Russia is converting its 16th Air
Army to the 16th Air Defense Army over the next year. The new organization will
be responsible for keeping smart bombs away from vital targets in Russia. Or at
least that's how government officials describe the effort. To that end, Russia
is buying and deploying S-400 missiles systems around vital areas.
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
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 in general 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
the only satellite state Russia still has, wants to buy the S-400. Russia is
prepared to help finance this, as such a system would be integrated into
Russias air defense system, providing more depth against attacks from the west.
At the end
of the Cold War, Russia still had hundreds of launchers equipped with a mix of
relatively new, and sometimes ancient (over 20 years old) missiles. These were
not maintained during the 1990s, and largely fell into an inoperable state. It
will cost several billion dollars to achieve even a minimal state of air
defense coverage over most of European Russia.