- Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
- Russia says it test fired an ICBM with technology that could defeat Western missile defense systems.
- The launch was the second such test Russia conducted in 2017, and the missile could have been equipped with hypersonic re-entry vehicles.
- Russia has been very vocal about its disapproval of American missile defense systems in Europe and Asia.
The Russian Strategic Missile Forces, the branch of the military responsible for Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, says they test-fired an RS-12M Topol ICBM in the closing days of 2017.
The firing took place at the Kapustin Yar practice range in the southern Astrakhan Region, just north west of the border with Kazakhstan.
Russia has been in the process of modernizing and revamping its ICBM arsenal and has inducted 80 new ICBMs in last five years, according to The Diplomat. From 2012-2017, Russia conducted over forty successful ICBM tests.
Notably, the RS-12M Topol missile was equipped with “perspective armament” that would allow it to overcome missile defense systems, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.
“During the tests, specialists obtained experimental data that will be used in the interests of developing effective means of overcoming anti-ballistic missile defense and equipping the perspective grouping of Russian ballistic missiles with them,” the Defense Ministry said, according to state-run media outlet TASS.
The launch was the second such test in 2017, and suggests that Russia is serious about finding ways to counter American anti-ballistic missile defenses.
- Минобороны России/YouTube
Based off of previous tests, the technology on the missile could be a type of hypersonic glide vehicle. An HGV, as it’s known, is a payload carrying capsule on the top of an ICBM that separates from the missile after it has reached its highest altitude, re-enters the atmosphere, and flies or glides to the target where it detonates.
What makes an HGV’s so threatening is that it can move incredibly fast (possibly up to a mile a second) and fly so low that it could avoid detection from both land and space-based tracking systems.
Additionally, they are also maneuverable – being able to change direction and glide to targets. This means that an HGV does not have a predictable flight path, allowing it to keep its target a secret until the last few seconds before impact.
Russia has been very vocal about its objection to American deployments of anti-ballistic missile defenses, like Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Ashore. The system is already deployed in Romania, is in the process of being built in Poland, and was just recently purchased by Japan.
The US is also testing hypersonic weapons itself – mainly hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs).
“Why do they need such weapons?” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with top military officials in December 2017. “I believe they want it for one thing – blackmail – as it creates an illusion of a possible strike with impunity.”
“They are searching for some violations on our part while consistently infringing on it themselves,” Putin said.
China tested an HGV in November that could be ready for operational use, meaning they are no longer in the developing stage, which is where Russia and the US are currently.