WASHINGTON — Russia conducted another successful test of a hypersonic weapon system capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the Kremlin announced Wednesday.
Moscow's hypersonic glide vehicle, dubbed Avangard, has been in development for three decades and can travel at least five times the speed of sound, or about one mile per second.
The weapon, which the U.S. is currently unable to defend against, is designed to sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile. Once launched, it uses aerodynamic forces to sail on top of the atmosphere.
Sources familiar with U.S. intelligence reports assess that the Russian hypersonic glide vehicles are equipped with onboard countermeasures that are able to defeat even the most advanced missile-defense systems. The weapons are also highly maneuverable and, therefore, unpredictable, which makes them difficult to track.
What's more, in May, CNBC learned that Russia successfully tested the weapon twice in 2016, according to sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report. The third known test of the device was carried out in October 2017 and resulted in a failure when the platform crashed seconds before striking its target.
One U.S. intelligence report, according to a source, noted that the hypersonic glide vehicles would join Russia's arsenal by 2020, a significant step that would enable the Kremlin to surpass the U.S. and China in this regard.
The latest revelations come nine months after Russian President Vladimir Putin touted his nation's growing hypersonic arsenal as "invincible."
During a state of the nation address in March, Putin boasted about an arsenal of hypersonic nuclear weapons that he described as "invincible."
Putin claimed Avangard is capable of reaching targets at 20 times the speed of sound and strikes "like a fireball." He also said that the hypersonic warhead had already entered serial production.
"I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country's development: You have failed to contain Russia," Putin said in March. He added that the new capabilities were "not a bluff" and showed footage of the weapons as well as a simulated strike on the U.S. homeland.
Of the six weapons Putin unveiled in March, CNBC has learned that two of them will be ready for war by 2020, according to sources with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence reports.