Should the West be afraid of the Russian S-500 Air Defense System?

  • Aishwarya Rakesh
  • Monday, July 12, 2021 @ 04:43 PM
  • 11714
Should the West be afraid of the Russian S-500 Air Defense System?

S-400 missile system. Via Russian state media.

As though Russia’s S-400 air defense system (ADS) didn’t give the West enough heebie-jeebies, the country has come up with a more powerful ADS, the S-500; which the Russians claim can tear down fifth-generation aircraft, satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO) and hypersonic weapons.

Russia is gearing up to put its brand new air and missile defense system on full combat alert. Its military will receive first of its S-500 systems called ‘Prometheus’ in this year. Commander of Missile Defence Troops of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Maj. Gen. Sergei Babakov, told defense ministry-owned Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper last week that all tests of the system had been completed.

God of fire:

In Greek mythology, “Prometheus” was a Titan god of fire and a supreme trickster. Russia says its God of Fire can destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), hypersonic cruise missiles packing tremendous kinetic energy, aircraft including stealth jets and drones, and satellites in the low Earth orbit (LEO).

According to a Pravda Report, the S-500 is unrivalled by any other similar system in the world, being the first in a new class of space-defense weapons.

“The S-500 is a blow against American prestige,” Almaz-Antey head engineer Pavel Sozinov told Russian media in mid-2020. “Our system neutralizes American offensive weapons, and surpasses all of America’s much-hyped anti-air and anti-missile systems.”

Can destroy hypersonic missiles, satellites in low-earth orbit:

The S-500 is expected to have an extended range of up to 600km, an improvement of 200km over its predecessor, the S-400. The system will have the potential to destroy hypersonic and ballistic targets with interceptors operating at an altitude higher than 185km.

In previous tests, the S-500 is said to have hit target missiles from a range of 480km, the longest range strike by any ADS. It reportedly has a response time of about 3-4 seconds, less than half of S-400’s 9-10 seconds.

Should the West be afraid of the Russian S-500 Air Defense System?
Artist's impression of debris in low-earth orbit @ESA

The new system can reportedly detect and simultaneously engage up to 10 ballistic hypersonic targets flying at a speed of 5-7km/s. It also aims at destroying hypersonic cruise missiles and other aerial targets at speeds of higher than Mach 5, as well as spacecraft. The altitude of a target engaged can be as high as 180–200km.

Feature

S-400 Triumf

S-500 Prometheus

Targets

Ballistic missiles, drones, cruise missiles, warplanes (strategic bombers, EW aircraft, AWACS, fighter jets)

All types of aircraft including stealth jets, LEO satellites, hypersonic missiles, space weapons, ICBMs

Max. target speed

4.8 km/s

7 km/s

Target detection distance

600 km

2,000 km

Range against aerodynamic target

400 km

600 km

Altitude limits for aerodynamic target 

180 km

180-200 km

System response time

9-10 seconds

3-4 seconds

Number of targets engaged simultaneously

6

10

 S-500 Components

The S-500 will consist of a combat command post with an automated control system (avtomatizirovannoy sistemy upravleniya—ASU), a radar complex, including a multifunctional “illumination” radar, and up to 12 anti-aircraft missile launchers mounted on a Russian- or Belarusian-built chassis.

Missile Launcher Unit: The S-500 will consist of a 77P6 Self-Propelled Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) based on the chassis of BAZ-69096 trucks in 10x10 configuration. The BAZ-6909 can move at a maximum speed of 70 kmph with a maximum cruising range of 500km.

According to the first drawing releases on the Almaz-Antey 2015 Calendar, the S-500 TEL is equipped with two Missile Launch Tube / Transport Container mounted at the rear of the truck chassis. In firing position, two hydraulic jacks are lowered to the ground on each side of the truck chassis and the missiles containers are placed at the vertical to the rear side.

Mobility: All battery components of the S-500 are carried on hardened BZKT BAZ-6909 vehicles. This family of vehicles includes 6x6, 8x8, 10x10 heavy high mobility trucks, prime movers, artillery tractors, with a payload capacity of 13-21 tonnes.

Should the West be afraid of the Russian S-500 Air Defense System?
S-400 ADS's 9M96E and 9M96E2 missiles @Almaz-Antey

Command and Control Vehicles: The S-500 is expected to use 91N6A(M) acquisition and battle management radar, revised 96L6-TsP acquisition radar, and new 76T6 multimode engagement and 77T6 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) engagement radars. The 96L6-TsP Acquisition Radar is a direct derivative of the 96L6-1 series used a battery acquisition radar in the S-400. Battle management and ABM acquisition will be performed by the 91N6A(M) Big Bird Acquisition and Battle Management Radar, an evolution of the 64N6E series, typically used to support multiple S-300P/S-400 batteries.

Two battery command post types are listed, the 55K6MA which is clearly an evolution of the S-400 55K6E battery command post, and the 85Zh6-2, which may refer to a command post for an extended battery.

Missiles: The main missile with the S-500 is reportedly the 40N6M 30-feet long, two-stage solid fuel missile capable of reaching speeds of 9 Mach having a blast-fragmentation warhead with a range of ~500km and 95% accuracy.

To intercept ballistic missiles and satellites, the Prometheus will use 2 new types of missiles: the 77N6-N and 77N6-N1, the first-ever Russian-built missiles with inert warheads. Known as kinetic kill missiles, they destroy nuclear warheads only by the force of impact – by hitting their targets at 7km/s speed. The missiles will strike ballistic missiles at a height of ~200km considerably minimising the impact of their debris.

The test that saw the S-500 hitting a target at a record 480km away reportedly used one of these two missiles: a version of S-300V4’s long-range heavy NPO Novator 9M82MD or the 40N6.

S-500 radar can network with multiple ground-based radars, early warning satellites:

Russia claims that the S-500 can shoot down a hypersonic cruise missile, such as the U.S. military’s AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic weapon is being built by Lockheed Martin.

Should the West be afraid of the Russian S-500 Air Defense System?
F-22 Raptors and F-35A Lightning II jets @U.S. Air Force

Prometheus can also reportedly engage stealth aircraft including F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or any other low observable platform for that matter. The Russians claim that the system can engage over the horizon and can be plugged into an air defense network—to include satellites.

"The S-500 will analyze information about a possible missile attack obtained by early warning satellites and over-the-horizon radars, such as the Voronezh, as well as select targets, in terms of their importance, cut off false targets at a great distance, accompany all this and finally issue target designations to various systems,” Zvezda TV station stated. 

By networking multiple high-speed long wave radars such as the RLS Voronezh-DM and 1L119 Nebo SVU, it might be possible to generate a weapons quality track on an aircraft such as the F-22 or F-35. Sensor fusion has afforded militaries many capabilities that are greater than the sum of their part. This may be one such case, the National Interest had reported in 2019.

How will the S-500 fare against the U.S. Navy’s New Generation Jammer?

In early July 2021, the U.S. Navy awarded Raytheon a $172 million contract to start low-rate initial production of the Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB) to be mounted on the F/A-18G Electronic Warfare aircraft. The new jammer is intended for offensive electronic attacks against air-defense and communications systems.

The NGJ uses an active electronically scanned array which allows for faster and more precise broadcast of radio waves. "With its power and ability to jam multiple radars simultaneously, NGJ-MB will fundamentally change the way the Navy conducts airborne electronic attack," said Annabel Flores, vice president of Raytheon Electronic Warfare Systems.

It will be interesting to see how the S-500 fares against the NGJ-MB. Will the new American electronic attack aircraft be able to blind its radars or does the S-500 have an ace up its sleeve that we don’t know as yet?

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