Russia’s Highly Maneuverable Avangard Hypersonic Missile Impossible To Intercept, Expert Says Over New US, Japan Pact

Japan and the United States will conduct extensive joint missile technology research to intercept hypersonic glide missiles deployed by China and Russia, reported Asia Nikkei on December 4. 

Russia has already deployed Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), while China is said to have started using the DF-17, a ballistic missile capable of delivering an HGV warhead.

According to the report, Japan’s Defense Ministry will begin developing an anti-missile interceptor that can function at altitudes beyond current anti-missile defenses in 2023. 

Tokyo requires Washington’s aid in developing technology that will enable rockets to alter flight trajectories, allowing them to zero in on maneuvering hypersonic targets during their ultra-high-speed approach. 

If the cooperation is successful, it is anticipated that the interceptor missiles will be installed on Japan’s two Aegis air and missile defense system-equipped destroyers, which are scheduled to be put into service in 2027 and 2028, respectively.

Avangard hypersonic missile systems – Russian MOD

Earlier this year, it was first reported that Japan plans to increase collaboration with the US on research into counter-hypersonic weapons. 

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, confirmed in January that an agreement had been drawn up on R&D in emerging technologies, such as AI, directed energy weapons, quantum computing, space weaponry, and countering hypersonic missiles.

Japan’s ballistic missile defense system is divided into two sections. The first line of defense is the SM-3 interceptor missile fired from Aegis ships at sea. It aims to take down ballistic missiles beyond the atmosphere.

If the SM-3s are unsuccessful, Patriot PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles on the ground will try to bring the target down as it reenters the atmosphere at an altitude of 20 kilometers or less. The latest PAC-3 version is believed to be able to attack HGVs shortly before they strike a target, but because it is ground-based, its range of protection is limited. 

The news regarding Japanese-US cooperation follows reports from last month that Tokyo intends to modify its current Type-03 intermediate-range guided missile air defense systems to intercept hypersonic missiles.

The missile systems, which were developed in the 1990s and entered service in 2003, have an effective range of 50 kilometers, a speed of Mach 2.5, and a high-explosive warhead that is activated through a proximity fuse.

Washington And Tokyo Will Not Be Able To Counter The Russian Avangard?

Despite the joint efforts of the US and Japan, a Russian military analyst predicted that neither Washington nor Tokyo would be able to create a missile that could take down the Russian Avangard hypersonic missile.

According to Russian military analyst Alexei Leonkov, who spoke to RIA Novosti, it would be challenging to intercept Avangard because there is no way to foresee Avangard’s flight path or manufacture a missile with a speed several dozen times faster than sound. 

Leonkov stated that “the Japanese media talk about the creation of technology for intercepting hypersonic gliding units, but the nuance is that the Avangard is a maneuvering block, that is, it is impossible to predict at what point in the airspace it will be in the next second. Now, this is an unsolvable task.”

 A display of a flight of the warhead of the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide weapon.
A display of a flight of the warhead of the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide weapon.

The expert pointed out that to test such anti-missile systems, the US and Japan would need to build an adequate target, namely a maneuverable hypersonic combat unit (similar to the Avangard).

But even the highly advanced military-industrial complex of these nations cannot construct something of that nature, he said.

He explained that there is a more straightforward solution to this issue: shoot “catch-up” so that the missile mimics the target’s movements and takes it down. But in this case, the anti-missile missile’s speed must be 1.5 times faster than the target to catch up with it and intercept it. 

“Our Avangard develops a speed of 27 Mach numbers; the US-Japanese rocket should fly faster than the speed of sound by 40 times – this is simply unrealistic,” he noted. 

The expert stated that American hypersonic missile samples could reach a top speed of 5-6 Mach.

On the other hand, according to its designers, the Avangard hypersonic combat unit may travel at a speed of 27 Mach, or approximately 33 thousand kilometers per hour, depending on the circumstances.

The first regiment, equipped with a strategic missile system with a hypersonic gliding cruise unit “Avangard,” joined the Yasnensky missile division in 2019.