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Russia Deploys the Avangard: An Hypersonic Missile System that Flies at 27 Times Speed of Sound

Updated on January 14, 2020
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MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a notable writer on military history.


History records that great powers fall and rise again. The erstwhile Soviet Union was the counterbalance to American dominance for close to 4 decades. The internal contradictions of the Soviet Union union led to its collapse. The western powers led by the United States exulted at the break up of the Soviet Union. One can recollect that Margret Thatcher the British Prime Minister, in a speech stated that the internal contradictions of the Soviet Union union led to its collapse and communism is "finished."

The eclipse of Russia as a world power created a vacuum which to a certain extent was filled by China. The western powers led by the United States thought they could mollycoddle China and retain their hold over the globe. The Chinese had other ideas as for centuries the Chinese had considered themselves as the "Middle Kingdom" and they wished to rule the World.

A lack of a clear cut policy to contain China, led to China going nuclear and also capturing almost the entire South China Sea as its fiefdom. This happened under the nose of the Americans who were at that time more obsessed with Russia than anything else. President Duterte very rightly pointed out that the USA was responsible for the rise of China and wondered why the USA did not send 5 carriers to the South China Sea to thwart the Red Dragon.

The scenario began to change when Vladimir Putin took over as the President of Russia. Putin who was an ex-KGB official of the Soviet-era police had a different view of the world from his predecessors like Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev. He wished to restore Russia to the old glory of the Soviet Union. To achieve this he went about his task with single-minded devotion.

Directions were given for the development of the TU-22 supersonic bomber and long-range missiles. They have now developed a hypersonic missile called the Avangard system that flies 27 times the speed of sound.

Putin in a press conference announced that the first unit of the strategic missile system has been made operational in Russia. The Russian defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in a press conference confirmed that the first unit of the strategic Avantgarde has been inducted on 27 December this year.

There is no doubt this is a landmark event and marks the rise of the Russian state as a world power. If the news is true it means that a potential threat has emerged for the west. It means the EU, UK, and the USA will have to factor the power of the Russian state which has close ties with many countries as a threat to them.

The Avangard System

The Avangard system has been under development for more than two decades. China and the United States have been carrying out their own research on a similar project. The weapon is a precession missile system that can carry a two megaton warhead. It is mounted on an ICBM and launched by remote control.

The New York Times reported that this weapon system can achieve speeds that are 27 times the speed of sound. The system has a 'glide system' that makes it almost impossible to defend against it. It is yet not known where this missile system would be deployed. In all probability, this system could be deployed in the Central Mountain range of the Urals in Central Russia.

The Russian president had unveiled the Avangard and other weapons systems in his annual State of the Union address in March 2018. At that time not much stress was laid to what Vladimir Putin had said. Now reports have come that the system was tested against a target which was at a distance of almost 6000 km.

At the moment the type of anti-missile technology available with the Americans, the Avangard system cannot be detected after it's launched. Mr. Putin has repeatedly emphasized this point. China has been testing such a system since 2014.

The invincible system at the moment

One cannot be sure that the Avangard missile system has really entered Russian military service. There have been many cases earlier of the Russian president making announcements well before the actual deployment of the weapons. Despite this rider, one can conclude that even if the missile system is not fully operational, yet the Russians may be very close to operationalize it.

The weapon system after its launch from an ICBM does not follow an arc but makes a vertical entry into space and then makes a re-entry into the earth's atmosphere quite quickly before gliding for hundreds of thousands of kilometers to the target. The weapon system is extremely maneuverable and needs no power, as it runs towards its target. The Avangard if and when it becomes operational heralds a new era in the nuclear arms race

Development and Future

The Avangard was developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology. Its manufacture is done by the Votkinsk Machine-Building plant. It weighs three tonnes and has a length of 5.4 m. Its speed ranges from Mach 20 to Mach 27. The Avangard is one of the six strategic weapons which were unveiled by the Russian president on 18 March 2018.

This was a significant development. The Pentagon has not commented on the Russian announcement but the Americans are on their way with their own research on this new weapon system. It clearly shows that the arms race has started again. The Americans are also looking at a missile shield that can detect and destroy the Russian system.

Once Donald Trump took over as the President of United States most of the arms limitation agreements entered into by Ronald Reagan during the Cold War have been either allowed to lapse or the Americans have withdrawn from them. There is only one agreement that is still in force and that is START II. This missile agreement expires in 2021.

This agreement is also likely to become defunct as America is not keen to continue with it. The points being made by President Donald Trump are that these agreements have no meaning now as they do not have the signature of China on it. The President would like new agreements to be worked out with China as a signatory. Till that happens teh arms race will continue.

Last word

Russia has built up its own strategic partnership and at the moment is close friends with China. I have a gut feeling that this bonhomie with Chinese may not last long. Historically two powers jostling for world domination cannot exist together.

In that case, the long-term friend of Russia could only be India which for the last six decades has been with Russia. It is not out of place to mention that at least on 10 to 15 occasions the Russian state vetoed the West's resolutions on Kashmir in the Security Council to help India.


One has a feeling that the clock is turning and this could well mark the eclipse of the United States as a world power. Sadly almost all American presidents during the last five decades have been fighting fruitless wars that have sapped the energy of the American state with nothing tangible to show.


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