Analysis Russian army S-350 air defense missile system enjoys broad export prospects

The latest S-350 Vityaz air defense missile systems are being supplied to the Russian troops. On the one hand, the supplies confirm that the large-scale rearmament program is implemented on schedule despite a difficult financial situation. On the other hand, the supplies of S-350 are a reaction of the Russian Defense Ministry to the development of new warfare trends when regular armies, insurgents and terrorists operate drones and various ballistic and cruise missiles, the Independent Military Review writes.
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S-350 Vityaz air defense system displayed at Army-2019 (Picture source: Army Recognition)

At the same time, all traditional air threats from a high-tech adversary - aerodynamic and ballistic - remain vital. Thus, the universal air and missile defense becomes decisive. S-350 Vityaz medium-range system is a vivid example that enjoys major prospects in the global arms market, although exports of such expensive and sophisticated hardware always face political obstacles.

The tactical characteristics of the export option of S-350 have been agreed with the Defense Ministry. It means Almaz-Antey designer can sell it to foreign customers. Modern warfare demands intensified procurement by various countries of the latest air defense weapons. Any S-350 exports are possible only after the Russian armed forces are fully armed with them. And they need a lot. The 2018-2027 arms program envisages the supplies of 12 S-350 battalions (each has 12 launchers with 12 missiles each). However, export prospects are good as the weapon was designed due to a foreign contract. Almaz-Antey designed the medium-range KM-SAM air defense complex for South Korea. It was accepted into service as Cheolmae-2.

The missiles for S-350E were created on the basis of the Russian 9M96. After the Russian Defense Ministry was acquainted with KM-SAM, it decided to launch an R&D in 2007 and create a Russian new-generation medium-range air defense weapon with another concept and improved characteristics. Vityaz began trials in 2015 and Almaz-Antey handed over to the Defense Ministry the first S-350 set in December 2019. In February 2020, the first S-350 was supplied to the Gatchina training center in the Leningrad region of the Aerospace Forces. In 2021, the rearmament of the 24th antiaircraft brigade deployed in the Krasnoyarsk region and Khakassia will begin. S-300 will be replaced by S-350. Three years later the antiaircraft regiment in Achinsk will begin to receive Vityaz.

The main trend in air and missile defense is increased multichannel capability to destroy high-speed targets, including ballistic ones. S-350 has a round view of targets. The number of channels to simultaneously fire at targets has been considerably increased.

S-350 considerably exceeds S-300, as it has more missiles per launcher and can effectively repel massive strikes. It tracks 48 targets and provides guidance for eight aerodynamic and six ballistic objects. S-300 can track 12 targets and fire at six. S-350 can be integrated into a single combat control system and obtain guidance from a more powerful radar of S-400. An active phased antenna array of Vityaz reliably locks on a target at a distance of 250 km even in conditions of electronic warfare. S-350 fires two types of missiles.

9M96 destroys any aerodynamic and ballistic objects at a distance of 120 km and an altitude of 30 km. Guidance is provided by an inertial adjustment system and a homing warhead in the final section of the flight. 9M100 missile can intercept targets at a distance of 15 km. It is equipped with an infrared homing warhead that locks on the target right after the launch and operates by the fire-and-forget principle. The weapon destroys low-flying cruise missiles, airplanes and helicopters, medium and heavy drones, and tactical ballistic missiles.

S-350 Vityaz belongs to a family of medium and long-range high-tech weapons that are most sophisticated and expensive. The ability to design and produce them takes the national defense industry to the top level. Western European countries can create such weapons only in cooperation. Israel, Japan, South Korea, India and China conduct such projects with a backup from the United States or Russia. The latter two countries are the only independent designers and producers of medium and long-range air and missile defense.

