For the last several years, Russia has been positioning itself as a primary arms broker to the world markets. Though Russia itself has a military that continues to subsist heavily on cold war surplus; the country’s arms industry has been steadily developing modern equipment that it sells overseas. Russia’s clients encompass numerous countries including Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
In May of 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited an air force testing site featuring their latest pieces of modern equipment. A variety of air defense systems were on display, including the new S-350 Vityaz medium-range surface-to-air missile system, which began serious production in March 2019, with multiple iterations of the Panstir point defense air defense system. Russia has heavily promoted Panstir in recent years, highlighting its operational activities in Syria (thedrive.com/half-of-russias-su-57-fleet-escorted-putin-to-military-test-facility-ahead-of-pompeo-meeting).
The S-350 was designed to replace the S-400 series. The S-400, nicknamed Triumf or Triumph, NATO code-named SA-21 Growler, is a long-range surface-to-air missile system produced by Almaz-Antey. The S-400 Triumph is designed to engage ECM, radar-picket, director area, reconnaissance, strategic and tactical aircraft; tactical and theatre ballistic missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles and other current and future air attack assets at a maximum range of 400 km, and an altitude of up to 30 km. The S-400 Triumph can also destroy Tomahawk cruise missiles and other types of missiles, including precision-guided ones, as well as AWACS aircraft, at ranges of up to 400 km. It can also detect stealth aircraft and other targets at all altitudes of their combat deployment and at maximum ranges. This air defense missile system can simultaneously engage 36 targets (armyrecognition.com/s-400_triumf_sa-21_growler_missile_russia_air_defense_system.html).
Design of the S-350 air defense system is broadly similar to the South Korean KM-SAM Chun Koong. It is worth noting that Almaz-Antey participated in the development of that South Korean SAM system. It is claimed that the S-350 Vityaz is more capable than the South Korean system because the S-350 system has advanced phased-array radar and a new mobile command post.
If required, a number of vehicles can be linked together to form a battery. A typical battery consisting of a command post can control two radars and 8 TEL vehicles. Vityaz SAM system can operate autonomously or alongside other air defense systems. It can stop and launch its missiles within 5 minutes while traveling. This air defense system can engage 12 to 16 targets simultaneously, including aircraft and ballistic missiles. Its command post can target up to 32 missiles on various targets at once. (military-today.com/s350e_vityaz.htm).
A single S-350 transporter erector launcher (TEL) is armed with three times as many missiles as a single S-300 or S-400 SAM TEL and the S-350 is capable of repelling simultaneous attacks from any direction. The S-350's capabilities make it a priority to equip SAM units stationed on borders and coasts with Vityaz and with a regiment retrained for the system in 2020.
The Pantsir-S short-range air defence (SHORAD) system had been used to deal effectively with Grad rockets fired by the BM-21 multiple rocket launcher system, small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and quadcopters over the last year and a half and has countered air-to-surface missiles and aircraft. Pantsir-SM will counter future threats such as hypersonic missiles and UAV swarms, stressing that in addition to a new radar, greater processing power, and missiles with greater speed, range, and payload, the Pantsir-SM will use artificial intelligence.
With the proliferation of precision-guided munitions (PGMs), the focus is shifting from area to point air defence with Pantsir systems, while S-400 SAM systems will deal with aircraft before they launch PGMs (janes.com/article/russian-sam-troops-deputy-commander-dubs-s-350-cruise-missile-killer).
The S-350 can also launch a short-range missile which is likely a variant of the 9M100. This air defense system can engage targets within ranges from 30 to 120 km. The Vityaz TEL vehicle carries 12 9M96E vertically-launched missiles. The same medium-range missiles are used by the recent Russian S-400. The 9M96E is a variant of the 9M96 active radar-homing interceptor missile. This missile is designed for direct impact. It is similar to the US Patriot PAC-3 design and is intended to provide point defense against precision attacks and defense suppression weapons. Its claimed kill probability is 90% against aircraft and 70% against Harpoon missiles (military-today.com/s350e_vityaz.htm).In addition, the Pantsir-SM will have artificial intelligence elements that will not only allow it to survive in the most difficult conditions to fight against the enemy air of the future but also come out of it as a winner.
Colonel Yuri Muravkin, deputy chief of the Russian Missile Forces, told the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper the Pantsir-SM is being created for future anti-aircraft battles. The colonel explained that the anti-aircraft battle of the future, especially in the last line of defense, will no longer be a duel between anti-aircraft missiles and tactical fighter pilots. Muravkin added that Pantsir-SM will receive new radar missile guidance and reconnaissance systems, high-speed computing and a new guided anti-aircraft missile with a longer range of fire and more powerful warhead (fort-russ.com/).
