Speaking to CNBC on the condition of anonymity, sources aware of US intelligence reports, said the Russian military successfully tested the weapon twice in 2016. The third known test of the weapon was allegedly carried out in October 2017, and allegedly failed when the device crashed seconds before hitting its target.
The sources believe the device would be a significant breakthrough which could enable Russian military to surpass US counterparts. The intelligence sources claimed that the hypersonic gliders will get onboard countermeasures to enable them to defeat even the most advanced missile-defense systems.
“These kinds of boost glide vehicles attack the gaps in our missile defense system,” Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. The analyst noted there is no time “to modify our current missile defense posture,” adding it was “unfortunate that we have let Russia come this far.”
Earlier, US commanders acknowledged there is little the military could do to counter Russia’s advanced hypersonic technologies. “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” General John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March.
“Both Russia and China are aggressively pursuing hypersonic capabilities,” he said. The General, who once referred to Russia as the “most significant threat” to the US, urged America to develop new strategic weapons to match Russian capabilities.
In early March, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled some of the new sophisticated weapons during his state of the nation address. He showcased two versions of hypersonic weapons systems that have been in development in Russia.
One was an aircraft-launched vehicle which travels at a speed of Mach 10 and has a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles). The weapon, called Kinzhal (“Dagger” in Russian) comes either as conventional or nuclear-capable weapon.
Another device that is being developed is a hypersonic glider warhead – codenamed ‘Avangard’ (Advance Guard) – deployed by a ballistic missile. Russia first tested one back in 2004 and has made significant progress since, Putin said. The glider can fly in the atmosphere at speeds of over Mach 20 and can withstand a heat of up to 2,000C (3,632F) generated by air friction.
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