In the next part of our series on Russia’s strategic integrated air defence system, we look at the kinetic ground-based air defence systems it deploys.
In part-6 of our series on Russia’s strategic Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) we examined the command and control architecture it depends upon. The IADS’ role is ultimately to provide a response to air threats approaching or entering Russian airspace. In Russian air defence doctrine this response is provided using kinetic and/or electronic effects.
The kinetic side of the IADS depends on the Russian Aerospace Force’s (RASF’s) fighters and Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems. Sources have shared with Armada that both the fighter and SAM force would be deployed in wartime to protect key Russian strategic targets. Typically, these could include politico-military targets like the Kremlin, the seat of the Russian government in Moscow. Other potential strategic targets include hardened facilities believed to be earmarked for use by the Russian leadership in wartime. One of these facilities is thought to be located at Mount Yamantau, southwest Russia. A back-up facility may exist at Mount Kosvinsky Kaman, western Russia. Russia’s industrial city of Elektrostal, on the eastern outskirts of Moscow, was one of the first locations where the RASF deployed its S-400 (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) high-altitude, long-range SAM systems in 2010.
The SAM Systems
Moscow itself is ring-fenced by the RASF’s 53T6 (ABM-3 Gazelle) anti-ballistic missile system. The 53T6 employs SAMs equipped with a ten kiloton (one kiloton is equal to 1,000 tonnes of conventional explosive) nuclear warhead. These missiles would detonate at altitude in proximity to incoming salvos of ballistic missile warheads or formations of hostile aircraft. The logic is that this ‘shotgun’ approach will vaporise, or at least badly damage, these targets.
The S-400 is the mainstay of the RASF SAM force. A typical S-400 battalion includes two batteries. A battery comprises between eight and twelve individual launch vehicles, each equipped with four missile tubes. Thus, an S-400 regiment could have between 56 and 84 individual missiles ready to launch if fully loaded. Each battery has a command post, a 91N6 (Big Bird) S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) 324 nautical mile/nm (600 kilometre/km) range surveillance and tracking radar. The 91N6 is joined by a 96L6E (Cheese Board) C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) early warning and target acquisition radar. This radar has a range of up to 162nm (300km). A plethora of SAMs can be launched by the S-400 with an array of engagement ranges from 21.6nm (40km) using the active radar homing 9M96E missile. Engagement ranges can reach up to 216nm (400km) using the 40N6E missile which has a reported engagement altitude of 98,425 feet/ft (30,000 metres/m).
Legacy systems used by the RASF include the S-300PS (SA-10B Grumble-B) and S-300PM (SA-10D/E Grumble) which have subtle differences. An S-300PS battery has three Maz-543 launch vehicles each with four launch tubes. The battery is also equipped with a single 5N63S (Flap Lid-B) X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz) fire control radar. An S-300PM battery has a single 36N6E (Flap Lid) X-band/Ku-band (13.4GHz to 14GHz/15.7GHz to 17.7GHz) fire control radar with a 162nm (300km) range. Joining the 36N6E is a 76N6 (Clam Shell) X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz) search and track radar with a 70nm (120km) range. The rest of the battery is comprised of up to eight Kraz-260 launch vehicles each with four tubes. Both the S-300PS/PM are thought to deploy 48N6/E SAMs which have a reported 81nm (150km) range. The S-300PS/PM’s 5V55R missile has an engagement range of up to 48.6nm (90km).
Sources have shared with Armada that RASF SAM batteries are not routinely deployed but may deploy from time-to-time to support exercises or training. The batteries would only be deployed in anger to protect key strategic targets like those discussed above. The sources continued that the task of the SAM units is to provide a protective ‘bubble’ above these targets. Air defence coverage up to 54 nautical miles/nm (100 kilometres/km) altitude and a range radius of 189nm (350km) around the target would be provided. The SAM units would work to attrit any incoming air attack as much as possible. Russian air defence doctrine focuses on safeguarding as many strategic targets as possible in anticipation of an eventual counterattack.
One crucial part of the RASF’s SAM force is its 96K6 Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) combined medium-range SAM and anti-aircraft artillery systems. 96K6 units would deploy with S-300 and S-400 batteries. Their role would be to destroy air-launched weapons like anti-radiation missiles or attack helicopters engaging the batteries Armada’s sources added.
Over the longer term, the RASF is looking to introduce new SAM systems to enhance the strategic IADS in the form of the S-350E and S-500 Prometey long-range, high-altitude SAM systems. The S-350E is mooted as a replacement for the RASF’s S-300PS/PM batteries. Open sources state that a S-350E battery has one 50N6A X-band ground-based air surveillance radar with a range of 215nm (400km). The 50N6A is joined by a single 50K6A mobile command post and up to eight 50P6 launch vehicles. Each launch vehicle can fire 9M96/E or 9M100 SAMs with engagement ranges and altitudes of up to 65nm (120km) and 98,000ft (30,000m) respectively. It was reported in January 2020 that the first S-350E battery had entered service, although a developmental system may have been deployed to support Russia’s military presence in Syria. The VKS could receive twelve S-350E batteries by 2027.
The S-500 is mooted to have a longer engagement range than the S-350E. The S-500 ensemble includes a 91N6A(M) air surveillance and battle management radar. This radar is an enhanced version of the 91N6A radar accompanying the S-400. The S-500’s 96L6TSP target acquisition radar is an enhanced variant of the S-400’s 96L6E. These two systems are accompanied by the 76T6 multimode fire control radar, itself thought to be a derivative of the 92N6. Also forming part of the S-500 ensemble is the 77T6 anti-ballistic missile engagement radar the capabilities of which remain largely unknown in the public domain.
Open sources say that missiles equipping the S-500 could hit targets at ranges of up to 270nm (500km). Russian sources have claimed that the S-500 could engage targets at up to 656,168ft (200,000m) altitude. Russian media, seldom the most reliable source, claim that the first S-500 regiment went on combat duty in October 2021.
The long-term prognosis for the S-500 and S-350E systems remains uncertain. As documented by the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based thinktank, the Russian defence industry is dependent on clandestinely-sourced Western microelectronics for sophisticated weapons systems. Will Western efforts to clamp down on Russia’s access to such technology have an impact on the fortunes of the S-350E and S-500?
Stay tuned for more analysis on Russia’s strategic air defence capabilities in the next instalment of our Russian IADS Redux series.
by Dr. Thomas Withington
Read our other Russian IADS Redux articles:
- Russian IADS Redux Part-1: Resonating with Resonance
- Russian IADS Redux Part-2: Hilltop View
- Russian IADS Redux Part-3: Strategic Skywatchers
- Russian IADS Redux Part-4: Missing Link
- Russian IADS Redux Part-5: Reset Password?
- Russian IADS Redux Part-6: Fundament-alists