Avangard [Vanguard] – Russian hypersonic glide vehicle [review]

Awangard is a stratospheric glide missile developed in Russia that is used with ICBMs of the Strategic Missile Forces of Russia.


The concept for a suborbital stratospheric glide missile was devised in the 1930s by the Austrian engineer Eugen Sänger. During the Cold War, this concept was picked up by the United States and the Soviet Union several times. However, implementation failed due to technical feasibility.

The origin of Project Awangard is unknown, but it may be in the Spiral and BOR programs. In any case, increasing efforts were made in the Soviet Union from the mid-1980s to develop such a gliding missile. A first series of tests with four rocket launches took place between 1990 and 1992. After that, the program stood still for years. A rocket launch took place in 2001, 2004 and 2011. All tests carried out so far have failed.

From 2014, the project was pushed forward. As part of the development project now called Project 4202, four further test starts were carried out in 2014, 2015 and 2016. At this time, the designations 15YU-70, 15YU-71 and 15YU-74 for the gliding missiles appeared for the first time. According to official information, three of these four tests were successful. According to statements by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the test starts were made from the Dombarovsky missile base in the southern Urals. The Awangard glider missiles were each launched with modified UR-100N ICBMs.

The Russia's Avangard Hypersonic Missile Systems Will Go on Experimental Combat Duty
Photo credit: MoD of Russian Federation

Afterwards, the gliding missiles were directed at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere at 20 times the speed of sound into the Kura missile test site around 6000 km away on the Kamchatka peninsula, where they hit with great precision. Another test in October 2017 ended in failure. After a successful test in 2018, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation declared the Awangard glide missile ready for use in December 2019. Accordingly, the 13th missile division in Jasny was equipped with two modified UR-100N ICBMs with Awangard gliding missiles.

Function and technology

Awangard is a stratospheric glide missile that is brought into a low earth orbit (LEO) by ICBMs. It is then decoupled from the rocket and sinks to the upper layers of the atmosphere. On this it glides on an undulating trajectory towards the target area. Once there, it enters the earth’s atmosphere and flies towards the target.

Little is known about Awangard, although the information available comes from Russian state media or from analyzes by Western armaments experts. Awangard uses at least two different glide missiles: the 15YU-71 type with a conventional warhead and the smaller 15YU-74 with a nuclear warhead. Depending on the source, the explosive force of this warhead should be 150 kT or 2 MT.

On the computer animations presented by Russia, the gliding missile has a triangular fuselage geometry with an estimated length of 5.4 m. For the launch of the Awangard, Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces use modified UR-100N ICBMs (GURWO index: RS-18, NATO code name: SS-19 Stiletto). These modified missiles are designated UR-100N-UTTCh or A35-71, with the entire system also being designated 15A35P. In the future, it should also be possible to equip the RS-28 “Sarmat” ICBM, which is currently under development, with Awangard gliding missiles.

The UR-100N-UTTCh ICBMs are two-stage rockets with liquid rocket engines. Instead of the re-entry vehicle (also known as the bus) for the MIRV re-entry vehicle, these missiles are equipped with a single Awangard glider. Due to the size of the gliding missile, an enlarged payload fairing had to be developed for the rocket. Since the rockets modified in this way are significantly longer than the original model, they must be stationed in the rocket silos of the much larger R-36M ICBMs (GURWO index: RS-20A, NATO code name: SS-18 Satan).

The UR-100N-UTTCh rocket will transport Awangard to a lower earth orbit (LEO). Since ICBMs accelerate strongly and reach high speeds, the UR-100N-UTTCh missile ensures a very high initial speed for the gliding missile. So achieved z. For example, the LGM-118 Peacekeeper has a burnout speed of over 24,000 km / h. The gliding missile is decoupled from the rocket at an altitude of around 100 km. The gliding missile now follows the given ballistic trajectory and then sinks at a flat angle to the upper layers of the atmosphere. On this it glides on an undulating trajectory towards the target area.

According to Russian information, the gliding missile should be able to maneuver and perform evasive maneuvers. In this flight phase, the gliding missile should reach speeds of Mach 20-27. The frictional heat and the compression create hot plasma on the surface of the missile. This can reach temperatures of 2,000–2,500 degrees Celsius (° C). Such high temperatures make a heat shield indispensable. According to Russian information, this required the development of special composite materials that can withstand these temperatures.

How the missile is controlled and steered has not been published. Since the missile moves close to the earth, the use of an inertial navigation system is conceivable. Since the missile is enclosed in ionized plasma, it is almost impossible for it to send and receive electromagnetic waves. Control by means of a satellite navigation system can be excluded. However, remote control via ultra-short wave would be possible. The attitude control and steering is probably done with control nozzles. There is also speculation about a drive with a scramjet engine.

At a distance of about 500 km from the target, the gliding missile begins to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. When flying through the earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed, the gliding missile converts a lot of kinetic energy into heat and continues to heat up. The speed of the missile is reduced to about Mach 14-15. The control in this last phase of flight is probably done with control surfaces.

According to Russian information, intercontinental ranges are to be achieved with Awangard. Its maneuverability is said to give Awangard an advantage over conventional ICBMs. Due to its indirect trajectory, its actual target area for missile defense systems is hardly calculable. According to the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), John E. Hyten, there is so far no defense against such weapon systems.

Strategic task

In March 2018, Awangard was presented by Russian President Vladimir Putin along with five other new types of weapon systems, which he described as “technical breakthroughs and guarantors of Russia’s security for several decades”. From the Russian point of view, they are intended to secure the country’s second strike capability and maintain the nuclear balance, which Russia has perceived as threatened since the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty and the global expansion of US missile defense systems.

According to Western armaments experts, this presentation was “not a real sensation”, as knowledge of the Russian development of hypersonic weapons had been around for a long time.

TypeHypersonic glide vehicle
Place of originRussian Federation
In service27 December 2019
Used byStrategic Missile Forces
Mass~2 tonnes (4,400 lb)
Length5.4 m
Blast yield0.8 – 2 Mt
Maximum speedMach 20-27
Launch platformICBM