Despite considerable delays, Russia’s armed forces are expected to induct the S-500 long range surface to air missiles system into front line service some time before the end of 2021, with serial production having begun early in 2018 and advanced prototypes already fully operational for testing purposes.
The S-500 is expected to add an additional tier to Russia’s already extremely formidable air defense network, and is designed primarily to counter emerging threats from enemy hyper-sonic missiles and aircraft, space planes and upcoming generations of stealth aircraft.
The system will have an engagement range of at least 600 km and be able to engage targets in space – meaning that if sold abroad it would provide several countries with a serious upgrade to their anti-satellite capabilities.
Although the S-500 is being designed primarily to neutralize high value targets, it can also engage stealth fighters if needed, and its powerful sensor suite can network with and complement those of existing air defense systems such as the S-400 and S-300V4 to better allow them to counter stealth aircraft.
Although the S-500 is a much higher end system than the S-400 and S-300 platforms, it is expected to be marketed abroad for export much as all post-Soviet Russian multi-role air defense systems have been.
With the U.S. set to deploy a new generation of fighters, B-21 bombers and hyper-sonic space planes for both reconnaissance and bombing roles, the appeal of the S-500 is expected to be particularly high to provide a cost effective means to counter these threats.
A look at the leading potential clients for the S-500 system is given below.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has been the first to purchase a number of state of the art Russian aerial warfare systems, from the S-300PMU-2 and S-400 air defense systems to R-77 air to air missiles and Su-27 and Su-35 fighter jets.
Although China has developed a range of advanced air defense systems of its own, and its defense sector has eclipsed that of Russia in a number of critical fields from data links to air to air missiles, Russia still maintains a lead in space warfare and air defense technologies meaning the S-500 could prove a valuable asset for China’s defenses.
A sale could also be accompanied by contracts for technology transfers to improve China’s own space warfare and anti-hyper-sonic capabilities.
With China facing a significant threat from new generations of American weapons systems, which are increasingly being tailored to target the country more so than Russia, the appeal of the S-500 system is likely to be particularly high.
Although Belarus’ defense budget is far from sufficient to acquire the S-500 system, short of a major improvement to its economic situation later in the 2020’s which cannot be ruled out entirely, Russia could well provide its only European ally with the next generation air defense system either at ‘friendly’ prices, as it does for hardware sold to Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet states, or free of charge as it reportedly did for the S-400.
This would be strategically advantageous for Russia as intelligence is shared between the two treaty allies, and would allow the alliance to target enemy aircraft and satellites deeper into NATO territory.
Failure to supply Belarus with the S-500 would otherwise leave a possible hole in Russian defenses which NATO forces would be likely to exploit with hyper-sonic weapons and other advanced next generation systems.
Military Watch Magazine / ABC Flash Point News 2020.