Russia’s Federal Security Service reportedly suspects that plans for two of Russia’s new, game-changing hypersonic missiles have been leaked to Western spies.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Thursday released new footage of two of its most revolutionary weapons systems: a hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” nuclear-capable, anti-surface missile and the Avangard, a maneuverable ballistic missile reentry vehicle specifically made to outfox the US missile defenses arrayed around Europe.
The Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, now suspects these systems, each of which cope with the challenges of flight at about 10 times the speed of sound, have been leaked to the West.
“It was established that the leak came from TsNIIMash employees,” a source close to the FSB investigation told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, as the BBC noted. TsNIIMash is a Russian state-owned defense and space company.
“A lot of heads will roll, and for sure this case won’t end just with a few dismissals,” the source said.
The hypersonic arms race
The US, China, and Russia are all locked in a heated arms race to create weapons that can travel many times the speed of sound, defeating today’s missile-defense systems.
China and Russia frequently test their weapons and have even fielded a few systems ahead of the US, but their focus is nuclear, while the US seeks a more technically difficult goal.
With nuclear weapons, like the kind Russia and China want on their hypersonics, accuracy doesn’t matter. But the US wants hypersonics for precision-strike missiles, meaning it has the added challenge of trying to train a missile raging at mach 10 to hit within a few feet of a target.
Given that nuclear weapons represent the highest level of conflict imaginable, believed in most cases to be a world-ending scenario, the US’s vision for precision-guided hypersonic conventional weapons that no missile defenses can block would seem to have more applications. The US’s proposed hypersonics could target specific people and buildings, making them useful for strikes like the recent ones in Syria.
But if Russia’s hypersonic know-how has somehow slipped into Western hands, as the FSB has reportedly indicated, then its comparative advantage could be even weaker.