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Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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Russia says its Maneuverable Hypersonic Nuclear Warhead is Ready for War

Too fast

(Photo : TASS) Russia's Yu-74 ultra-maneuverable Hypersonic Glide Vehicle .

Russia claims its Yu-74, a hypersonic glider that can be equipped with a thermonuclear warhead, is ready for action now. The new ICBM intended to carry it won't be ready until 2020 at the earliest, however.

Russian media says this ultra-maneuverable Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) can bridge the 2,500 kilometer air distance from Moscow to London in 13 minutes and can penetrate NATO's missile defense system. The Yu-74 is also capable of penetrating the U.S. THAAD missile defense system.

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Its ability to pierce western defenses is due mostly to its speed. The Yu-74 tears through the air at Mach 10 (12,400 km/h).

Once released into orbit, the Yu-74 zooms back to Earth towards its target and assisted by gravity attains hypersonic speed. A Yu-74 glider can be equipped with a nuclear warhead, electronic warfare systems or false target simulators.

This hypersonic nuclear warhead will serve as the payload of Russia's new RS-28 Sarmat (or Sarmatian) SS-X-30 intercontinental ballistic missile. Russian sources claim this ICBM can carry up to 24 Yu-74s but western sources say a Sarmat's payload can consist of 10 heavy warheads or 15 lighter ones, or a combination of warheads.

In 2014, Russian military sources announced the Sarmat is expected to become operational this year and ready for deployment by 2020. The Sarmat might arm Russia's entire fixed land-based nuclear arsenal by 2021, replacing the R-36 ICBM that has been the backbone of Russia's nuclear forces since 1974.

Russia has made hypersonic weapons a defense priority, especially with the opening of NATO's first defensive missile shield in Romania. When completed, NATO's missile defense system will extend from Greenland in the far north of Europe to the Azores Islands in the south. Another missile defense system will become operational in Poland by 2018.

In response, Moscow last month revealed plans to reactivate one of its old Dnepr missile bases near the Black Sea. The base will be equipped to intercept ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles out to a range of 3,200 kilometers.

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