Russia is test-flying a new, hypersonic glide vehicle that follows the contrails of China’s WU-14, a delivery vehicle reportedly capable of carrying nuclear warheads at Mach 10 and less susceptible to U.S. anti-ballistic countermeasures.
Moscow has spent several years developing the new Yu-71 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), which was first test-flown in February, according to this month’s Jane’s Intelligence Review. It is part of an ongoing escalated effort by the Kremlin to overcome U.S. missile defenses, known as Project 4202.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to respond to a Washington Times request to comment on the new Russian HGV.
Unlike Moscow’s bold strategic bomber flights that have repeatedly penetrated the American Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), details about the Yu-71 has been cloaked in secrecy. Reports indicate the first test flight was unsuccessful after it was launched atop an SS-19 missile into space from the Dombarovsky base in Eastern Russia.
Project 4202 could turn out a limited number of glide vehicles armed with nuclear warheads by 2020, and up to 24 with new hypersonic payloads could be deployed at the Dombarovsky base between 2020 and 2025, the Intelligence Review said.
Reports indicate that by then, Russia could potentially deploy a new ICBM that could carry the Yu-71.
“A test launch from the Dombarovsky missile division site in February 2015 suggests that Russia is actively pursuing the development of a hypersonic glide vehicle that could potentially expand the long-range strike capabilities of its Strategic Rocket Forces,” Jane’s says.
Last year, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told state-run news that Moscow should prioritize manufacturing precision-guided hypersonic arms and pushed federation missile manufacturers to carry out rearmament efforts, “especially the tasks of mastering precision weapons and hypersonic technology.”
Hypersonic vehicles are more difficult to track than traditional ballistic targets because they possess unpredictable maneuverability and can fly up to 7,000 miles per hour. Moscow first began testing hypersonic weapons in the 1980s to respond to then-President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.
The U.S. is now developing its own advanced hypersonic missile as part of its conventional Prompt Global Strike program, a non-nuclear weapons system capable of striking specific targets worldwide within minutes.
But unlike the U.S. hypersonic missile program, which will deliver conventional warheads, “Russia appears to be considering the option of deploying its hypersonic system in a nuclear, as well as conventional, configuration,” Jane’s Report said.
The report says the “primary purpose is the development of a missile system that can effectively penetrate existing missile defense systems. … This would give Russia the ability to deliver a guaranteed small-scale strike against a target of choice; if coupled with an ability to penetrate missile defenses, Moscow would also retain the option of launching a successful single-missile attack.”
Jane’s Intelligence Review said Moscow may plan to use its hypersonic weapons as a pressure point in arms control talks with the United States to limit U.S. missile defenses and its Prompt Global Strike program, which is designed to deliver a precision-guided conventional weapons strike anywhere within the world within one hour.
Prompt Global Strike vehicles are not limited by the 2010 New START arms treaty with Russia.
Washington’s relationship with Moscow cooled off after the Russian Federation annexed the Crimea last year and continued arming of militant Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Although details have been kept secret, Russian officials recently boasted the existence of the Yu-71 to the Russian press, presumably to compete with China’s recent announcement that it conducted a fourth test flight of its Wu-14 HGV earlier this month.
Hypersonic flight was first used in World War II by Nazi Germany and later by the U.S. in its developmental stages of rocket science. It has since been achieved by both American and Russian space shuttle orbiters, the new North American X-15 rocket plane, Apollo command module and rocket-powered scram jets such as the NASA X-43.