Air Defense: Turkey Signs For S-400

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September 27, 2017: Turkey finally signed an agreement on September 12th to purchase the Russian S-400 SAM (Surface to Air Missile) system and paid an initial deposit on the $2.5 billion deal. The contract provides Turkey with four S-400 battalions and technology transfer. Thus two battalions will be built in Russia and the other two in Turkey. The S-400 manufacturing in Turkey involves using a lot of key components built in Russia but Turkey has manufacturing facilities for many of the S-400 (or any other SAM system) components and those will be the ones “made in Turkey.” There will be some substantial technology transfer because assembling these systems involves a lot of tech secrets that customers usually do not have access to. Moreover the export versions of Russian weapons, especially the high-tech ones, usually lack the most advanced features or at least key items that only systems Russian forces use. This is also not the first time a NATO country has bought Russian air defense systems. Greece bought two batteries of the S-300PMU1 (each battery with a radar and command center plus four launcher vehicles, each carrying four missiles) in the late 1990s and stationed them on Crete, where they remain in use. NATO and Israeli tech experts got an opportunity to examine the equipment.

For Turkey part of one battalion is to be delivered and activated by the end of 2017 but that may change because Turkey had previously signed contracts for a similar Chinese FD-2000 system but cancelled that $3.4 billion deal in late 2015 before delivery of anything. The S-400 deal causes some problems with NATO because S-400 is a major air defense system which should, according to NATO agreements, be interoperable with SAM systems in other NATO countries. This is not a major problem for Turkey but does indicate that Turkey may be leaving NATO sooner rather than eventually.

Turkey joins Algeria, Belarus, India and China which have also ordered the S-400. An S-400 battalion has eight launchers, each with two missiles, plus a control center and radar and 16 missiles available as reloads. All equipment is mobile. S-400 is also known as the S-300PMU3, SA-21 or Triumf and was renamed S-400 because it turned out to be far more than just another upgrade of the S-300 and was considered sufficiently different to warrant a name upgrade.

The S-400 entered service in 2007 when the first units were deployed around Moscow. Russia claimed the S-400 could detect stealth aircraft, implying that the hypothetical enemy was 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.) Russia immediately offered the S-400 for export, an effort that is hampered 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.) The S-400s based around Moscow are part of a project to rebuild the Soviet era air defense system, which has fallen apart since the early 1990s. The Indian purchase is seen as showing China that their Russian ally does not always support Chinese goals.

During the first six years of use Russia put 12 S-400 battalions into entered service. Each consists of 4-8 launcher vehicles (each with two missiles, plus two reloads) plus radar vehicles and a command vehicle. Before the crash in oil prices and sanctions (over attacking Ukraine) hit in 2014 Russia was planning to have 56 S-400 battalions in service by 2020. That was not hurt much by budget cuts as there are about 40 battalions in service by mid-2017. Even before that crises the Defense Ministry ordered more of the older S-300V (SA-12) system in 2012. This seems to indicate that the S-400 was having problems (it has certainly encountered many delays so far) but these were apparently cleared up. The S-400 appears to have not only matured technically but has undergone frequent upgrades and modifications. Nevertheless the S-400 has not yet experienced any actual combat although it has performed well in tests.

The S-400 claims to be superior to the U.S. Patriot and is expensive. By 2012 Russia was pushing the S-400 as an export item, 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 four different missiles, each with a different range (9M96E is 40 kilometers, the 9M96E2 is 120 kilometers, 48N6 is 250 kilometers and 40N6 is 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. Belarus and Algeria already have some S-400 equipment delivered and active. China has ordered six battalions and India five. Several other countries (Armenia, Egypt, Iran, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam) have been negotiating purchase deals.

The S-400 has more range than the 160 kilometers of U.S. Patriot, 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 (40 and 120 kilometers) and two larger missiles with much more range (250 and 400 kilometers). The 40/120 kilometers range missile are deployed four to a launcher, like S-300 systems. The S-400 has no experience against Western countermeasures but U.S. intelligence believes that 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.

The S-400 is to be complemented and eventually replaced by the S-500. This system, while still in development, has also had several embarrassing delays announced. In 2009 S-500 was declared on track to enter service in 2012. That deadline was missed and the service date was moved to 2014, then 2015 and currently 2020 or “the early 2020s”.

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 subsequently upgraded several times. 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 had 160 older S-300 battalions, most of them the SA-10 model. A third of the existing S-300 battalions were 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.

 

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