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Ukrainian Forces Destroy Russian S-400 Air Defense System & 96L6E Advanced Radar with US ATACMS Missiles.

According to pictures and a video published on several Social Networks, the Ukrainian army destroyed a Russian S-400 (NATO SA-21 Growler) code-named air defense missile system and, for the first time, Russian 96L6/96L6E CHEESE BOARD detection and acquisition radar from the S-300/400 SAM, thanks to the use of U.S. ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System). According to our analysis, the S-400 seems incapable of intercepting the American ATACMS missile.
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In this picture, we see the deployment of the Russian S-400 battery before the attack by Ukrainian forces with U.S. ATACMS missiles.  (Picture source: Social Network)

The 96L6/96L6E Cheese Board is a highly advanced radar system used in conjunction with the S-400 Triumf air defense system. It serves as an all-altitude, all-weather surveillance and acquisition radar, capable of detecting and tracking a wide range of aerial targets, including low-flying aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. The 96L6/96L6E provides critical data on target speed, altitude, and direction, enabling the S-400 system to effectively prioritize and engage threats. Its ability to operate in various weather conditions and detect stealth targets enhances the overall effectiveness and reliability of the S-400 system in complex air defense environments.

In April 2024, it was revealed that the United States had covertly supplied Ukraine with an unspecified quantity of ATCMS ballistic missiles. According to an official, these missiles were first deployed in the early hours of April 17, 2024, targeting a Russian airfield in Crimea located approximately 165 km (103 miles) from the Ukrainian front lines.

The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) is a surface-to-surface missile system developed by the United States, designed to provide long-range, precision strike capabilities for the U.S. Army. ATACMS missiles are launched from the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), both of which offer mobility and rapid deployment advantages. The ATACMS can engage targets at ranges up to 300 kilometers (approximately 186 miles) and is equipped with a variety of warhead options, including high-explosive and cluster munitions. The missile utilizes GPS and inertial guidance systems to ensure high accuracy and effectiveness against a range of targets, such as command and control centers, air defenses, logistics sites, and troop concentrations.

The combat capabilities of the ATACMS and its launch platforms are significant, providing a strategic advantage on the modern battlefield. The M270 MLRS, with its tracked chassis, offers enhanced cross-country mobility, while the wheeled HIMARS system provides superior speed and versatility. Both platforms can rapidly fire ATACMS missiles and relocate to avoid counter-battery fire, increasing their survivability. The ability to strike targets at extended ranges allows for deep interdiction operations, disrupting enemy supply lines and command structures far behind the front lines. The precision and destructive power of ATACMS make it a critical asset for joint operations, capable of shaping the battlefield and supporting ground forces with timely and accurate long-range fires.

The ATACMS presents significant challenges to interception by advanced air defense systems such as the Russian S-400 due to several technological and tactical factors. Unlike more conventional cruise missiles, which travel at around 600 mph, the ATACMS can accelerate to three times the speed of sound (approximately 2,300 mph), making them more difficult for air defense systems to intercept. This high speed is the missile’s main strength, as highlighted by Justin Crump, the chief executive of the strategic intelligence company Sibylline. He explained that while Russia’s web of radars and missile detection systems will detect a launch almost instantly, the rapid speed of the ATACMS means defenders have only about three minutes to respond. The missile remains in the engagement area for maybe 30 seconds, requiring a very fast countermeasure, which is not an easy target. The advanced guidance systems and mobile launch platforms further complicate interception efforts. The sheer speed and evasiveness of the ATACMS place significant strain on Russia’s air defense units, making effective interception highly challenging.

The 96L6E is an advanced all-altitude surveillance and acquisition radar used in the Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems. (Picture source Wikimedia)

The S-400 Triumf, also known by its NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler, is a highly advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM) system developed by Russia. It is designed to provide comprehensive air defense by detecting, tracking, and intercepting a wide variety of aerial threats, including aircraft, drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. The S-400 system integrates multiple radar systems, missile launchers, and command-and-control elements to create a layered and highly capable defense network.

The S-400 works through a sophisticated process of detection, tracking, and interception. The system employs multiple radar systems for detection and tracking, with the primary radar being the 91N6E Big Bird acquisition and battle management radar. This radar is capable of tracking up to 300 targets simultaneously over a range of up to 600 kilometers (373 miles). For target engagement, the system uses the 92N6E Grave Stone multimode engagement radar, which can guide missiles to their targets with high precision. Once potential targets are detected, the information is processed by the 55K6E command and control center. This center assesses the threat level, prioritizes targets, and coordinates the launch of interceptor missiles.

The S-400 can deploy several types of interceptor missiles, each optimized for different types of targets and ranges. These include the 40N6E long-range missile, the 48N6E2 and 48N6E3 medium-range missiles, and the 9M96E and 9M96E2 short-range missiles. This versatility allows the S-400 to engage targets at ranges from 40 kilometers (25 miles) to 400 kilometers (248 miles), and at altitudes up to 185 kilometers (115 miles). The system's missiles are equipped with advanced guidance systems, including active radar homing, which enables them to accurately home in on and destroy their targets.

In terms of interception capabilities, the S-400's advanced radar and missile technology allow it to intercept a wide range of aerial threats, including those that are highly maneuverable or flying at high speeds. The system's ability to engage multiple targets simultaneously and its layered defense approach provide a robust shield against complex attack scenarios. However, the effectiveness of the S-400 against supersonic missiles like the ATACMS, which can travel at speeds up to 2,300 mph, poses significant challenges due to the limited response time and the high speed and unpredictable flight paths of such missiles. This can strain the S-400’s capabilities, requiring rapid detection, tracking, and interception within a very short engagement window.

The American ATACMS missile has proven a significant weapons in Ukraine's defense efforts against Russian invasion. The missile's long-range precision strike capability has enabled Ukrainian forces to effectively target and destroy key Russian military installations, command centers, and supply depots, significantly disrupting enemy operations. The speed and accuracy of ATACMS have allowed Ukraine to hit critical targets deep behind enemy lines with minimal collateral damage, enhancing their strategic impact. This success has bolstered Ukraine's defensive and offensive capabilities and demonstrated the value of advanced missile systems in modern warfare.

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