin previously in 2019 compared the system to the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s satellite in its strategic significance, stating regarding the threat posed by growing American missile defence capabilities to the viability of the Soviet strategic deterrent:  

“The Avangard system is our response. A winged glider vehicle moves at Mach 20-plus inside dense atmospheric layers; it was difficult to imagine this in the past. In terms of our defence capability, this amounts to the same landmark achievement as the launch of the first space satellite. This is because that launch implied ballistic missiles, and we are now talking about a new strategic weapons system that moves along a flat trajectory inside dense atmospheric layers. This is another delivery vehicle? Yes, of course, this amounts to another delivery vehicle. But this is an absolute breakthrough in terms of modern technologies and materials. This winged glider vehicle’s nose section heats up to almost 3,000 degrees Celsius. Can you imagine this? What does 3,000 degrees feel like? The Sun’s surface heats up to 6,000 degrees, and here we are talking about 3,000 degrees. I have already mentioned the chocolate-coated ice cream effect, when the vehicle flies along and melts away as it goes. It is coated with a plasma layer, and its sides heat up to 1,900–2,000 degrees. At the same time, the vehicle is controlled accordingly. You know, when I attended the latest tests and when I watched them, the operator said ‘Acknowledge message’ which means that the vehicle had hit the bull’s eye, the target. The Russian science, engineering school and defence sector have scored an amazing success. Indeed, this is absolutely tremendous. Therefore, a comparison with the first near-Earth satellite is quite adequate and appropriate.”