For years, the S-400 system has been sold to numerous countries. In April 2009, during an IDEF exhibition in Istanbul, Rosoboronexport released that the Turkish government had expressed strong interest in buying S-400 air defense systems. Reports on Russia signing a contract for sales of S-400 systems to China came in November 2014. In November 2015, the Russian president’s adviser on military-technical cooperation, Vladimir Kozhin, confirmed these reports. Turkish talks on the delivery of the S-400 systems first came in November 2016. In September 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Ankara had signed a contract with Moscow on purchasing the S-400 complexes and made an advance payment. Head of Russia’s Rostec State Corporation, Sergei Chemezov, said that the delivery would begin in March 2020.
China became the first foreign buyer of these systems and will receive two batches. In July 2018, the Russia press agency TASS announced that China has received the first batch of Russian-made S-400 Triumf missile systems. On 15 October 2016, during the BRICS Summit, India and Russia signed an Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) for the supply of five S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. On 5 October 2018, India and Russia signed a US$5.43 billion deal for five S-400 missile systems. The deliveries are expected to commence in 24 months, by the end of 2020. In January 2018, Russian state media TASS reported that Qatar was in an advanced state of talks to procure S-400 missile systems.
The S-400 air defense missile system is combat-proven. In November 2015, the deployment of S-400 was reported in Syria, along with the contingent of Russian troops and other military hardware in the course of the air campaign conducted by the Russian forces on the side of the Syrian government. In July 2019, Russia had started the delivery of S-400 missile systems to Turkey (armyrecognition.com). And it has been reported that Iran has received possession of the system as well (bing.com). It is only logical to assume that Russia intends to push the S-350 in the same way.
In building itself into a major arms merchant, Russia is creating a series of client states that it can exert influence over, especially if several of these clients are suffering against sanctions from the US and allies. What makes the anti-aircraft system such a concern is that it presents a serious change in the dynamics of military power. Many states, including the US and Israel, have relied heavily on air combat capabilities to engage hostile states and neutralize threats. Modernized anti-aircraft weaponry, such as the S-350 in the hands of hostile states, represents a change in the balance of power and limits several military options that traditionally could have been effective.
It is unclear if such technological enhancements will present a short or long-term change in these dynamics of military strength. What is clear is that US technological superiority is no longer guaranteed and military considerations may not be as feasible as they once were.
During the cold war, the Soviet Union and the United States used arms transfers and military assistance as one element in foreign and security policies that was primarily intended to further a political and ideological competition. But with the end of the cold war, the international arms trade no longer has the same politico-military underpinning.
In the late 1980s, the changes in foreign policy initiated by President Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze transformed the pattern of Soviet arms exports. After 1992, decisions by Russia about foreign, domestic and economic policy altered the size and pattern of arms exports even further. According to the Office of the President, in 1996 military-technical cooperation generated $2.5 billion in revenue of which $2.1 billion was in convertible currency and the rest in currencies that could not be freely converted. Russia also delivered arms and military equipment against debts owed to several foreign countries (www.sipri.org/publications/1998/russia-and-arms-trade).
The exports of black and gray arms represent between 5-15% of total weapons exports from Russia. For example, when the official exports of weapons and military equipment from Russia amounted to $3.8 billion in the early 2000s, the black and gray export was closer to $380 million. Russian merchants of death also have a large scale operation in the Middle East. Russia was accused of supplying arms to terrorist organizations such as Hamas, IG, and Hezbollah with the ruling Assad regime in Syria acting as an intermediary.
Syria has been in a state of civil war for many years with rebels trying to overthrow the pro-Kremlin regime. Since the beginning of the war, Russian arms supplies to Syria have grown exponentially. Moscow officially claims that deliveries are made on previous contracts, but it cannot explain why the number of these contracts suddenly increased many times over. In this case, there is real doubt that the weapons contracts are paid for, since it is no secret that the Assad regime is bankrupt and unable to buy the mountains of weapons supplied over these years from Russia, including small arms, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship missiles, C-SAM (ZRK S-300), tanks T-72 and T-80, and MiG-29 and Su-25 aircraft. And that doesn’t even include the cost of ammunition.
Israeli intelligence agencies have repeatedly implicated the Kremlin in the supply of weapons to Hezbollah, including rockets, ammunition, and small firearms. In fact, the IDF has actively prevented completion of several Kremlin plans for the armament of Hezbollah brokered by Assad. Israeli aircraft have repeatedly destroyed the anti-aircraft missiles S-300, anti-ship missiles Yakhont, and ground-to-ground missiles on Syrian territory that were intended for Hezbollah. Israeli forces seized Russian-made weapons, the ATGM Cornet, from Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Russian smuggling in the Middle East is not limited to the supply of weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah. There are reasons to believe the Kremlin is also supplying weapons to the terrorist group ISIS. Russians could not transfer weapons to militants openly, because it officially recognized ISIS as a terrorist organization. Then there was a scam—a series of staged assaults by militants on the bases of Syrian government troops. Assad’s army retreated without a fight, leaving the entire base along with loads of weapons. Hence, this was a way to deliver arms under the guise of trophies. It is noteworthy that when the relationship between ISIS and the Assad regime went sour, attacks on government troops became violent and the weapons were destroyed (informnapalm.org/).
