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Russia unveils new hypersonic missile that could be war-ready by 2020

Russia claims it successfully tested a hypersonic missile. (TomoNews US/YouTube)
May 16, 2018

During Russia’s annual Victory Day parade in Moscow earlier this month, the country for the first time publicly revealed the Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile, which President Vladimir Putin has referred to as one of his “doomsday” weapons.

The weapon was first unveiled by Putin in his State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, and he claimed the weapon is “invincible.”

“I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: You have failed to contain Russia,” Putin had said.

“Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, be it small-scale, medium-scale or any other scale, will be treated as a nuclear attack on our country,” Putin added. “The response will be instant and with all the relevant consequences.”

The hypersonic missile was developed to conquer air defense and anti-ballistic missile defense systems. It is designed to be launched by a MiG-31 so that the missile can be fired at the required speed.

Speaking to CNBC, sources familiar with American intelligence reports said that Russia will have a hypersonic weapon ready for war by 2020, and have already successfully tested it twice in 2016.

The “Avangard” hypersonic glide vehicle is designed to be mounted to an SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile, making it capable of traveling at speeds more than five times the speed of sound.

Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, admitted during Congressional testimony in March that U.S. missile defenses cannot stop hypersonics.

“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat,” Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also said that the U.S. is falling behind Russia and China in military technology.

“And the reason is the U.S. hasn’t been doing anything near the same pace both in terms of developing our own capabilities but also failing to develop sensors and shooters necessary to shoot down theirs,” he said, The Hill reported.

While Russia has been quick to outline much of its new military technology like the Kinzhal, some observers of Russian missile programs and international officials have expressed some skepticism about the performance claims.

Back in June 2017, when discussing Russia’s Zircon missile, writer and analyst Kelsy Atherton wrote in Popular Mechanics: “Don’t believe the hype about Russia’s hypersonic missile.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also told reporters during a trip to Oman that nothing Russia demonstrated changed the Pentagon’s perspective.

“I saw no change to the Russian military capability and each of these systems that he’s talking about are still years away. I do not see them changing the military balance. They do not impact any need on our side for a change in our deterrence posture,” Mattis said.