Avangard: Russian military puts hypersonic gliders into service

Faster than the US missile defense: The Russian Army has its first operational hypersonic missile. A military unit in Orenburg in the Urals was equipped with it, the military said. The missile named Avangard is said not to be able to be hit by US missile defense systems.

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Avangard is a non-powered hypersonic glider that can be equipped with a nuclear warhead. It is launched and accelerated by a rocket into the upper layers of the atmosphere. After the separation, Avangard continues to glide to its destination. It should reach a speed up to Mach 27, i.e. 27 times the speed of sound. That corresponds to around 33,000 kilometers per hour. The range should be around 4,000 kilometers.

Avangard's development began in the Soviet Union. The hypersonic glider flew for the first time at the end of 2018. According to official information, it took off from the Jasny rocket launch site near Orenburg in southern Russia and flew to the Kura rocket test site on the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east of the country. That would be a flight distance of 6,000 kilometers. Avangard is said to have been traveling at 20 times the speed of sound.

Unlike a conventional rocket, Avangard can still perform maneuvers on the go. It should change the height and, if necessary, even steer it to another destination. This maneuverability is said to make it more difficult for missile defense systems to hit the glider. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Avangard could reach almost any point on earth. He referred to the glider as "absolute weapon", According to the Russian government, Avangard has already been demonstrated to US arms controllers. The glider should not violate the provisions of the New Start disarmament contract.

Other nations are also developing hypersonic gliders. A few years ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) tested the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). However, the test was unsuccessful, the HTV-2 crashed. China is also dealing with the topic. A scientist at the Beijing University of Aerospace already spoke of a hypersonic race between China and the United States in 2017 – and apparently forgot Russia.

But not only the military is interested in hypersonic aircraft. Civilian use should also be possible: a hypersonic aircraft like the Spaceliner could fly from Europe to Australia in an hour and a half.

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