By 2015, the US was first in value of all arms deliveries made around the world, at a value of $16.9 billion or 36.62% of the total. The US and Russia made up just over half of all arms transfer agreements to developing world countries. Each year, between 2008 and 2015, two or three major suppliers made most of the arms transfers to that market. It was the eighth year in a row that the US was first in this category, and Russia was second in each of those eight years.
Russia is able to offer a variety of munitions, from low-tech gear to advanced weapons systems. It has sold combat aircraft and main battle tanks to China and India and made arms deals with the likes of Malaysia, Burma, and Algeria. Moscow has focused its recent arms-sales efforts on Latin America, where Venezuela has been a principal buyer. Russia has also worked to make it's weapons deal terms more flexible and to improve its follow-on services to clients (www.businessinsider.com/us-russia-global-arms-sales-2016-12).
Recently the issue that has come between the US and Russia is the sale of the S-400 air defense system. The S-400 Triumph (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) is an air defence missile system developed by Almaz Central Design Bureau of Russia. The S-400 Triumph air defence system integrates a multifunction radar, autonomous detection and targeting systems, anti-aircraft missile systems, launchers, and command and control centre. It is capable of firing three types of missiles to create a layered defence. The system can engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 400km, at an altitude of up to 30km. The system can simultaneously engage 36 targets. The S-400 is two-times more effective than previous Russian air defence systems and can be deployed within five minutes. It can also be integrated into the existing and future air defence units of the Air Force, Army, and the Navy. Russia intends to supply export versions of the S-400 Triumph system to the armed forces of China. Turkey also expressed interest in purchasing S-400 air defence systems (www.army-technology.com/projects/s-400-triumph-air-defence-missile-system/).
Russia’s ability to sell its S-400 air defense system to several different countries in different theaters illustrates the geopolitics of this particular system. Despite US sanctions on the Russian defense company Almaz-Antey, Moscow is offering or has sold the S-400 to a number of countries, including NATO member Turkey. The US is also watching closely for other S-400 sales to countries such as Algeria, Belarus, Iran, and Vietnam, thus reducing the American sphere of influence and boosting Russia’s ability to arm, equip, and train other countries’ air defense capabilities regardless of the theater. The key issue here is what the US will do given the defense requirements of other countries who want to continue to do defense business with Moscow. Both Turkey and, in particular, India now stand out (www.arabnews.com/node/1390056). The U.S. aggressive stance has also set it at further odds with China.
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Chinese military on Thursday for buying fighter jets and missile systems from Russia in breach of a sweeping US sanctions law punishing Moscow for meddling in the 2016 US election. The US State Department said it would immediately impose sanctions on China’s Equipment Development Department (EDD), the military branch responsible for weapons and equipment, and its director, Li Shangfu, for engaging in “significant transactions” with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms exporter. The sanctions are related to China’s purchase of 10 SU-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018, according to the State Department. In Beijing, the Chinese government expressed anger and demanded the sanctions be withdrawn (www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-sanctions/u-s-sanctions-china-for-buying-russian-fighter-jets-missiles-idUSKCN1M02TP).
This intelligence site has previously reported that Russia is building its economic base and influence in the world by availing itself to countries under US or UN sanctions as a viable trading partner. Based on this strategy it is using its arms business to further undermine the effectiveness of US sanctions and bolster its own position as a sphere of influence in the world.
It is also a source of revenue for the Russian economy they will continue to foster through both legitimate sales and black-market deals. In the long run, Russia’s arms sales will constitute a serious threat for the United States. In addition to eroding the effectiveness of US sanctions, technology such as the S-400 changes the battlefield dynamics by enhancing the defenses of hostile countries. The fact that Russia has been willing to turn a blind eye or actively encourage an illicit market to further their customer base explains how important the arms market has become for them.
The US needs to recognize that Russia’s arms business is only going to expand and proliferate, especially to countries and groups that are sanctioned by the US. Russia has grown to become the second largest arms merchant in the world just behind the United States. In time it is capable of becoming the largest, thus Russia will remain a significant threat to US authority. In response, the US needs to start developing more diverse measures and threats to deal with foreign adversaries; measures that do not rely solely on sanctions. It will also have to deal with adversaries that will be able to obtain more sophisticated weapons because of this.