The United States occupies solid positions in the global arms market with Raytheon Patriot antiaircraft launchers which lead the sales. Close to 200 batteries have been sold to 12 countries. A battery of four launchers costs one billion dollars. The launch of one missile costs close to 3 million dollars. PAC-3 option has been implemented in the past decade. All customers are upgrading procured Patriot to PAC-3 level with a range of 80 km and an altitude of 20 km. Patriot sustained major image losses after it failed to prevent an attack of Houthi drones and cruise missiles on Saudi Aramco oil facilities in September 2019. 88 Patriot launchers protect the northern Saudi border with a total radar field. Fifty-two of them are the latest PAC-3. The main reason for the failure is believed to be low jam-resistance and a viewing angle of 90 degrees. Russian weapons see 360 degrees around.

After the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to Al-Riyadh to buy Russian S-400 or S-300 air defense. Yet in 2017, Saudi Arabia signed a contract with Rosoboronexport for S-400, however it is still invalid and discussed.

The situation demonstrates the situation on the global air and missile defense market where political motivation dominates. The United States does not allow free competition. The Saudis and other US allies cannot buy Russian arms and use negotiations for political bargaining with Moscow. Russian supplies of S-400 to Turkey radically cooled US-Turkish relationship and made Washington refuse from supplying fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to the ally although Turkey cooperated in their creation.

The United States is promoting THAAD missile defense in the world market for over-atmosphere destruction of intermediate-range ballistic missiles. However, it is no competitor to Russian S-400 because of a limited range of targets. THAAD cannot fight airplanes and cruise missiles.

S-400 has recently appeared in the market but has already enjoyed three major contracts: 3 US$ billion with China, over 5 US$ billion with India, and 2.5 US$ billion with Turkey. S-400 enjoys good export prospects due to the price-quality ratio, but the long-range is excessive for some customers who may prefer medium-range S-350.

MEADS air defense of European MBDA and LFK Corporations and US Lockheed Martin is a direct competitor to S-350. It fires a new ERINT MSE antiaircraft guided missile unified for PAC-3. The destruction range for ballistic missiles is 3-35 km and for aircraft - 3-100 km. The altitude is 25 km. It can simultaneously fire at ten air targets. In contrast to Patriot, MEADS is a circular-view weapon which, like Russian systems, intercepts targets from various directions. It is armed with dummy munitions as well and has a modular architecture. MEADS is to become a major element of NATO air and missile defense.

SAMP/T medium-range antiaircraft missile complex is integrated into the single NATO missile defense. It was designed by Eurosam Company and can fire in an angle of 360 degrees, has a modular design and is armed with maneuverable Aster-30 missiles with active homing warheads. SAMP/T tracks ten targets and has a high rate of fire. It launches all eight missiles in ten seconds. The destruction range for an aircraft is 3-100 km and for ballistic missile - 3-35 km. The altitude is 25 km. The detection range is 600 km.

S-350 Vityaz and SAMP/T are ideologically close and their missiles are unified with seaborne air defense. For S-350, it is naval Redut and Polimeni-Redut; for SAMP/T, it is seaborne PAAMS.

China designed HQ-9 analogue of S-300P which is actively exported. HQ-9 won the Turkish T-LORAMIDS tender for the procurement of non-strategic antiaircraft missiles. Russian, US and European weapons also bid. China won due to a complete handover of technologies. However, Ankara canceled the tender results under pressure from Washington. Another Chinese offer is KS-1A weapon with a range of 50 km.

Israel exports medium-range Iron Dome (Kippat Barzel) antiaircraft systems of Rafael. Medium and long-range Barak 8 was designed jointly with India. Israel also has Arrow 2 (Hetz) designed jointly with the USA (interception range and altitude - 100 and 50 km respectively). South Korean medium-range KM/SAM (Cheolmae-2) is actually an adapted Russian Vityaz with technologies of 9M96 missile fired by Vityaz. Is it a competitor for S-350? The response is provided by the Saudi attempt to procure the weapon after the Houthi drone attack on the national oil infrastructure. Although the Saudis did not request Russia for fear of US tough response, the wish to buy a South Korean analog confirms high combat capabilities of Vityaz.

To sum up, S-350 is likely to occupy a worthy place in the global arms market, the Independent Military Review said.

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