This year, the Strategic Missile Forces will receive the first serial missile systems with the Avangard hypersonic gliding warhead. The adoption of this system will become a worthy final of a long and complex project implemented by domestic science and industry. Although most of the data on the "Avangard" and its development remains closed, from time to time there were different data on the progress of the domestic hypersonic program. This allows you to roughly imagine how the creation of a fundamentally new weapon went.
It is known that the first work on hypersonic topics in our country began several decades ago. Experimental aircraft of various types were built and tested. The development of a new model intended for use in the Strategic Missile Forces, most likely, began no later than the end of the nineties.
In February 2004, the UR-100N UTTH intercontinental ballistic missile was launched at the Baikonur test site. It soon became known that this ICBM was carrying a new payload in the form of some kind of aircraft capable of developing hypersonic speed and maneuvering during flight. Foreign analysts came up with the assumption of testing a warhead with an index of 15Yu70.
Later, by the end of the decade, new designations began to appear in open sources, allegedly related to a hypersonic program. The whole project of the new weapon was called "4202", and the hypersonic aircraft was designated as 15Yu71 or simply Yu-71. Later, similar designations were found in open official documents.
According to various sources, various enterprises of the rocket, space and defense industries took part in the work on the topic "4202". The leading role was played by NPO Mashinostroeniya (Reutov). Since the end of the 2000s, the participating enterprises have been modernizing their production facilities, possibly associated with a hypersonic program.
"4202" on trials
What kind of aircraft was tested in 2004 is unknown, but further events suggest that these were not tests within the framework of the "4202" project. Another similar piece of news came in 2010. Then the domestic media reported on the testing of ICBMs with a fundamentally new warhead. However, this time, too, there were no details, which did not allow us to speak of the existence of a modern hypersonic aircraft.
It is believed that the first known test launch under the 4202 program took place at the end of 2011. Then the UR-100N UTTKh missile from the Baikonur test site sent its load to the Kura test site. The official purpose of the firing was to test new combat equipment capable of overcoming missile defense systems. In September 2013, another similar launch could take place with similar goals. According to sources in domestic and foreign media, in 2015-16. two or three more tests of the 4202 / 15Yu71 / Yu-71 product took place.
During this period, interesting assumptions about the origin of the new project appeared in foreign sources. Thus, the opinion was expressed that the purpose of the "4202" program was initially to create a new warhead for promising ICBMs, but later it was expanded. At the same time, the first versions appeared about the direct connection of the Yu-71 project with the promising RS-26 "Rubezh" ICBMs and the RS-28 "Sarmat".
It should be recalled that until last year, data on the domestic hypersonic program were fragmentary. There were only a limited number of official reports, and other information came from not always reliable sources or was the result of studying the available amount of information. As a result, the public was able to roughly understand the goals and objectives of the new project, the main pros and cons, etc., however, the lack of more accurate information and main characteristics imposed certain limitations.
It is now known that the new missile system is called Avangard, but in the past this name has raised some questions. For the first time such a name sounded in mid-2011, the leadership of the Ministry of Defense talked about the upcoming rearmament of the Strategic Missile Forces, and in this context a certain product "Avangard" was mentioned.
Later, a version appeared and spread in the media and on specialized resources, according to which the projects "Avangard" and "Rubezh" have the most direct connection - to the extent that these codes denote the same development.
In 2011-17. at Russian and foreign test sites, the promising Rubezh / Avangard / Avangard-Rubezh complex was tested. As reported, these were launches of "conventional" ICBMs with standard combat equipment. It is noteworthy that there was no connection between Avangard and the 4202 program at that time. However, flights on the "internal" route Kapustin Yar - Sary-Shagan could hint at the presence of certain features that require concealment from foreign intelligence services.
As always, the lack of open information led to the emergence of the most daring versions. Among other things, suggestions were made about testing a fundamentally new warhead or promising air defense breakthroughs. An opinion was also expressed about testing hypersonic aircraft, but it was not very popular.
Surprise from the president
On March 1 last year, as part of his message to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin for the first time officially disclosed information about several promising weapons. Among these products was the Avangard missile system.
It turned out that this name is a complex that includes an ICBM and a hypersonic gliding warhead. Such weapons have a number of advantages over missiles with conventional warheads and make it possible to more effectively solve the same tasks. In fact, all the advantages are provided by the highest flight speed: it makes timely detection difficult and makes interception almost impossible.
Soon it became known from official sources that Avangard products would enter service together with carriers of the UR-100N UTTH type. In the future, this role will be given to the promising RS-28 "Sarmat" ICBMs. The RS-26 "Rubezh" rocket was no longer mentioned in the context of hypersonic weapons, since it was abandoned several years ago for reasons of economy.
At the end of 2018, Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov revealed some details of the Avangard project. So, it turned out that four years earlier, this complex was under the threat of closure due to serious difficulties in its creation. However, the industry was given the opportunity to continue the program, and this led to well-known results.
On December 26, the next, already the third test launch of the Avangard system took place. The characteristics have been confirmed, and this allows you to decide on the adoption of the complex for service. At the same time, the contract for the serial production of new weapons, as it turned out, was signed back in 2017, but until a certain time it was kept secret.
Plans for the future
After last year's speech by the President, official sources began regularly publishing various news about the progress of the Avangard project, and now the situation with the available information is much better than in the recent past. The timing of the future deployment of such systems, their operators, etc. are already known.
Already this year, the first Avangard complexes will be put on alert in the 13th Orenburg Red Banner Missile Division, and in the future, the rearmament of other formations is possible. In the near future, hypersonic warheads will operate with UR-100N UTTH missiles, and in the early twenties, a new version of the complex based on the Sarmat ICBM is expected to be put into service.
Thus, one of the most daring and ambitious projects of recent decades has been successfully completed. A fundamentally new weapon has been brought to mass production and should soon go to the troops. Due to the special characteristics and capabilities, the new weapon will be able to attack designated targets without fear of enemy air defense and missile defense. This will make Avangard a unique means of strategic deterrence or retaliation.
Despite the early start of operation, Avangard remains largely secret. The situation is no better with information about the past stages of the project, when it bore the names "4202", 15Yu71 and Yu-71. Perhaps, in the future, new information about the progress of the creation of this weapon will be made publicly available, and the country will be able to find out all the details, understand the complexity of the work, and also deserve to evaluate the work of the designers. For now, however, the necessary secrecy should be observed.