The Russian Ministry has released footage of the reequipping of some of their strategic missile forces with the new Avanguard hypersonic delivery system. The missiles with Avanguard are being deployed for the first time in an official capacity in the Orenburg region in south western Russia.
The Avanguard is designed to complement Russia’s existing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) by providing them with a capability that is claimed to be immune to interception. Reportedly capable of carrying either a 2 megaton nuclear warhead or a conventional precision weapon, Avanguard is currently fitted to UR-100N UTTKh (NATO: SS-19 Stiletto) ICBMs which have a range of 6,200 miles.
The hypersonic delivery system differs from conventional ICBM re-entry vehicles in being able to fly at a lower level and capable of steering for considerable distances to avoid anti-missile defences in order to close with its target, making it a far more elusive target than standard nuclear warheads that follow an orbital path.
The first two Avanguard equipped missiles, operating very much as experimental proof-of-concept models, deployed in January 2020. This new deployment is, according to the Russians, the start of a more widespread use of the delivery system.
The intention is to field an initial deployment of 12 missiles with Avanguard in Orenburg, then for the system to be mounted on an unspecified number of the new RS-28 Sarmat missiles that are expected to start coming into service in the next year.
Russia has taken the lead in hypersonic weapon development and fielding, though multiple countries are also pursuing the technology. Last year China also revealed its first such weapon, the DF-17, and Japan is investing in its own project, whilst the United States has had multiple development programs running.
During his annual press conference, held earlier today, Russia’s President Putin, mentioned Avanguard as Russia’s response to the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the development of US hypersonic missiles.
Where Russia’s emphasis is different, from other countries, is its use of the Avanguard as a strategic delivery system, not a tactical level one. There is some doubt amongst Western experts on the efficacy of Avanguard’s immunity to anti-ballistic missile defenses. But with more money being invested in such measures, no doubt Western militaries will be following the new deployments closely and working to assess the true abilities of Avanguard, as well as just how much of a part it will play in future Russian strategic force composition.