Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday it had shown the country's new Avangard nuclear missile system to US inspectors for the first time, a move Moscow said proved a key arms control treaty was still effective.
Russia is due to deploy the Avangard system, a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile, next month. The system is one of a new arsenal of futuristic Russian weapons touted by President Vladimir Putin.
Once launched, it uses aerodynamics to sail on top of the atmosphere and is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound.
The Defense Ministry said a group of visiting US arms inspectors had been shown the Avangard system from November 24 - 26 under the auspices of the New START treaty, which came into effect in 2011.
The hypersonic glider will reportedly go into active service with the Red Banner Missile Division, which is based in the south Urals, next month.
It is capable of making sharp twists and turns on its way to targets, making it ‘absolutely invulnerable to any missile defense system,’ according to the Russian president.
Putin said its creation represented a technological breakthrough comparable to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite.
The New START treaty limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads the world´s two biggest nuclear powers can deploy to no more than 1,550 each.
The treaty, which is due to expire in 2021, also curbs the number of nuclear launchers and deployed land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers they can have.
Putin has said Moscow is ready to extend the pact, but has complained about what he sees as Washington's lack of interest.
President Donald Trump, who told Putin in 2017 he thought it a bad deal for the United States, will only decide next year whether or not to extend the treaty, US officials have said.
It was signed by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2010.
The US military has also been developing hypersonic weapons.
US weapons manufacturer Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are developing a hypersonic missile that can travel at 4,600mph with an engine made by a 3D printer.
The project will utilize Northrop's scramjet engine technology, which uses the vehicle's high speed to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion to enable sustained flight at hypersonic speeds.
Although the group hope to reach speeds of 4,600mph (Mach 5), the top speed could actually be 16,000mph (Mach 24) according to theoretical estimates, reports the Telegraph.
Thomas Bussing, Raytheon's advanced missile systems vice president, told the Telegraph they have 'a flight test planned for the near future where we will begin flying this particular class of weapon system'.
The Pentagon plans to spend billions of dollars on developing hypersonic weapons in the coming years as Russia and China work on similar capabilities.
Several weapons makers are competing against the Raytheon and Northrop team to develop the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, or HAWC program.
The program aims to produce a cruise missile for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force.
In 2004, NASA's experimental unmanned hypersonic aircraft X-43 reached 7,366mph (Mach 9.6) using a scramjet engine, setting the current record.
The new weapon is different to others before it because of its 3D-printed engine.
Northrop's John Wilcox told the Telegraph: 'There gets to be points where you have to weld additive manufactured parts, but right now even the full combustor [is printed].
'We think we're the first to ever 3D print a full combuster for an air-breathing scramjet engine. That's what's going to drive the affordability for air-breathing scramjet missiles.'
China, Russia and the United States have focused research and development on two classes of these weapons: hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missiles that fly at hypersonic speeds, according to U.S. and other Western weapons analysts and military officials.
Both types could carry conventional or nuclear payloads.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.