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.