Russia is testing new tech for its ICBMs that could defeat NATO missile defences

  • Russia says it test fired an ICBM with technology that could defeat Western missile defence 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 defence 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 modernising 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 defence systems, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

“During the tests, specialists obtained experimental data that will be used in the interests of developing effective means of overcoming anti-ballistic missile defence and equipping the perspective grouping of Russian ballistic missiles with them,” the Defence 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 defences.

Topol M test fire Dec. 28, 2017Минобороны России/YouTubeA screenshot of the launch of a RS-12M ICBM at the Kapustin Yar range in the Astrakhan Oblast, Russia.

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 manoeuvrable – 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 defences, 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.

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