The S-500 is Formidable But Is It a Threat for the U.S. Stealth Fighters?
WASHINGTON, (BM) – In recent years there has been intense talk of the new Russian air defense system S-500. Various information is constantly leaked on state and private Russian media as well as on media and blogs all over the world.
It should be noted that the real S-500 is a brand new development and perhaps the first of the new Russian history after the collapse of the USSR.
Yes, this is because its predecessor, the S-400, is nothing more than a complete update to the old Soviet air defense system, the S-300.
Let’s first take a look on the S-500 main equipment:
- 77P6 launch vehicle, based on the BAZ-69096 10×10 truck
- 55K6MA and 85Zh6-2 command posts, based on BAZ-69092-12 6×6
- 91N6A(M) acquisition and battle management radar, a modification of the 91N6 (Big Bird) towed by the BAZ-6403.01 8×8 tractor
- 96L6-TsP acquisition radar, an upgraded version of the 96L6 (Cheese Board) on BAZ-69096 10×10
- 76T6 multimode engagement radar on BAZ-6909-022 8×8
- 77T6 ABM engagement radar on BAZ-69096 10×10
While maintaining that “most of the new system’s technical characteristics remain under wraps,” Sputnik began shedding some light on what those technical characteristics will be (although many of them have been previously reported elsewhere). According to the report, the S-500 “is expected to be able to engage targets at altitudes of over 60 miles,” which is higher than any existing missile defense systems. Sputnik went on to claim that “sixty miles and more is also the near space zone where the majority of foreign military satellites are now orbiting our planet.” While it is technically true that military satellites are flying at heights of sixty miles or more, most of them are much higher than sixty miles and thus likely outside the S-500’s range.
The Sputnik report went on to say that “the S-500 is expected to able to detect and simultaneously attack up to ten ballistic missile warheads flying at speeds of over 4 miles a second.” It will also have several distinct radar systems geared towards different targets. For example, the system will have different radars to detect planes, helicopters, drones and missiles. Earlier this month, Sputnik had reported on an all-altitude radar system that will be part of the S-500. According to that earlier report, “All that is known is that the Yenisei radar features a phased-array antenna to spot and track aerial targets across an entire range of altitudes, provide ‘friend or foe’ identification and determine priority targets.” Previous reports in the National Interest have noted that the S-500 “is expected to use the 91N6A(M) battle management radar, a modified 96L6-TsP acquisition radar, as well as the new 76T6 multimode engagement and 77T6 ABM engagement radars.”
Interestingly, the Sputnik article from this week spends considerable space detailing the capabilities of the 40N6 extended-range guided missile. As the article notes, the 40N6 missile has an enormous range of 400 kilometers (250 miles). Noting that “ground-based radar systems are useless in space,” the Sputnik article states that the “the 40N’s homing system will differ from what can be found on all other air defense missiles.” Specifically, its “one-of-a-kind self-homing warheads search for their targets and, finding them, switch to an automatic-homing mode.” It goes on to state that the 40N6 is a two-stage solid fuel missile that is capable of reaching speeds of nine times the speed of sound. The report also claims the thirty-foot long missile has a “blast-fragmentation warhead with a range of 310 miles and 95-percent accuracy.”
What is notable about this, as regular readers of the National Interest know, is that the 40N6 missile has usually been discussed in reference to the existing S-400 air and missile defense system. There have been regular reports that imply that some of Russia’s existing S-400 systems already employ the 40N6 missile. These reports were almost certainly premature, although new reports this month said that the missile could enter service soon after undergoing another test in February of this year (and more tests scheduled this month or next). Thus, it seems the S-500’s main missile won’t be entirely new as it will first be integrated into at least some of Russia’s existing S-400 systems. Moscow does claim that this missile will be able to engage hypersonic missiles and could be modified to attack satellites. Russia appears to have agreed to sell India and China the 40N6 missile as part of their packages of S-400 missile defense systems.
As Dave Majumdar has previously noted, while most of Russia’s defense industry suffered following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has continued to churn out quality air and missile defense systems. This is evident from systems like the S-400, S-300VM4 and S-350. Once deployed, the S-500 is expected to be networked with these existing systems to provide an integrated defense system. According to Majumdar, some U.S. defense officials worry that this system will be so capable that it might pose issues for stealthy warplanes like the F-22, F-35 and B-2.
As to when the S-500 will first come online, Lt. Gen. Viktor Gumenny, the Deputy Commander of Russia’s Aerospace Forces, said last year that deliveries of the initial systems should occur sometime around 2020. This is likely to be a prototype system designed for testing. Some reports of unknown reliability have claimed the system has already entered into production phase.
Some testing S-500 information:
In May 2018, Russia conducted the longest range surface-to-air missile test to date with the S-500. According to reports citing unnamed sources familiar with U.S. intelligence on the program, the S-500 was able to hit a target just shy of 300 miles (482 km) away, which is some 50 miles further than the previous record.
On 4 June 2019, the Russian Ministry of Defense posted a video showing the successful interception of the test target which was a test of a new anti ballistic missile system in the form of a long range surface to air missile was confirmed. Though the nature of the air defence system which was being tested was not mentioned it has been widely speculated to have been a test of the S-500 Prometheus long range surface to air missile system which entered early production earlier in the year.
The S-500 radar was tested in the fall of 2019.
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