Observers say that’s unlikely.
Russia’s new Avangard intercontinental ballistic missile will be ready for deployment as soon as 2019, Russian state media outlet TASS reports. Strategic Missile Force Commander Colonel-General Sergei Karakayev said the highly maneuverable ICBM, which was first tested in 2004, will be ready for combat duty next year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his enthusiasm for the missile, which he officially unveiled in March. He claims it can reach Mach 20, which is similar to the U.S.’s Mach-23 Minuteman III. But more significantly, Russian reports say, the Avangard pairs an ICBM engine with a unique glide vehicle, allowing it to out-maneuver anti-missile systems. In June, Putin called the Avangard “an absolute weapon” and contended that no country would develop anything similar “in the coming years.”
The U.S. is also pursuing advanced hypersonic weapons and countermeasures to them. But their research is behind that of both China and Russia, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The report warns that Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons will “defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities” — endorsing, in a way, Putin’s claim that such weapons are effectively invincible.
Last month, however, CNBC reported that despite Putin’s push for rapid development, Russia was having difficulty obtaining carbon fiber materials for the Avangard’s production. Still, CNBC reported, the missile would be operational in 2020. The new TASS report made no mention of these difficulties.
“2019 seems overly optimistic. The Russian announcement is advancing their desired state of affairs as the actual,” said Michael Koffman, a research scientist at CNA.