A 74-year old space scientist working for an arm of Russia’s civilian space agency Roscosmos is being held on treason charges following the apparent leaking of information pertaining to Russia’s ongoing hypersonic missile programs. Hypersonic missiles, or weapons capable of achieving speeds in excess of Mach 5, are nearly impossible to intercept using existing missile defense systems, but perhaps even more significantly, the United States remains at least two years behind both Russia and China in the development of this new technology.

According to the Russian state-owned newspaper Kommersant, a scientist named Viktor Kudryavtsev, who works for the Central Research Institute for Machine Building that often does work for both Roscosmos and Russia’s varied missile programs, has been accused of passing classified data pertaining to hypersonic missile technology to representatives from an unspecified member of NATO. The newspaper went on to report that Kudryavtsev is now being held in the Lefortovo jail in Moscow.

“Our defendant was today officially pressed with high treason charges (article 275 of Russia’s Criminal Code),” Ivan Pavlov, Kudryavtsev’s attorney, told Russia’s state-owned media outlet Tass. He also claimed to have been denied admission into the courthouse where Kudryavtsev was being processed.

Kudryavtsev is a well-respected expert in the field of gas and liquid dynamics who has previously won a state award for his work. However, this isn’t the first time Kudryavtsev has had a loose affiliation with treason charges surrounding the release of hypersonic technologies.

In 2016, Kudryavtsev was among a group of scientists that signed a letter in support of Vladimir Lapygin, a fellow researcher from TsNIIMash that was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of espionage for releasing “a software system able to compute optimized aerodynamic characteristics of hypersonic aircraft containing state secrets” to members of the Chinese government. Lapygin, at the time, contested that he was working on behalf of the Russian government to seek increased cooperation with China — the only other nation on the planet that currently possesses operational hypersonic missiles.

A Roscosmos spokesperson announced Kudryavtsev’s arrest but declined to go into any further detail relating to the case, however local outlets are reporting that the accused scientist either has or intends to, lodge a not guilty plea. SOFREP has not been able to verify those claims independently.

These charges followed a raid at the Roscosmos research facility called TsNIIMash in Korolyov, Russia. Ten scientists were reportedly questioned, and the director of the facility’s office was among the areas searched by law enforcement. Another search took place this week in Moscow’s United Rocket and Space Corporation (ORKK) offices.

Plans for Russia's hypersonic missiles reportedly leaked to Western spies

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Hypersonic missile technology is increasingly being seen as a disruptive technology in the field of warfighting. China’s hypersonic anti-ship missile, the DF-21D, has been operational for years, and assuming they’ve managed to establish a data-linked targeting apparatus that’s capable enough to couple with the missile’s range and destructive capacity, the presence of that missile system alone has forced the U.S. Navy to reconsider how it employs aircraft carriers and their aircraft in a near-peer or peer level conflict. Russia’s two hypersonic missile programs, known as the Kinzhal and Avangard, are thought to both have been affected by the breach of information.

The United States remains well behind both Russia and China in terms of hypersonic missile development, though a recent influx of over a billion dollars into the endeavor hopes to offset some of this growing capability gap. In May, Air Force Materiel Command commander, Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski admitted that the United States was still in the early design face of its own hypersonic programs, with functional flight tests still considered to be years away.

Screen capture courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Defense, via YouTube