Russia’s S-400 system takes a hit: 7 launchers and 4 radars lost

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The Ukrainian military has recently leveraged the US-developed ATACMS to strategically target crucial points deep within Russian-held territories, causing substantial losses for Moscow. Over the past month, Russia has suffered the loss of seven S-400 anti-aircraft missile launchers, four phased-array fire control radars, and several fighter jets. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

On April 17, Ukrainian forces launched 12 ATACMS missiles at Zhankoy Airport in Crimea. This strike resulted in the destruction of two 5P85 launchers from the Russian S-400 air defense system and inflicted damage on the 96L6 long-range missile radar system. Furthermore, on May 15 and 16, the Ukrainian military launched consecutive ATACMS strikes targeting Russia’s Belbek airfield on the Crimean Peninsula. 

According to recent Maxar satellite imagery, these missile attacks have eliminated a Russian S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, alongside two MiG-31 fighters, a Su-27, and a MiG-29 fighter jet. Additionally, a fuel depot was hit, as detailed by BulgarianMilitary.com.

Photo credit: Telegram

Double blow on Belbeck

This missile strike targeted an airfield featuring a robust anti-aircraft missile site. The Ukrainian army launched coordinated attacks on Belbek airport twice, once on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. To execute these attacks, they utilized a variety of weapons, including “HARM” anti-radiation missiles and French-guided “Hammer” missiles, along with active decoys and aerial drones. 

The Ukrainian forces fired between twelve and twenty ATACMS missiles. While the Russian defenses intercepted some of these missiles, others managed to penetrate, delivering notable results. During both strikes, several ATACMS ballistic missiles successfully hit the airfield. Videos from the scene captured multiple explosions, with subsequent fires raging through the airport. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Despite deploying a significant number and variety of missiles, the Ukrainian army’s strikes resulted primarily in the destruction of surface-to-air missiles and four fighter jets without completely paralyzing this key airport. This outcome suggests that relying solely on ballistic missiles to neutralize airfields may have limited operational effectiveness. In other words, completely destroying and paralyzing a large airport proves to be a challenging task.

A cluster warhead destroyed the S-400

However, it’s noteworthy that even the US-made ATACMS short-range ballistic missile from the 1980s can still breach the Russian military’s S-300/400 anti-missile system and achieve penetration.  

Photo credit: Medium

The most unexpected instance occurred on May 24. An ATACMS ballistic missile, launched by the Ukrainian military, targeted a Russian S-400 anti-missile system. The system failed to intercept it, and the Ukrainian missile’s cluster warhead destroyed the S-400 during its engagement.  

The Ukrainian Army fired about 5 to 6 ATACMS Army Tactical Missiles, concentrating their fire on the Russian S-400 missile position at Mospino Airfield in Donetsk Oblast. This location is situated 45 km from Donetsk and the front line.

Corridor for F-16

As Ukrainian ballistic missiles closed in, the Russian military swiftly activated their S-400 anti-missile system, launching multiple surface-to-air missiles. However, these efforts failed to intercept the incoming threat. Within just half-second intervals, at least four ATACMS missile warheads struck the Russian position, ultimately obliterating the entire S-400 unit. 

A Ukrainian reconnaissance drone captured this intense engagement, showcasing the destruction of two S-300/S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and the damage of another. Additionally, a 96L6E Phased Array Radar and the S-300/S-400 Air Defense System Command Center were completely destroyed. 

The Ukrainian Army has consistently utilized ATACMS Army Tactical Ballistic Missiles for ongoing assaults on frontline Russian airfields, taking out numerous S-300/S-400 anti-missile systems. These strategic attacks on the Russian air defense systems are likely to pave the way for F-16 fighter jets to join the conflict in the coming weeks.

S-400 is the best! Really?

After the onset of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, numerous S-300/400 anti-aircraft missile systems belonging to the Russian military were destroyed by the Ukrainian army’s long-range weapons. Considering the battlefield conditions, it appears that the actual effectiveness of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile may not match the robust image Russia had previously advertised. 

When China acquired the S-400 anti-aircraft missile a few years ago, it led to a surge in purchases from countries like India and Turkey. However, the underwhelming performance witnessed on the Russian-Ukrainian battlefield has cast doubt on the reputation of this so-called world’s most advanced surface-to-air missile system. 

Photo credit: LinkedIn

Reflecting on it now, the S-400 surface-to-air missile seems to be merely a significantly updated version of the S-300PMU2. This has led to questions about whether the advanced nature of the S-400 was overstated, perhaps to dispel the widespread belief in the system’s capabilities.

S-400 alone, without support

On the flip side, the defense situation for Russian airfields and air defense positions leaves much to be desired. The configuration of the Russian air defense system is incomplete. Take the S-400, for instance. Recently destroyed by ATACMS ballistic missiles, this system was deployed near the front line without any accompanying short-range air defense weapons. 

Photo credit: Twitter

It’s well understood that the S-400 excels in medium- and high-altitude air defense but falls short at low altitudes. To be truly effective, it needs to operate in conjunction with systems like the Buk and Pantsir S1 to create a dense, overlapping air defense network. 

Moreover, Russian military airfields are vulnerable, with aircraft parked in the open without protective structures. There’s not even a blast-proof wall shielding the fighter jets. If the Russian air defense is breached, these exposed aircraft could face catastrophic losses.

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