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Russia's new hypersonic missile system may help extend key arms treaty

By Ren Qi in Moscow | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-02 09:35

Russia's recent demonstration of its Avangard hypersonic missile system to a delegation from the United States may have improved the chances that the two countries will extend a major arms treaty, experts said.

US specialists visited Russia for two days last week to inspect the Avangard, a strategic intercontinental ballistic missile system equipped with a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle.

The missile system, one of the several new weapons announced in March by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is highly maneuverable, which allows it easily to evade missile defense systems.

The Tass News Agency said the Avangard is equipped with a gliding warhead that can move at hypersonic speeds through dense atmospheric layers. It can also maneuver at the same time, avoiding antimissile defenses, making its trajectory unpredictable and improving its ability to hit protected facilities.

A goodwill gesture

Russia's Defense Ministry said that the missile system will be incorporated into combat duty this month.

The ministry has released a video of the launch during the tests of the system. The Kremlin announced that the missile has hit a target at a distance of 6,000 kilometers.

It was the first time that the Russian military has presented the Avangard to US inspectors, the ministry said in a statement. The demonstration aimed to help preserve the "viability and effectiveness" of the US-Russian Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, better known as the New START Treaty, according to Dmitry Stefanovich, an expert from the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow.

He said showing the Avangard to the US inspectors can be seen as a goodwill gesture from Russia in response to a US request that all new means of delivering nuclear weapons be included in any extension of the treaty.

"There were very different opinions among Russian and the American experts on the possibility of including a missile system with a hypersonic glider warhead in the New START Treaty. However, the move from Russia made it possible," Stefanovich said.

Stefanovich noted that if the US inspectors were satisfied by what they saw, the chances of the New START being extended will improve.

Gary Samore, who was White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction from 2009 to 2013, agreed with the Russian expert.

"The new Avangard hypersonic warhead is launched by a traditional ballistic missile, so it will count as a 'strategic delivery system' under the New START Treaty," Samore said.

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