Avangard

The Avangard is a nuclear-capable, hypersonic boost-glide vehicle under development by the Russian Federation. It was one of six “next generation” weapons described by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a speech in March 2018.

Avangard at a Glance

Originated from: Russia
Possessed by: Russia
Alternative names: Project 4202, Yu-74
Class: Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV)
Length: Unknown
Diameter: Unknown
Warhead: Nuclear 2 MT option (reported)
Speed: Mach 20 (6.86 km/s)
Range: >6,000 km
Status: In development

Avangard Development

Notional depiction of Avangard HGV. Photo Credit: Youtube / Ruptly

The origins of the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) reach back to the mid-1980s, at which time the USSR first started research on hypersonic warheads. This initial effort ceased around the time of the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1991. Russian defense manufacturer NPO Mashinostroeniya reportedly reinstated the project in the mid-1990s under the designation “Project 4202.”1

There have been approximately 14 flight reported tests of the Avangard between 1990 and 2018.2 In December 2018, Russia test fired the weapon from the Dombarovskiy missile base in Orenburg Oblast. Testers fitted the HGV atop an SS-19 ICBM, which boosted the vehicle more than 6,000 km before striking a target in the Kura shooting range in Kamchatka.3

Russia’s 2014 military intervention in Ukraine reportedly delayed Avangard development, as Ukraine manufactured a critical maneuver and targeting control system for the weapon. This development forced Russia to launch an important substitution program for the control device.4 Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov in 2018 made light of other technical hurdles related to Avangard’s control surfaces and heat shielding, noting that the vehicle’s surface temperature reaches 2,000 degrees Celsius.5

Russia has repeatedly stated that it is developing hypersonic weapons to ensure Russian strategic forces can penetrate future U.S. air and missile defenses.6

Specifications

The Avangard has a range of over 6,000 km, weighs approximately 2,000 kg, and can carry a nuclear or conventional payload.7 One TASS report said that the Avangard’s nuclear warhead is “more than 2 megatons in TNT equivalent.” 8 As a boost-glide weapon, the Avangard is carried to its apogee by a ballistic missile. This carrier is currently the SS-19 “Stiletto” (UR-100NUTTH), but will later be replaced by the R-28 “Sarmat.”9 Russia had initially planned to mount the Avangard on the road-mobile RS-26 “Rubezh” (SS-X-31) but chose to use the silo-based R-28 “Sarmat” after the Rubezh was delayed due to financial constraints.10

Once boosted to its suborbital apogee of around 100 km, the glide vehicle separates from its rocket.11 It then cruises down towards its target through the atmosphere. In his March 2018 speech, Vladimir Putin claimed the HGV can maintain atmospheric speeds of up to Mach 20 (6.28 km/s) and can maneuver.12 This maneuverability could make Avangard’s trajectory unpredictable, complicating intercept attempts after its boost phase.

There are no publicly available images of the Avangard HGV. According to one report, however, it is likely “either a short wedge-shaped design, or a shuttle with small stabilizer wings, which is installed in the head of the launch vehicle.”13 The HGV likely does not employ a propulsion system, relying on gravity and its aerodynamic features to maintain speeds and altitude.14

Service History

In March 2018, President Putin said the Avangard HGV had already entered serial production.15

In December 2018, Russia’s President Putin said his country would deploy the first Avangard regiment in 2019. This is earlier than expected, with most public U.S. analysts writing that the Avangard would likely enter service in the early 2020s.16 Also in December, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that “31 launchers with the Yars and Avangard ICBMs will assume combat duty in the Strategic Missile Force.”17

    1. Nikolay Surkov, “Hypersonic Avangard,” Izvestia, March 2, 2018, https://iz.ru/715170/nikolai-surkov/giperzvukovoi-avangard.
    2. Pavel Podvig, “Avangard system is tested, said to be fully ready for deployment,” Russian Forces (Blog), December 26, 2018, http://russianforces.org/blog/2018/12/avangard_system_is_tested_said.shtml.
    3. Russian Ministry of Defense, “Avangard missile launched from Dombarovsky area,” YouTube, December 26, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgzeS7-jgSY.
    4. Surkov, “Hypersonic Avangard”
    5. Matthew Bodner, “Russia to world: Our new nukes are ‘no bluff’,” Defense News, March 12, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/industry/techwatch/2018/03/12/russia-to-world-our-new-nukes-are-no-bluff/.
    6. “Official Reveals Russia’s Avangard Hypersonic Missile Speed,” Sputnik News, March 28, 2018, https://sputniknews.com/military/201812281071049854-russian-avangard-missile-27-times-faster-speed/; “Russia begins serial production of new cutting-edge glide vehicle,” TASS, March 1, 2018, http://tass.com/defense/992297.
    7. Surkov.
    8. “Source: the first carriers of the Avangard hypersonic blocks will be the UR-100N UTTH missiles,” TASS, March 20, 2018, https://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/5047200.
    9. Michael Kofman, “Emerging Russian Weapons: Welcome to the 2020s (Part 1 – Kinzhal, Sarmat, 4202),” Russian Military Analysis (Blog), March 4, 2018, https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/2018/03/04/emerging-russian-weapons-welcome-to-the-2020s-part-1-kinzhal-sarmat-4202/.
    10. Avangard hypersonic missiles replace Rubezh ICBMs in Russia’s armament plan through 2027,” TASS, March 22, 2018, http://tass.com/defense/995628.
    11. Surkov.
    12. Tony Wesolowsky, “’Listen To Us Now’: Putin Unveils Weapons, Vows To Raise Living Standards In Fiery Annual Address,” Radio Free Europe, March 1, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/putin-set-give-annual-address-amid-presidential-election-campaign/29069948.html.
    13. Surkov.
    14. “Russia unveils new strategic delivery systems,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 2018, https://www.janes.com/images/assets/298/79298/Russia_unveils_new_strategic_delivery_systems.pdf.
    15. “Russia begins serial production of new cutting-edge glide vehicle,” TASS, March 1, 2018, http://tass.com/defense/992297.
    16. “Russia unveils new strategic delivery systems,” Jane’s Intelligence Review.
    17. “Over 30 Yars, Avangard ICBMs to assume combat duty in Russia next year,” TASS, December 18, 2018, http://tass.com/defense/1036642.