TechRussian S-400 air defense falters in Ukraine war

Russian S‑400 air defense falters in Ukraine war

S-400 Triumf
S-400 Triumf
Images source: © Vitaly V. Kuzmin, Wikipedia

6:09 AM EDT, May 23, 2024

The S-400 is considered the most technologically advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile system. The war in Ukraine has shown that it is not without flaws, and according to some experts, it has not lived up to expectations. What are the capabilities of this weapon, and what are its shortcomings compared to what the Russian designers intended?

The Almaz-Antey Design Bureau developed the S-400 as an advancement of the S-300PMU. The complete system comprises at least eight launchers, 32 missiles, and a mobile command post.

Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system

Russians declare that the S-400 can intercept not only aircraft and helicopters but also cruise missiles and even ballistic missiles moving at speeds of up to 3 miles per second. Depending on the type of target and the missiles used, the range is between 25 miles (9M96 missiles weighing about 770 pounds) and several hundred miles (40N6E missiles weighing about 4,000 pounds).

The war in Ukraine exposed the weaknesses of the S-400

The capabilities of the S-400 have been frequently discussed, not only by Russians. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) warned before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine that it is "one of the most advanced air defence systems in the world." The prolonged conflict has exposed the weaknesses of the S-400. Ukrainians have managed to destroy a dozen such complexes. They used the most modern support from the West and older weapons, which theoretically should not threaten the highly praised Russian air defense system.

Fredrik Mertens, an analyst at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, quoted by Business Insider, believes that the S-400 "seems to have problems intercepting ballistic missile targets". From the Russian perspective, this is concerning because older, competitive American Patriots perform better in this regard. The last recorded destruction of an S-400 system's battery using ballistic missiles (MGM-140 ATACMS) occurred in April of this year.

Some Ukrainian operations have been regarded as a compromise of the discussed Russian systems. A wide resonance was caused by the report of an attack utilizing Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which flew just above the S-400.

On the other hand, analysts emphasize that much information remains inaccessible to the public. Despite the setbacks, Russian S-400 systems have also had numerous successes. Eliminating them may remain one of the main goals of Ukrainians in the coming months.

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