Air Defense: Persistence Pays Off For The S-400


December 18, 2013: Russia is continuing to replace its Cold War era S-300 air defense systems with the newer S-400 (SA-21). In the last six years 12 S-400 battalions have entered service. Each consists of 4-8 launcher vehicles (each with two missiles, plus two reloads) plus radar vehicles and a command vehicle. Russia is planning to have 56 S-400 battalions in service by the end of the decade. Despite this, in 2012 the Defense Ministry ordered more of the older S-300V (SA-12) system. This seems to indicate that the S-400 is having problems (it has certainly encountered many delays so far). The S-500, while still in development, has also had several embarrassing delays announced.

The original S-300 was known to NATO, during the Cold War, as the SA-10. This system entered service in the late 1970s and was upgraded several times since then. One major upgrade came to be called the SA-12 and it entered service in the late 1980s. Finally, there was the SA-21, which was so different from the original S-300 that it was given a new name by the Russians: the S-400. These systems began entering service, slowly, in 2007.

By 2012 Russia had deployed S-400 battalions near Kaliningrad, Moscow and the Far East. Russia has 160 older S-300 battalions, most of them the SA-10 model. A third of the existing S-300 battalions are not in service (and are supposed to be in storage, just in case). Each S-300 battalion had a long-range search radar to detect targets and six launcher vehicles (each carrying four or two missiles). Each of the new S-400 battalion has eight launchers, each with two missiles plus a control center and radar.

The S-300V/SA-12 missiles had a range of 75 kilometers and were considered somewhat similar to the American Patriot systems. Later models of the S-300V had some capability to shoot down short range ballistic missiles. The SA-12 missiles were carried in canisters (either four or two per launcher vehicle). Each launcher vehicle also contained a guidance radar.

The S-400 claims to be superior to the U.S. Patriot and is expensive. Russia is now offering to export the S-400, despite all the advanced technology in it. The S-400 missiles weigh 1.8 tons each, are 8.4 meters (26 feet) long, and about 50cm (20 inches) in diameter. There are actually three different missiles, each with a different range (120, 250 and 400 kilometers). All missiles can reach targets as high as 30 kilometers (93,000 feet). The missile has a 145.5 kg (320 pound) warhead. The target acquisition radar has a range of 700 kilometers. S-400 missiles can hit short range ballistic missiles up to 60 kilometers away.

The S-400 has more range than the U.S. Patriot (max 160 kilometers), weighs twice as much, and claims the ability to detect stealthy aircraft. The S-400 also has an anti-missile capability, which is limited to shorter range (under 3,500 kilometers) ballistic missiles. That would mean a warhead coming in at about 5,000 meters a second (the longer the range of a ballistic missile, the higher its re-entry speed).

The S-400 system actually has two types of missiles, one of them being smaller with a shorter range (120 kilometers) and two larger missiles with much more range (250 and 400 kilometers). The 120 kilometers range missile are deployed four to a launcher, like S-300 systems. The S-400 has no combat experience but U.S. intelligence believes that the tests these systems have undergone indicate it is a capable air defense weapon. Just how capable won't be known until it actually gets used in combat. None of the S-300 series systems have any combat experience either but some models have performed well in tests.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close