Russia’s Avangard Hypersonic Boost-Glide System: Does It Even Matter? (excerpt)
(Source: Russian Military Analysis; posted Jan 11, 2019)
By Michael Kofman
Earlier in March 2018, Vladimir Putin announced at his annual address to the federal assembly that a Russian hypersonic boost-glide system, named Avangard, would start entering serial production. Subsequently on December 26th, 2018 Russian officials claimed that they had successfully conducted a test from the Dombarovsky missile site, to the Kura test range on Kamchatka, some 3,760 miles away.

Russia’s president proudly announced that the system as a wonderful ‘New Year’s gift’ to Russia. According to Putin’s statement, the hypersonic glide vehicle is able to conduct intensive maneuvers at speeds in excess of Mach 20, which would render it “invulnerable” to any existing or prospective missile defenses.

In this article I will briefly explore the logic behind Russia’s hypersonic boost glide program, recent claims of technological accomplishment, and the strategic implications of deploying such weapon systems.

Despite rather questionable public statements about the technical characteristics of this weapon system, a number of which appear inconsistent, it is clear that Russian military science has made considerable advancements along one of the most sophisticated axis of weapons research.

While claims pertaining to the readiness of this system to enter serial production, and operational service, are probably exaggerated, the more important questions are conceptual. More than likely Russia will be able to deploy a hypersonic boost glide system in the 2020s, perhaps alongside other hypersonic weapons projects, but the promise of this technology was always at the tactical-operational level of war, not strategic.

This was never considered a ‘game changer’ as a system for the delivery of strategic nuclear weapons. If anything, Russia has invested a substantial amount of money, and years of research, in overdoing its strengths. Beyond a somewhat militant demonstration of ‘Russian national achievement’ for domestic audiences, it’s unclear if this weapon system truly answers Russia’s strategic challenges in the coming decades.

The question is not whether it works, or when it will work, but does it even matter? (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full story, on the Russian Military Analysis website.

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