Russian lab head supporting hypersonic missile program held for treason - TASS

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MOSCOW (Reuters) -The director of a Russian laboratory working on hypersonic missiles, a weapon where President Vladimir Putin claims a strategic advantage for Russia, has been arrested on suspicion of treason, the state-run TASS news agency reported on Friday.

Hypersonic missiles can travel at up to nine times the speed of sound, and Putin has said that Russia's are unmatched and will be deployed with the navy in the next few months.

Andrei Shiplyuk heads the hypersonics laboratory at the Novosibirsk Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics and has in recent years coordinated research to support the development of hypersonic missile systems, according to the institute's website.

Last month, TASS reported that another senior scientist at Shiplyuk's institute, situated in Novosibirsk's Soviet-era Akademgorodok science park, around 2,800 km (1,750 miles) east of Moscow, had also been arrested.

It cited a source close to the investigation by the FSB intelligence agency as saying that Maslov was suspected of divulging state secrets on hypersonic technology.

TASS on Friday cited Shiplyuk's colleagues as saying searches had been conducted at the institute, and also reported an unidentified source as saying Shiplyuk had been transferred to Moscow's Lefortovo prison.

The defence ministry said in May that it had successfully test-fired a hypersonic Zircon missile over a distance of about 1,000 km (625 miles), and days later the commander of the Northern Fleet said the system would be deployed on a new frigate before the end of the year.

A number of Russian scientists have been charged in recent years with treason, punishable by up to 20 years in jail, for allegedly passing sensitive material to foreigners. Critics of the Kremlin say the arrests often stem from unfounded paranoia.

Dmitry Kolker, a doctor of physics and mathematics at Novosibirsk State University specialising in lasers, died of pancreatic cancer last month, shortly after being detained on suspicion of collaborating with Chinese security services.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey)