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Russian military says its new hypersonic intercontinental weapon 'Avangard' has become operational and is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound. According to analysts, Russia is World's first country to put into combat service intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with hypersonic weapons.

Hypersonic speed is one that greatly exceeds the speed of sound, often stated as starting at speeds of Mach 5 and above. Hypersonic weapons are those that can travel more than five times the speed of sound, or around one mile (1.6km) per second.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday had told that the nuclear-capable weapon would be deployed by late 2019. He touted the Avangard’s ability to evade U.S. missile defense systems. Russia showed the missile system to U.S. inspectors last month as part of a bilateral arms control treaty ahead of its deployment.

“This weapon of the future can penetrate both existing and any future missile defense systems,” Putin said at an annual defense meeting Tuesday.

Besides being hypersonic, Avangard is a unique weapon because of the fact that it can fly lower in the atmosphere, avoiding ballistic missile defense radars. It is mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile, allowing the warhead to be initially carried toward a target on a traditional piece of technology. But as it gets closer to the target, it is designed to fly at hypersonic speeds in an unpredictable path — making detection, tracking and interception extremely difficult.

According to Moscow officials, the weapon flies 27 times faster than the speed of sound. During the last known tests that took place in December 2018, the Avangard hit a practice target 6,000 kilometers away.

"This is the first intercontinental ballistic missile with the hypersonic glide vehicle in the world," Vasily Kashin, a senior research fellow at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, told AFP.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported that US Air Force has two hypersonic prototypes in testing and while development is on an accelerated pace, the weapons are not scheduled to be operational until 2022. Other parts of the Pentagon -- the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, have other hypersonic initiatives, but they are many years down the road.

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