Flashpoints | Security

Russia’s Avangard Hypersonic Warhead Officially Enters Service

The Russian Strategic Missile Force’s first Avangard-equipped regiment was officially declared combat ready today.

Franz-Stefan Gady
Russia’s Avangard Hypersonic Warhead Officially Enters Service
Credit: Youtube Still Shot

Russia’s Strategic Missile Force has stood up its first regiment armed with intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) fitted with a new hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) in the Orenburg region in the south Urals on December 27, according to a statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).

“The Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, Army General Sergei Shoigu, reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the deployment of the first missile regiment armed with the latest strategic missile system with the Avangard hypersonic [glide vehicle] at 10:00am Moscow time December 27, 2019,” a December 27 statement reads.

The MoD did not specify the regiment’s name or numerical designation, but it is thought to be the 13th regiment of the Dombarovskiy (Red Banner) missile division based in the Orenburg region.

The regiment has reportedly received two retrofitted UR-100NUTTkH (NATO reporting name: SS-19 Stiletto) ICBMs armed with one Avangard hypersonic boost-glide warhead each. According to earlier reports, the 13th regiment is expected to eventually receive four more SS-19 ICBMs fitted with Avangard warheads.

The Avangard HGV has reportedly been integrated with the SS-19 ICBM as a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV). Russia’s Strategic Missile Force has up to twenty SS-19s operationally deployed. Its entire SS-19 arsenal consists of 30 missiles.

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A second regiment also composed of six SS-19s armed with the Avangard HGV will be stood up by 2027, according to Russian media reports. In March 2018, Vladimir Putin claimed that the Avangard HGV had already entered serial production. Russia is expected to build up to 60 warheads.

According to U.S. intelligence estimates, the Avangard hypersonic HGV was not expected to achieve initial operational capability until 2020. Notably, the activation of the first Avangard-equipped regiment took place without additional flight tests. As I reported previously, two flight tests are known to have taken place in 2017 and 2018:

In December 2018, Russia test launched an [ICBM] carrying the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle (…). The test was deemed a success. A previous test launch of the Avangard HGV, carried out in October 2017, ended in failure.

No other tests have been publicly revealed. The Avangard is designed solely for a strategic nuclear delivery role and has been specifically developed in response to advances in U.S. ballistic missile defenses. The warhead can reportedly maneuver in the upper atmosphere at speeds in excess of Mach 5.

Russia has shown the Avangard HGV to U.S. inspectors in November 2019. According to Moscow, the new hypersonic warhead is accountable under the New START Treaty as it is carried by the SS-19 ICBM.