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    Avangard Hypersonic Missile System

    Avangard is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound. Photo: Russian Defence Force.
    The Avangard is a nuclear-capable, hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, that can fly 27 times faster than the speed of sound. Previously referred to as Project 4202, the Avangard hypersonic missile system is a reentry body carried atop an existing ballistic missile. Avangard missile has a very difficult maneuvering capability to predict its trajectory and gives it the ability to protect itself from the air and ballistic missile defences by delivering nuclear warheads to targets, for instance, in Europe and the US.

    During the last known tests that took place in December 2018, the Avangard hit a practice target 6,000 kilometers away. “This weapon of the future can penetrate both existing and any future missile defense systems,” The new weapon was unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly on 01 March 2018.

    The Russian leader told a board meeting of the Defense Ministry in late 2018 that Russia had launched the serial production of Avangard hypersonic missile systems. Putin stressed at the time that the Avangard, along with Sarmat missiles, Kinzhal and Peresvet missile systems, would boost the potential of the Army and the Navy to guarantee Russia’s security for decades to come.

    Avangard at a Glance 
    • Originated from: Russia 
    • Possessed by: Russia 
    • Alternative names: Project 4202, Yu-74 
    • Class: Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) 
    • Length: Unknown 
    • Diameter: Unknown 
    • Warhead: Nuclear 2 MT option (reported) 
    • Speed: Mach 20 (6.86 km/s)
    • Range: >6,000 km 
    • Status: In development

    Development

    According to Missile Threat, the origins of the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) begun back to the mid-1980s, at which time the USSR first started research on hypersonic warheads. This initial effort ceased around the time of the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1991. Russian defense manufacturer NPO Mashinostroeniya reportedly reinstated the project in the mid-1990s under the designation “Project 4202.”1 There have been approximately 14 flight reported tests of the Avangard between 1990 and 2018.2 In December 2018, Russia test-fired the weapon from the Dombarovskiy missile base in Orenburg Oblast. Testers fitted the HGV atop an SS-19 ICBM, which boosted the vehicle more than 6,000 km before striking a target in the Kura shooting range in Kamchatka.

    A display of a flight of the warhead of the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide weapon. Image: TASSTASS via Getty
    Russia’s 2014 military intervention in Ukraine reportedly delayed Avangard's development, as Ukraine manufactured a critical maneuver and targeting control system for the weapon. This development forced Russia to launch an important substitution program for the control device. Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov in 2018 made light of other technical hurdles related to Avangard’s control surfaces and heat shielding, noting that the vehicle’s surface temperature reaches 2,000 degrees Celsius.5 Russia has repeatedly stated that it is developing hypersonic weapons to ensure Russian strategic forces can penetrate future U.S. air and missile defenses.

    Specifications 

    The Avangard has a range of over 6,000 km, weighs approximately 2,000 kg, and can carry a nuclear or conventional payload.7 One TASS report said that Avangard’s nuclear warhead is “more than 2 megatons in TNT equivalent.”  As a boost-glide weapon, the Avangard is carried to its apogee by a ballistic missile. This carrier is currently the SS-19 “Stiletto” (UR-100NUTTH), but will later be replaced by the R-28 “Sarmat.” Russia had initially planned to mount the Avangard on the road-mobile RS-26 “Rubezh” (SS-X-31) but chose to use the silo-based R-28 “Sarmat” after the Rubezh was delayed due to financial constraints. Once boosted to its suborbital apogee of around 100 km, the glide vehicle separates from its rocket.


    It then cruises down towards its target through the atmosphere. In his March 2018 speech, Vladimir Putin claimed the HGV can maintain atmospheric speeds of up to Mach 20 (6.28 km/s) and can maneuver. This maneuverability could make Avangard’s trajectory unpredictable, complicating intercept attempts after its boost phase. There are no publicly available images of the Avangard HGV. According to one report, however, it is likely “either a short wedge-shaped design, or a shuttle with small stabilizer wings, which is installed in the head of the launch vehicle.” The HGV likely does not employ a propulsion system, relying on gravity and its aerodynamic features to maintain speeds and altitude.

    Service History In March 2018, President Putin said the Avangard HGV had already entered serial production. In December 2018, Russia’s President Putin said his country would deploy the first Avangard regiment in 2019. This is earlier than expected, with most public U.S. analysts writing that the Avangard would likely enter service in the early 2020s. Also in December, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that 13 launchers with the Yars and Avangard ICBMs will assume combat duty in the Strategic Missile Force.

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