Dirk Zimper from the German Aerospace Centre told the country’s public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk (German Radio) that there are no effective defence systems against the hypersonic glide vehicle Avangard, which was successfully tested in December. According to the specialist, although the work on developing reliable countermeasures is underway, it is “really difficult” to intercept a hypersonic missile.
Zimper points to the acknowledgment of this fact in the US, referring to a statement by General John Hyten, the head of the Strategic Command of the United States. The general told the Senate Armed Forces Committee in March that the US had no defence that could prevent the use of such weapons against it.
According to the German scholar, there are three countries researching this technology now: apart from Russia, these are China and the US. However, he expressed the opinion that the successful test launch of the Avangard had not shifted the international balance of power.
“It is clear that nations like the US, Russia, and China have been researching such systems for decades, and it is indeed a competition. It would be very difficult to say here who might have advanced further on this research and might be behind. I think it is a neck to neck situation”, Zimper told the broadcaster.
The glider vehicle, able to carry a megaton-class nuclear warhead, was unveiled by Vladimir Putin in March 2018, when he spoke about the newest additions to Russian arms inventory, including the SARMAT missile system, super-fast drone torpedoes, nuclear-powered cruise missiles, the air missile system “Kinzhal”, as well as laser weapons.
On 26 December, it was announced that the Avangard missile, dubbed a "New Year's present to the nation" by Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been test-launched from a base in the southern Ural Mountains and successfully hit a practice target in Kamchatka some 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away.
The missile, which is said to fly 27 times faster than the speed of sound, can change course and altitude while flying through the atmosphere, zigzagging its path to its target, making it virtually impossible to predict the weapon's location.
According to Sergei Ivanov, a former Russian defence minister, Russia began to develop the Avangard after 2002 when the US withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and began work on defences against ballistic missiles.