Russia’s defense industry has churned out a slew of next-generation systems in recent years, but Putin says Moscow is just getting started.
During an address given to graduates of Russia’s military universities, Russian President Vladimir Putin extolled the country’s steady progress in military modernization while promising that more next-generation systems are on the way.
"Hypersonic weapons — the Avangard and Kinzhal systems have already gone on combat duty,” Putin said. Avangard is a hypersonic glide vehicle, reportedly capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 27 and executing maneuvers mid-flight, while Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is an air-launched, nuclear-capable ballistic missile boasting a top speed of up to Mach 12. Kinzhal and Avangard are two of six weapons unveiled by Putin during his much-cited 2018 state-of-the-nation address.
Putin went on: “Coming next are other unique armaments that include the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, the Tsirkon shipborne hypersonic missile, S-500 ‘Prometei’ surface-to-air missile systems and others.”
3M22 Tsirkon, also known as Zircon, is a winged, hypersonic cruise missile. With an operational range of at least 1,000 km and a maximum speed of up to Mach 9, Tsirkon can pose a credible threat against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) carrier strike groups (CSGs). Sarmat is a 200+ ton, liquid-fueled ICBM that supports a payload of up to 15 MIRV warheads; according to Putin, the weapon is virtually non-interceptable and boasts “practically unlimited range.” The S-500 “Prometheus” is the successor to Russia’s flagship S-400 “Triumf” missile defense system, offering across-the-board improvements in target acquisition, operational range, and tracking, as well as the functionality to engage hypersonic cruise missiles and targets flying at speeds of over 5 Mach.
In addition to the weapons explicitly mentioned by Putin, Russia’s aircraft industry is working on several next-generation fighter projects. These include the PAK-DP interceptor that will reportedly begin phasing out Russia’s aging, roughly 300-strong fleet of MiG-31’s in the 2030s, as well as the PAK-DA sixth-generation bomber that is slated to replace the Tu-160 and Tu-22M3 after it enters serial production in 2027. Putin’s remarks seemingly did not mention what is one of Russia’s most ambitious ongoing weapons projects: Poseidon, an underwater drone that detonates a nuclear warhead thousands of feet below the surface to generate a radioactive tsunami capable of destroying coastal cities and targeting maritime military assets like CSG’s. Russia’s defense sector has recently made large investments into combat drone technology across its Air Force, Navy, and Ground Forces, but Moscow still has a ways to go before it can reach parity in this domain with its U.S. and Chinese counterparts.
Speaking against the backdrop of mounting military tensions with the west, Putin stressed the importance of military preparedness across Russia’s officer corps. "The personnel’s combat skills and spirit, the ability to operate quickly, skillfully, competently and coherently in modern conditions largely depend on the commander, taking the advanced hardware into account," he added.
Putin’s remarks were delivered in the context of a new state apartments program that will extend Russia’s defense procurement horizon to 2034. “Its [the armament program] implementation will be focused on further strengthening the country’s defense potential,” he said. “And, of course, you will operate this hardware.”
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for The National Interest