KEY POINTS

  • MiG-31 fighters already carry the weapons and the first glide vehicle will be deployed within days
  • Putin claimed Russian military superiority for the first time in modern history
  • Hypersonic weapons can travel at Mach 5 and hit both land and sea targets, evading defense systems

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told military brass Russia has become the first country in the world to deploy hypersonic weapons, giving it military superiority over the United States for the first time.

“Now we have a situation that is unique in modern history when they are trying to catch up to us,” he said. “Not a single country has hypersonic weapons, let alone hypersonic weapons of intercontinental range.”

Hypersonic weapons have speeds that can top Mach 5 (about 3,800 mph) and can maneuver during flight to avoid modern ballistic missile defense systems to deliver either nuclear or conventional payloads.

The Associated Press quoted Putin as saying the first Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle will go into service before the end of the year. Air-launched Kinzhal hypersonic missiles already have been deployed, he said, calling them the “weapon of the future, capable of penetrating both existing and prospective missile defense systems.”

Putin first mentioned the weapons systems in 2018.

The Kinzhal have been aboard MiG-31 fighter jets since last year. They fly 10 times the speed of sound and are capable of hitting targets on both land and sea.

U.S. officials have said the United States is still two years away of deploying such weapons although Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said development is a priority. The military also is considering space-based interception systems.

Putin called on the U.S. to avoid deploying missiles near the Russian border in Europe and the Pacific, following the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August. Putin, in turn, offered to follow suit if the U.S. agreed.

"This year, the U.S. essentially destroyed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and that's why we need to monitor possible deployments of such missiles around the world," Putin said.

The U.S. blamed Russian violations as the reason it was pulling out of the INF Treaty. Putin called that a “made up … excuse.”

China also is developing hypersonic weapons.

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