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Here’s what we know: Russia’s new generation of nuclear-capable weapons

Supreme Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Armed Forces Vladimir Putin observed the main stage of Vostok-2018 military manoeuvres. With Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, First Deputy Defence Minister Valery Gerasimov. (

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

In March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled six nuclear-capable weapons and has said they have no equivalents anywhere in the world.

“Understand that everything I have said today is not a bluff,” he said at the time.

And with both the United States and Russia announcing this month that they will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a new era of missile development could be in the cards.

Putin says the world has nothing like Russia’s newest missiles. Is he right? Here’s what we now know, one year later:


Avangad is a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to be carried by an intercontinental missile. Once launched, it’s designed to sail on top of the atmosphere and is supposed to be able to reach speeds up to Mach 20. (That’s 20 times the speed of sound.)

It can be used to deliver nuclear or conventional payloads.

According to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), a U.S.-based NGO that seeks to generate public support for the deployment of missile defense in the United States, its maneuverability and versatility make it a “strategically valuable weapon.”

According to Pavel Podvig, director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, a Moscow-based NGO focusing on Russia’s nuclear arsenal, Avangard “appears to be reasonably successful and will probably be deployed next year as expected.”

Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile

Kinzhal is already in the military’s arsenal with 10 MiG-31s reportedly modified to carry the missiles.

According to the MDAA, the missile is designed to reach hypersonic speeds seconds after launch and reportedly can maneuver at any time during flight. If true, that would allow it to avoid any known U.S. air- or missile-defense systems, according to the MDAA.

RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile

A heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-28 is currently in development.

The Russian Strategic Missile troops have conducted several pop-up tests of the Sarmat and plan to begin launch tests later this year, according to the state-run TASS news agency.

The RS-28 “represents a reassertion of Russia’s status as a nuclear superpower, at parity with — or even more advanced than — the capabilities of the United States,” according to the MDAA.

Podvig, however, says the weapon seems to rely on “conventional,” or old proven technologies.

9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile

Not much is known about this weapon. The Burevestnik was seen on an assembly line in official media.

According to U.S. military intelligence, only one of 13 known tests of the missile has been moderately successful to date. The latest test on January 29 was partially successful, according to U.S. government sources who spoke to The Diplomat.

No country has to date deployed a cruise missile using an on-board nuclear reactor, largely given the engineering challenges and safety concerns involved.

Podvig says this may be a truly revolutionary weapon, but it’s too early to say whether it will live up to expectations.

Poseidon underwater drone

Russia’s newest underwater weapon successfully completed a “key” stage of sea trials, Putin said on February 2.

According to the 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, undertaken by the U.S. Defense Department, the Poseidon “is a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo.”

The Russian Navy is expected to deploy more than 30 Poseidon unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) once the weapons system is declared operational and has cleared user trials, a Russian defense industry source told TASS earlier this year.

Podvig says it’s too early to declare the Poseidon a winner for the Russian military.

Peresvet laser combat system

The Peresvet high-energy laser weapon was declared operational on December 1, 2018.

Key details about the laser, including its power and even purpose, are still a mystery, with Moscow declaring it is “not time yet” for details.

Based on available images, it appears similar to the U.S. Navy’s Laser Weapons System, which went to sea on the USS Ponce warship in 2017.

According to Popular Mechanics, a lower-powered laser would only be able to burn small drones and blind electro-optical devices (including human eyeballs). A stronger laser, Popular Mechanics said, “would be dangerous to larger drones and small manned aircraft.”