Russia’s S-500 Space Warfare System Almost Combat Ready – What to Expect?
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has elaborated on progress in the country’s military’s modernisation efforts in an address televised on Russia’s Rossiya 24 channel. The most widely re-reported part of his statement covered one of Russia’s most highly anticipated new defence products, the S-500 long range air defence system, regarding which Putin announced: “In the Aerospace Forces, about 70 percent of anti-aircraft missile regiments are re-equipped with modern S-400 systems, the next step is the supply of S-500 complexes to the troops, tests of which are already being successfully completed.” Putin further noted regarding other areas of modernisation: “All types and sorts of troops should develop in a balanced and systematic manner, fully taking into account modern trends in the military strategy and tactics of the world’s leading military powers… The army and the navy are receiving the latest weapons and military equipment with high dynamics, thus, the potential of the nuclear triad has been seriously strengthened, the combat capabilities of the navy have been expanded, including through the ships with Kalibr cruise missiles, the Zircon shipborne hypersonic missile system is at the final stage of state testing.”
The S-500 has seen its entry into frontline service delayed by many years, with widespread speculation among analysts that this was a result of a change in required specifications during development on request of the Russian military due to the growing perceived threat posed by enemy space, stealth and hypersonic assets. The air defence system is not expected to replace the S-400, which is currently in serial production for both domestic use and for export, and was developed primarily to engage high value targets at extreme ranges such as satellites, space aircraft, hypersonic missiles, intercontinental range bombers and support aircraft such as E-3 Sentry AWACS jets.
This contrasts to the S-400, which although capable of engaging many kinds of high end target, is better suited than the S-500 to combating large numbers of lower end targets such as cruise missiles. The S-500 has a reported engagement range of 600km – approximately triple that of the longest range Western air defence systems such as the American THAAD and the U.S.-Israeli David’s Sling – and is expected to retain very high mobility through use of mobile launch vehicles, radars and command centres as the S-400 has. The air defence system is expected to enter service before the second half of 2022, and will provide an effective means of responding to emerging U.S. armaments currently under development such as the B-21 stealth bomber and the SR-72 hypersonic space plane – as well as other American space planes under development.