On the 12th of August Russia detained the head of an institute researching hypersonic flight, the institute (known as NIPGS), has under the direction of the scientist ‘Alexander Kuranov’ been participating in Russia-US hypersonic conferences for exchanges in aerodynamics.

William Davies, Associate Analyst at GlobalData comments: “This arrest shows the stakes of hypersonic research, both the US and Russia are investing heavily in the technology. The US are advancing a number of programs including the ‘long range hypersonic weapon’ (LRHW), whilst Russia has already fielded two separate hypersonic weapons.” The GlobalData report Hypersonic Technologies in defense outlines major players in the industry, as well as which direction investment is likely to take in the next 24 months. It outlines the technology behind the weapons, as well as potential barriers to its uptake.

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Davies continues: “This arrest shows how seriously the Russian government are taking the industry, and suggests that they consider their hypersonic research to be advanced enough that they need to protect its strategic importance. This is the second researcher in several years that has been arrested for purported treason, and this action will be seen as a message domestically about the secrecy of their operations”

Hypersonic weapons have the potential to affect their strategic balance, and their real benefit is in their ability to strike with little warning – giving the possessing nation the ability to strike against time critical targets or deny access by deploying the weapons strategically. Whilst they could potentially be armed with nuclear warheads, their true value is in smaller munitions – enabling them to perform rapid damaging strikes that take out enemy infrastructure.

Russia is considered to be a leader in hypersonic technology, and in 2019 fielded the Avangard missile which Russia claim is capable of travelling up to Mach 27 (or 32,000km an hour), followed by the Kinzhal (“Dagger”) which can be air-launched. Hypersonic missiles are becoming a vital aspect of Russian and the US’s strategic arsenal and the recent arrests show that Russia consider themselves a leading state in the technology which needs to closely guard itself.