(National Sentinel) Stand-off: The Russian military is preparing to field a new hypersonic missile impervious to U.S. missile defenses by 2020, as the U.S. races to catch up and field its own capability.

It’s not known if the new system — Avangard — will carry nuclear or conventional warheads but, experts say, it’s capable of inflicting a lot of destruction.

CNBC notes:

A Russian weapon the U.S. is currently unable to defend against will be ready for war by 2020, according to sources with direct knowledge of American intelligence reports.

The sources, who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity, said Russia successfully tested the weapon, which could carry a nuclear warhead, twice in 2016. The third known test of the device, called a hypersonic glide vehicle, was carried out in October 2017 and resulted in a failure when the platform crashed seconds before striking its target.

Earlier this year in his annual address to the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin bragged that his country’s nuclear arsenal was “invincible.”

Hypersonic glide vehicles are next-generation weapons designed to race to their targets at speeds of up to Mach 6 or Mach 7 — much faster than current missile defenses can respond or target.

The vehicle is designed to sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile, CNBC notes. Once launched, it uses aerodynamic forces to cruise on top of the atmosphere.

Russia’s hypersonic glide vehicle is said to have been under development for 30 years.

[Related: Ballistic missile threat growing as potential adversaries upgrade their nuclear and conventional forces: U.S. intel]

“These kinds of boost-glide vehicles attack the gaps in our missile defense system,” Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC.

“There’s no time like the present to modify our current missile defense posture,” Karako noted further, saying it was “unfortunate that we have let Russia come this far.”

U.S. intelligence believes Russia will conduct a fourth test of its hypersonic glide vehicle sometime this summer. Such tests are expensive.

China is also developing a hypersonic vehicle and has conducted several tests in recent years. Beijing is also believed to be ahead of the U.S. in hypersonic development.

Keen to this advanced development by U.S. adversaries, the Pentagon signed a contract worth nearly $1 billion to defense contractor Lockheed Martin in April to speed development of a hypersonic glide vehicle.

The Washington Post noted:

The contract is a major step forward for the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon program, an Air Force-led effort that is the second of two U.S. efforts to develop a hyper-sonic weapon. The other is a project jointly managed by the Air Force and DARPA, the Defense Department’s weapons development agency, called the Tactical Boost Glide program.

Both are part of a program to develop advanced prototypes that can later be fielded on U.S. jets.

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