Within days of NATO's announcement that its European antimissile shield is now "provisionally operational," Russia has claimed to have tested a new type of intercontinental missile that can outwit the new missile defenses.
The new missile, which some Russian media said is named the "Avante-garde," was successfully fired on Wednesday from Plesetsk cosmodrome in northwestern Russia, and reportedly hit its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula, several thousand miles away, a few minutes later. The Russian Defense Ministry says the new weapon has a maximum range of about 10,000 miles and can carry a bigger payload than any previous Russian missile.
"This new intercontinental ballistic missile is intended to strengthen the capabilities of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, including its capabilities for overcoming antimissile defenses," Defense Ministry spokesman Vadim Koval told journalists.
"The missile was built with maximum use of existing components with new elements and technologies developed during the production of fifth-generation missile systems, in order to shorten its development time," he added.
Analysts say the new missile is probably a modification of the Topol-M, a modern, mobile ICBM that is well known in the West and is accounted for under the terms of the new START accord signed by US and Russian leaders two years ago. That treaty stipulates that both sides have the right to modernize their missile delivery systems as long as they remain under a ceiling of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.
The new missile reportedly can boost into space faster than previous models thanks to a powerful new fuel, which would presumably enable it to outrun any ground-launched interceptors from NATO's European antimissile system.
The independent Interfax agency quoted a retired Russian missile commander, Gen. Viktor Yesin, as saying the new weapon was specifically designed as part of Russia's efforts to counter NATO's antimissile system, which is slated to become fully operational by 2018, as well as other regional shields being contemplated by the Pentagon.
"This is one of the technical means Russia’s political and military leadership has developed in response to America’s global system of missile defense," Yesin was quoted as saying.
Another potential Russian reaction is to deploy short range Iskander-M ground-to-ground missiles in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad and around Russia's periphery, in order to be able to strike quickly against US missile defense systems.
Earlier this month, Russia's top general, Nikolai Makarov, even threatened to launch a preemptive strike against NATO's antimissile shield if it appears to undermine Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent.
Russian press reports suggest that the new missile is not only faster in the boost-phase than all its predecessors, but that it may also be able to maneuver during its flight in order to baffle enemy radars and dodge interceptors.
Media reports also say that a previous attempt to test the new missile on Sept. 27 failed, when it suffered an undisclosed malfunction and crashed just 10 miles from its launch site.
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