On March 1, 2018 the world learned of Russia’s new weapons systems, said to be based on new physical principles. Addressing the Federal Assembly, Putin explained how they came to be: in 2002 the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. At the time, the Russians declared that they will be forced to respond, and were basically told “Do whatever you want.”
And so they did, developing new weapons that no anti-ballistic missile system can ever hope to stop. The new Russian weapons include one that is already on combat duty (Kinzhal), one that is being readied for mass production (Avangard) and several that are currently being tested (Poseidon, Burevestnik, Peresvet, Sarmat). Their characteristics, briefly, are as follows:
- Kinzhal: a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile that flies at Mach 10 (7700 miles per hour) and can destroy both ground installations and ships.
- Avangard: a maneuverable hypersonic payload delivery system for intercontinental ballistic missiles that flies at better than Mach 20 (15300 miles per hour). It has a 740-mile range and can carry a nuclear charge of up to 300 kilotons.
- Poseidon: an autonomous nuclear-powered torpedo with unlimited range that can travel at a 3000-foot depth maintaining a little over 100 knots.
- Burevestnik: a nuclear-powered cruise missile that flies at around 270 miles per hour and can stay in the air for 24 hours, giving it a 6000-mile range.
- Peresvet: a mobile laser complex that can blind drones and satellites, knocking out space and aerial reconnaissance systems.
- Sarmat: a new heavy intercontinental missile that can fly arbitrary suborbital courses (such as over the South Pole) and strike arbitrary points anywhere on the planet. Because it does not follow a predictable ballistic trajectory it is impossible to intercept.
The initial Western reaction to this announcement was an eerie silence. A few people tried to convince anyone who would listen that this was all bluff and computer animation, and that these weapons systems did not really exist. (The animation was of rather low quality, one might add, probably because Russian military types couldn’t possibly imagine that slick graphics, such as what the Americans waste their money on, would make Russia any safer.) But eventually the new weapons systems were demonstrated to work and US intelligence services confirmed their existence.