Russia's New Nuclear Missiles Squeeze Response Time

Mon, 21 Mar 2022 09:30:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

As treaties end, Russia focuses on hypersonic weapons that could “tighten the noose” on current U.S...

It is being republished because of Russia's claim, reported this past weekend, that it has used hypersonic missiles for the first time, striking targets in Ukraine with its Kinzhal missiles.

Both the United States and Russia last month pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War-era pact that prohibited land-based ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 311 and 3,420 miles.

New START limits the number of missiles the U.S. and Russia deploy, with an eye toward reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world.

As tensions rise, both countries are looking to modernize their nuclear weapons, and Russia in particular is teasing terrifying new missiles that-if they work-could bypass the U.S.'s elaborate system of ground- and satellite-based defenses.

"The Russians really hate missile defense," says Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif. "They really don't like the possibility that they might be outmatched technologically. So there's a whole battery of Russian programs-from the doomsday torpedoes, to nuclear-powered cruise missiles, to hypersonic reentry vehicles, to anti-satellite weapons."

The most impressive, according to nuclear experts, were the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, the nuclear-powered cruise missile Skyfall and the RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile.

These three are the crown jewels in Russia's aggressive new nuclear policy, capable-according to Putin-of circumventing U.S. missile defense systems.

"The missile is gliding, so it actually slows down quite a bit and makes a much better target for missiles defenses," Lewis says.

The Sarmat's short boost phase exemplifies what really makes these missiles so terrifying: time.

The reviews also teased the creation of new sensors, floated the idea of turning the F-35-the new U.S. fighter jet-into an ICBM killer, and suggested developing space-based sensors to augment American missile defense systems.

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