A newly released video shows Russia’s Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) being deployed for combat duty.
Earlier this week, Russia’s Defense Ministry released a video of the Avangard hypersonic-boost glide system being deployed in the Orenburg region near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan. The video opened with the system being transported to its deployment zone through what seems to be a military checkpoint. The clip then showed several close-up shots of Avangard being installed onto a missile silo. “The complex technological operations last several hours,” read a Defense Ministry press statement accompanying the video. The statement continued, “the Avangard missile system with a hypersonic glider will effectively round out the Strategic Missile Forces’ weapons systems, expand the combat abilities of the group, and will lay the foundations for the development of new types of combat equipment for modern and prospective strategic missiles.”
Earlier this year, Russian state news agency agency TASS reported that the infrastructure for deploying two more Avangard missile systems will be finalized in Orenburg by the end of 2020. The first Avangard unit entered service in the Orenburg region in December 2019, on the heels of several high-profile tests in 2018. Beyond Orenburg, it is currently unclear which Russian missile sites are slated to receive the Avangard missile system.
Avangard is a boost-glide, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) missile system that was first unveiled during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2018 annual state-of-the-nation address. “The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary,” said the Russian leader.
As an HGV, Avangard combines a high-performance ballistic missile with an unmanned glider vehicle. Once the missile reaches a sufficient altitude, the glide vehicle separates to find its target at staggeringly high speeds, drastically reducing the window of opportunity for successful interception. The weapon can reportedly travel at up to Mach 27 and is capable of maneuvering mid-flight, potentially allowing it to overcome even the most sophisticated enemy missile defenses through sheer speed and flight path alteration. The United States currently lacks both parallel capabilities as well as reliable means to counter hypersonic threats. Washington does not “have systems which can hold [China and Russia] at risk in a corresponding manner, and we don’t have defenses against [their] systems, said Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD[R&E]) Michael Griffin during a testimony to congress. China recently joined Russia as one of just several states to deploy hypersonic missile systems with the introduction of its DF-17.
It was revealed this week that the Russian military expects to receive a combined number of around twenty Avangard and Yars ICBM systems per year. “State industry is meeting the delivery schedule established by the State Armament Program,” Strategic Missile Forces Commander Sergei Karakaev told Russian state news, adding that the Strategic Missile Forces will be composed of 81% “modern missile systems” by the end of 2020.
Concrete production and delivery timelines for the new HGV system remain elusive. According to prior reporting, the U.S. intelligence community expects Russia to produce no more than sixty Avangard units in total.
Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.