Algeria appears to have deployed its Russian-made S-350 ‘Vityaz’ air defense system near the border with Morocco, per recent media reports and satellite images doing the rounds on social media. The deployment reportedly comes in response to the recent Moroccan-Israeli rapprochement.
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So far, there is no official confirmation from Algeria or Russia about selling this air defense system. However, there was an indication when an Algerian TV network showed images of the S-350 in the background of the Algerian Army Chief of Staff General Said Chengriha and even in the meetings of Algerian Defense officials.
The Algerian TV network aired these images only about a week after the Russian military had received its first batch of S-350 systems on December 23, 2019.
The algerian official tv showed 3 times photos of S-350 vityaz …it is very interesting and might be a clear message that algeria will receive the S-350 SAM system soon pic.twitter.com/FtrmsPgHp0
— kimo dial (@kmldial70) January 1, 2020
The source of the recent satellite images purportedly showing the S-350 systems remains unknown.
Reports suggest that Algeria could have deliberately leaked the photos to send a message to Morocco after its recent purchase of the Barak MX air defense system from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Tensions between Algeria and Morocco have been growing lately, resulting in the former severing its diplomatic ties with the latter in August 2021.
The two countries disagree about the political status of Western Sahara, which Morocco claims. An independence movement in Algeria, known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), comprising the indigenous Sahrawi tribe, asserts a claim on the land.
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Western Sahara is under Morocco’s occupation after the Kingdom of Morocco annexed it in two stages in 1976 and 1979. However, it is not considered a legal part of Morocco according to International Law.
Since the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel, as part of the historic Abraham Accords, the two countries have established strong defense relations based on a landmark defense agreement signed in 2021.
Also, the Abraham Accords granted Morocco the recognition of its Western Saharan territory from the US as a quid pro quo from the former US President Donald Trump.
In response to Morocco’s bonhomie with Israel and the US, Algeria has been cultivating closer relations with Russia, providing Moscow a foothold within the Northern African region.
Therefore, the purported presence of the S-350 air defense system in Morocco must be viewed in the context of a more significant geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West.
Also, only the Russian military is known to operate the S-350 system, which means Algeria could be the first foreign customer of this system.
The S-350 Vityaz
The S-350 Vityaz is a medium-range surface-to-air missile system developed and manufactured by the Russian Defense Company Almaz-Antey. The development work on the system began in the early 1990s, and its first flight test took place in 2013.
The system was unveiled for the first time to the public during the 2013 edition of the MAKS AirShow in Moscow. As stated earlier, the Russian military received its first batch of S-350 systems in December 2019.
The interceptor for the S-350 system is the 9M96 guided missile which can be deployed against aerial and ballistic threats at a range between 1.5 to 120 kilometers and an altitude of 10 to 30,000 meters. The missile has passive Infrared (IR) homing guidance and can reportedly perform a dual role as an anti-missile and anti-aircraft missile.
The S-350 can also fire the 9M100 short-range guided missile with a maximum firing range of ten kilometers. The 9M100 can destroy various aerial threats, including aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and cruise missiles.
The S-350 system is based on the 8×8 truck chassis BAZ-6909, which can run at a maximum speed of 80 kilometers per hour with a maximum cruising range of 1,000 kilometers.
Each S-350 system typically comprises three components: a Transporter Erector Launcher 50P6 (TEL 5096), capable of firing 12 missiles; a 50N6 radar that can reportedly track 100 objects and engage eight targets simultaneously over a distance exceeding 200 kilometers; a Command and control (C2) vehicle 50K6, and a Relay station for communication.
The latest satellite images purportedly showing the S-350 Vityaz systems seem to have been taken from a depot or a base belonging to the Territory Air Force Command (CFDAT) somewhere in central/northern Algeria, according to MENA Defense.
Among the possible locations shown in the satellite images, the Boufarik Air Base is reportedly the most likely, followed by Bilda and L’alat air bases.
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