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Russia will only make a few units of a hypersonic weapon Putin bragged about, US intelligence says

Key Points
  • Russia will only produce a few units of a hypersonic weapon that Vladimir Putin had bragged was already in production, according to people with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report.
  • The Kremlin is having a hard time finding a source for the critical carbon fiber components needed to produce the weapon, a hypersonic glide vehicle dubbed Avangard.
  • It was one of the six weapons Putin boasted about in March 2018. At the time, the Russian leader claimed it was capable of reaching targets at a speed of 20 times the speed of sound.
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Krisztian Bocsi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Russia will produce only a few units of a hypersonic weapon that President Vladimir Putin had bragged was already in serial production, according to people with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report.

The Kremlin is having a hard time finding a source for the critical carbon fiber components needed to produce the weapon, a hypersonic glide vehicle dubbed Avangard.

It was one of the six weapons Putin boasted about in March 2018. At the time, the Russian leader claimed Avangard was capable of reaching targets at a speed of 20 times the speed of sound and that the weapon can strike "like a fireball." He also said that the device had already entered serial production.

In October, CNBC learned that the Kremlin was looking for another carbon fiber source since their current supply was unable to withstand the extreme temperatures of hypersonic flight. According to a U.S. intelligence report curated a month ago, the Kremlin has still not been able to find an alternative carbon fiber material.

"It's expected that they will make no more than 60 of these hypersonic weapons because it's just proving to be too expensive to develop," one person told CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

 A display of a flight of the warhead of the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide weapon.
Video screen grab | TASS | Getty Images

However, since Moscow has prioritized the Avangard program, the weapon is still slated to achieve initial operational capability by 2020, according to people with direct knowledge of the U.S. intelligence report.

In May 2018, CNBC learned that Russia successfully tested Avangard twice in 2016. The third known test of the system was carried out in October 2017, and resulted in a failure when the platform crashed seconds before striking its target.

The intelligence reports, which were curated in spring of last year, calculate that Russia's hypersonic glide vehicles are likely to achieve initial operational capability by 2020, a significant step that would enable the Kremlin to surpass the U.S. and China in this regard.

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