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Russia Bets Big On S-500; But How Is S-500 Missile Defense System Better Than S-400s?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the country is about to complete trials of the much-awaited S-500 air defense system, adding it will subsequently be inducted into the Russian military. 

“Over 70% of surface-to-air missile regiments in the Aerospace Force have been rearmed with advanced S-400 systems. The S-500 system whose trials are successfully nearing completion is next to be delivered to the troops,” Putin said on a televised address on May 25.

The Russian S-500 has been designed to counter NATO’s advanced stealth platforms, including F-35 Lighting II and F-22 Raptor, considered the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft.

The S-500 is a potent improvisation over its predecessor, the S-400, and this weapon system brings new capabilities into defensive warfare that no country currently possesses.

The most significant feature is the upgraded 77N6 series missiles, which will be employed to intercept hypersonic missiles and any other weapons platforms cruising at speeds of over Mach 5.

The S-500 improvises on the interception range with its ability to engage ballistic missiles at a distance of 600 km, with a capacity to hit at least 10 missiles coming in at a speed of over 7 km per second.

What’s The Hype About S-500?

The makers also claim the system can destroy low-earth orbit satellites or space weapons launched from hypersonic aircraft, strike hypersonic UAVs and orbital platforms. That will be a tremendous new capability in the domain of defensive warfare.

According to top Russian military officials, the S-500 will not replace the existing air defense and missile defense systems but will supplement them. The system is expected to be added to the already vast air defense layers of Russia, which includes S-400, S-300, and a vast inventory of short-medium range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems

Russia is confident that the new system with its powerful targeting suite and advanced networking capabilities can detect and shoot down the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter, which can evade most of the radars and penetrate enemy air defense systems unscathed.

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

S-500 Can Reach Ultra-High Altitudes?

President Vladimir Putin has himself praised the new S-500 ‘Prometheus’ which according to him is capable of operating in “ultra-high altitudes including near space”.

The hypersonic weapons travel with at least five times the speed of sound and are capable of precise maneuverability to hit their target. The high speed gives the missile tremendous kinetic energy which could cause severe damage to a target even without blowing the warhead. Stopping such weapons has become a major challenge for the makers of new-age air defense systems.

Russia has become the first country to create a successful defense system capable of defending against such weapons, although its archrival, the United States, is yet to operationalize any of its hypersonic weapons.

Last year, Putin told reporters that his country is actually a step ahead of the rest of the world, as it is developing the platforms to stop hypersonic missiles even before any of its potential adversaries have such weapons available, according to National Interest.

“We are working, among other things, on the ‘antidote’ against future hypersonic weapons in other countries, in the world’s other leading armies,” Putin had said, as quoted by Russian news agency Tass.

The US is developing hypersonic weapons under a series of programs, however, all efforts to successfully develop a weapon have been unsuccessful so far. A hypersonic test conducted in April this year by the country had failed. On the other hand, China has already operationalized its hypersonic weapons which the country had been developing for many years.

What Experts Said

Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces (VKS), Colonel-General Sergey Surovikin, in an interview last year, had said that “the main task of the complex (S-500) is the destruction of medium-range ballistic missiles, and, if necessary, warheads of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the final section of their flight path.”

He said that in terms of its tactical and technical characteristics, the S-500 can be attributed to the first generation of anti-space defense systems since in the future it will be able to destroy low-orbit satellites and space weapons.

All these capabilities make the S-500 the most advanced and powerful air defense system in the world. The system is expected to provide strategic protection to the Russian capital, Moscow, building an extra impregnable layer of security over the city.

While the previously built S-400 garnered considerable attention globally, the system was sold to many countries. The S-500 may, however, not be available for export, the experts say.