Air Defense: S-400 Moves West



February 28, 2008: Belarus is buying the S-400 anti-aircraft system from Russia. This system is similar to the U.S. Patroit, and is expensive. Belarus is broke, but is a close ally of Russia, and will apparently get a good terms and a low price. This will also provide at least one export customer. Russia is unsure if they want to export S-400 right away, but they do want to deploy the S-400 system where it will do the most good, and pro-Russian Belarus is a good place to put the missiles.

Last Summer, the first S400 battalion (eight launchers, each with four missiles, plus a control center and radar, around Moscow) officially became operational. A second battalion will be deployed in the same area later this year. The Russians claim that this new system can detect stealth aircraft, implying that the hypothetical enemy is the United States.

Russia also claims the S-400 can knock down short range ballistic missiles (those with a reentry speed of up to 5,000 meters a second, in the same way the similar U.S. Patriot system does.) S-400 has a longer range (at 400 kilometers) than Patriot (70 kilometers). Export efforts are hobbled by a lack of combat experience for the system. Patriot has knocked down aircraft and ballistic missiles, S-400 has not. Moreover, Russia anti-aircraft missile systems have a spotty history (especially when confronted by Western electronic countermeasures.) But Russia is already touting a new, S500 system, that can knock down longer range ballistic missiles (with higher reentry speeds) and stealth aircraft. The missiles around Moscow are part of a project to rebuild the Soviet era air defense system, which has fallen apart since the early 1990s. The new system will be completed in about eight years. The S-500 will be available before that.

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