Forget the S-300, Here Comes the S-400

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Forget the S-300, Here Comes the S-400

“It has many features specifically designed to overcome countermeasures and stealth…”

With controversy swirling last week surrounding a possible Russian sale of an advanced air-defense system, the S-300, to Syria, there are even more sophisticated air-defense platforms designed by Moscow that military planners around the world may soon have to anticipate dealing with.

The S-400, the next generation of air-defense systems, has the potential to create serious problems for fighter aces around the world.

"The 400 is an evolution of the 300.  It has many features specifically designed to overcome countermeasures and stealth, such as a larger, more powerful radar that is more resistant to jamming.  It also actually has a set of three missiles of varying range that provide overlapping layers of defense," Ivan Oelrich, an independent defense analyst and adjunct professor at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University, told The Diplomat

"The S-400, or Triumph, consists of a radar and several missiles. The main radar tracks targets, calculates an intercept course, and sends guidance signals to the missiles, directing them toward the target.  When the missiles get close enough, they switch over to an independent, on-board guidance system for the final attack."

Oelrich explained the system is not combat tested nor has it been sold outside of Russia, so information on the system is limited.

While such an advanced air-defense platform could certainly create problems for strategic planners, even the most advanced technologies like the S-400 require proper training.

"Even very capable weapons, especially sophisticated and complex systems, are of limited use when in the hands of poorly trained users and the missile would have to be part of a comprehensive air-defense system," explains Orelich.

"It turns out that Syria has a fairly thick air defense system but, as recent Israeli attacks demonstrate, it can be penetrated.  If the weaknesses of the system are due to poor training, discipline, and doctrine, then adding a high performance system will not help much." 

So could we see the S-400 being sold to other militaries besides Russia?

"The Russian government says that [foreign] sales are sometime off while the manufacturer has suggested that foreign sales are possible. These things are very hard to predict but I would be extremely surprised if Russia sold the missiles to Syria while the current crisis continues; it would be seen as an extremely provocative escalation."