Russia has just revealed that its hypersonic weapon, the Avangard, is now operational, making it the first country to possess a new class of nuclear weapon against other military powers.
The United States and Russia have been working on this type of weaponry for years. Russia has already built one (ahead of the race against the U.S. to develop hypersonic weapons) and it is especially striking: the missile can carry two-megaton nuclear warheads, that travel at 27 times the speed of sound, and manoeuvre quickly to avoid any missile defence system that might try to block it thanks to a glider vehicle. In addition, it can withstand temperatures of up to 2,000°C as a result of flying through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.
Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that the Avangard hypersonic slipstream vehicle is evidence that Russia is now a world leader in engineering a new class of weapons. Putin compared this technological breakthrough to the Soviet launch of the first satellite in 1957.
Like a "meteorite" or a "fireball
Avangard will be mounted on RS-18B intercontinental ballistic missiles but, unlike a missile warhead that follows a predictable path, it can perform rough manoeuvres in the atmosphere, making it much more difficult to intercept. According to Putin, it can strike "like a fireball".
"No country has hypersonic weapons, let alone hypersonic weapons of intercontinental range," the Russian president said.
The head of Russia's Strategic Missile Troops, General Sergei Karakayev, added that Avangard was put into service with a unit in the Orenburg region in the southern Urals.
The Avangard can reach almost any point in the world and evade a missile shield built in the United States.
The device in question has already gone into serial production.
The United States, for its part, is weighing up its defence strategies. The Pentagon has also been developing hypersonic weapons (like the Scramjet), and Defense Secretary Mark Esper predicted that the U.S. will soon have one of its own.
China has already tested its own hypersonic glide vehicle, which is believed to be capable of travelling at least five times the speed of sound.
Russia seems to be at the forefront of hypersonic gambling and China is also developing such systems, while the United States seems to be somewhat behind.
All this comes at a time when the entire network of arms control agreements inherited from the Cold War is collapsing. US President Donald Trump wants Russia and China to sign a new nuclear pact after abandoning the agreement sealed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.