Russian arrests expert for hypersonic aircraft for treason

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Russians have arrested a physicist specializing in the research of sensitive hypersonic aircraft and accused him of high treason.

Anatoli Gubanov was arrested by FSB intelligence officials, the state news agency Tass reported on Thursday. The agency quoted an anonymous law enforcement source who said Gubanov was suspected of “having passed secret aviation development data abroad”.

On Thursday, Darya Rozmakhova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow district court of Lefortovo, told Tass: “The court has chosen a sentence of one month and 30 days in prison, i.e. until February 2, 2021, for Anatoly Alexandrovich Gubanov, who is suspected of having committed a crime under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code,” an offence classified as treason.

The case is being held behind doors. If Gubanov is convicted, he faces up to 20 years behind bars.

Gubanov has been working at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute since 1979 and has risen to supervise a department of the department that deals with the aerodynamics of aircraft and missiles, Tass reported. Gubanov focuses on high-speed aircraft, the agency said.

Gubanov belongs to a prominent family in the Russian aircraft industry, Tass reported. His father-in-law Leonid Shkadov is a prominent scientist and a key figure in the Soviet aviation industry. Three of Gubanov’s five children also work in the aviation industry.

RFE/RL quoted the Russian news agency Interfax, which reported that Gubanov had participated in international conferences and projects involving hydrogen-powered hypersonic aircraft. Interfax cited unnamed sources for its report.

Gubanov is also listed as a lecturer on the website of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. MIPT Rector Nikolai Kudryavtsev, who was asked by Tass to comment, said “I don’t know any man with such a name. We have a lot of staff and I have many tasks. I may be able to clarify who he is later, but I cannot say anything yet”.

Russia is a leader in hypersonic technology, which has the potential to revolutionize weapon systems. Hypersonic missiles, for example, can travel at speeds of Mach 5 and above – about 3,836 miles per hour – on relatively flat trajectories while maneuvering in mid-flight, making them difficult to intercept by existing defense systems.

President Vladimir Putin and military officials have repeatedly praised Russian hypersonic research. For example, at the unveiling of a variety of new weapons in 2018, Putin said that a new hypersonic cruise missile would be “invincible against all existing and future systems of both missile defense and air defense”.

In October, the Russian military announced that it had carried out a successful test launch of a Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. The weapon flew at more than eight times the speed of sound, the military said. Putin celebrated the test as a “major event” for the country.

It is assumed that the USA is lagging behind Russia and China in its hypersonic development programs. The USA is now investing massively to close the gap. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump’s administration proposed to increase funding for hypersonic weapons by 23 percent.

The Army and Navy are working on a common hypersonic weapon known as the Common Hypersonic Glide Body. The prototype completed its first successful flight in March and, according to U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, hit within six inches of its target.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is working on the Lockheed Martin AGM-183A airborne rapid reaction weapon, also known as ARRW. The Air Force has now completed the early test phase of the ARRW and successfully mounted a prototype of the weapon on a B-52 strategic bomber. Its operational testing is scheduled for October 2021.

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