Experts questions capability of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system

A recently published report by the Swedish Defense Research Agency, commonly known as FOI, questioned the capability of modern Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system.

On closer inspection, Russia’s capabilities are not quite as daunting, especially if potential countermeasures are factored in. The FOI concluded in a new report that Russia’s capability is less effective than what is claimed by either the Russian military or the Western press.

The analysis shows that the actual range of the new Russian anti-aircraft system, S-400, which is promoted as having a range of 400 kilometers, is actually only 150-200 kilometers. Against low-flying missiles, the S-400’s range may be as short as 20 kilometers.

The S-400 anti-aircraft system is often said to have a 400-km range and be capable of intercepting a gamut of targets, from lumbering transport aircraft to agile fighter jets and cruise missiles, and even ballistic missiles.

According to a report, the missile with a purported 400-km range, the 40N6, is not yet operational and has been plagued by problems in development and testing. In its current configuration, the S-400 system should mainly be considered a threat to large high-value aircraft such as AWACS or transport aircraft at medium to high altitudes, out to a range of 200-250 km. In contrast, the effective range against agile fighter jets and cruise missiles operating at low altitudes can be as little 20-35 km.

Moreover, despite its sophistication, an S-400 battery is dependent on a single engagement radar and has a limited number of firing platforms. It is thus vulnerable both to munitions targeting its engagement radar and to saturation attacks. If and when the 40N6 missile goes online, its 400-km technical range cannot be effectively exploited against targets below approximately 3000 meters unless target data can be provided and updated during the missile’s flight by airborne or forward-deployed radars.

Such a capability – often known as Cooperative Engagement – has only recently been successfully achieved by the U.S. Navy, and is a highly complex and demanding endeavour that Russia should not be expected to master within 10-15 years.

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