Just days after Russian President Putin called for the country’s next generation air defence system, the Almaz Antey S-500, to enter mass production quickly, U.S. intelligence reports have indicated that the Russian military has conducted a test firing of the new weapons system. The S-500 has been designed as the latest in a long series of Russian and Soviet surface to air missile systems, and is capable of engaging targets at extreme ranges of up to 600km. The S-400 by contrast is restricted to a 400km engagement range, while the U.S. THAAD system, the American equivalent to the S-500, is restricted to a range of under 200km. The missile system is designed to engage enemy ballistic missiles, including low end hypersonic missiles, as well as high value enemy aircraft such as AWACS systems and airborne command centres. A variant specialised in an anti aircraft role is expected to be developed in future.
According to the U.S. intelligence report, cited by American media without declaring the source, the S-500 missile system succeeded in neutralising an aerial target 299 miles away, or 481km, which sets a world record over that achieved by previous missile systems. The range remains relatively modest considering the final planned specifications for the S-500, which will allow it to strike targets at distances over 25% further. Deployed to Russia’s Kaliningrad it would be able to intercept hostile targets over all of Poland and much of Germany, including Berlin. Deployed to Russia’s Far East, it could seriously complicate U.S. military operations from bases in Japan and South Korea.
The S-500’s development, alongside development of long range ‘AWACS hunter’ air to air missiles such as the R-37 deployed by Russian MiG-31 interceptors, has been a key factor prompting U.S. Air Force plans to retire some of its heavy support aircraft. The E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) for example was according to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson near useless in a major war with an advanced military power, with the secretary stating before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defence in May 2018: “Russian and Chinese surface to air missiles have more range, and the plane would be shot down in the first day of conflict.” Similar concerns have been raised regarding U.S. AWACS aircraft and aerial tankers, both critical to air force operations, which lack the survivability of smaller, faster and more manoeuvrable fighter aircraft at long ranges. U.S. heavy bombers such as the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress are also extremely vulnerable, and their effectiveness will continue to decline as more advanced anti aircraft capable surface to air missile systems such as the S-500 enter service.
SOURCE: MILITARY WATCH – http://militarywatchmagazine.com/read.php?my_data=70635