WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Most countries are now on a tear to develop the first generation of hypersonic weapons, and Russia just became the first to deploy them in active service.
Hypersonic weapons that travel anywhere upwards of Mach 5 speeds are fast enough and deadly enough to freak out most of the world’s major militaries – even if they aren’t that accurate yet. And their speed is one of the major reasons why in the future we’ll likely see the world’s militaries invest more heavily in fully autonomous weapons systems that can identify, track, and destroy these new weapons systems faster than if humans were kept in the loop, and at least one country, the US, is already serious on the idea.
This week Russia became the world’s first power to deploy hypersonic weapons into the field after their Strategic Missile Force announced it has stood up its first regiment armed with intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) fitted with a new Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) in the Orenburg region in the south Urals, according to a statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
“The Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, Army General Sergei Shoigu, reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the deployment of the first missile regiment armed with the latest strategic missile system with the Avangard hypersonic [glide vehicle],” a statement reads.
The MoD did not specify the regiment’s name or numerical designation, but it is thought to be the 13th regiment of the Dombarovskiy (Red Banner) missile division based in the Orenburg region.
The regiment has reportedly received two retrofitted UR-100NUTTkH ICBMs armed with one Avangard hypersonic boost-glide warhead each, and according to earlier reports, the 13th regiment is expected to eventually receive four more SS-19 ICBMs fitted with Avangard warheads.
The Avangard HGV has reportedly been integrated with the SS-19 ICBM as a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV). Russia’s Strategic Missile Force has up to twenty SS-19s operationally deployed. Its entire SS-19 arsenal consists of 30 missiles.
A second regiment also composed of six SS-19s armed with the Avangard HGV will be stood up by 2027, according to Russian media reports. In March 2018, Vladimir Putin claimed that the Avangard HGV had “already entered serial production,” with Russia expected to build up to 60 warheads.
According to US intelligence estimates, the Avangard hypersonic HGV was not expected to achieve initial operational capability until 2020. Notably, the activation of the first Avangard equipped regiment took place without additional flight tests.
The Avangard is designed solely for a strategic nuclear delivery role and has been specifically developed in response to advances in US ballistic missile defences, and the warhead can reportedly manoeuvre in the upper atmosphere at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and up to a range of Mach 27, which means it’s very fast indeed, and this is expected the first deployment of what will become the next “great” arms race.