At least three NATO members have been using Russian air missile defense systems over the years, even as the U.S. steps up pressure on Turkey and India to withdraw from their own purchases of such hardware.
With India having inked a deal with Moscow in October 2018 following wide-ranging talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to buy S-400 missile defense systems, deliveries are scheduled to commence in October 2020 and to be completed by April 2023. Turkey, which began negotiations for the purchase in 2017, is likely to receive its first batch over the next two months.
With NATO ally Turkey, Washington’s main objection to the planned deployment of Russian systems is that they would not be compatible with NATO equipment and would pose a threat to the U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets, of which Turkey is a prospective buyer and partner in development and production.
Russia has so far sold the earlier version of the S-300 system to some 20 countries, including the NATO member countries such as Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia. The S-300 missiles are currently an integrated part of the air defenses of Greece — a NATO nation — and have also been deployed in Greek Cyprus.
Experts believe that NATO forces and their jets are exposed to radar systems deployed in Greece as much as they could be from the missile shield deployed in Turkey. It is believed that the U.S. itself had purchased an S-300 air defense system in 1994 from Belarus. The New York Times reported however that this was meant to examine the system, to modernize its own Patriot air defense shield.
The S-400 Triumf missile system was developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau as an upgrade of the S-300 model and carry surface-to-air missiles capable of targeting a variety of aircraft from distances ranging from 40 to 400 kilometers (250 to 25 miles). It is described as the best air-defense system in the world at present.
Advantages of the S-400
S-400 missiles are equipped with state-of-art radar systems, which provide sector search and fine tracking capabilities with a mobile radar station that has a detection range between 65 and 1,200 km (40-746 miles), and a current maximum capacity of 100 targets.
While U.S.-made fifth generation fighter jets, such as the F-35 were designed to penetrate the S-400’s, it is believed that other planes such as the F-16 and F-18 versions are not capable to dodge the system.
Operationally, each S-400 battalion comprises of two batteries with four launchers each for a total of 40 launchers on five regiments — enough to protect two to three major cities. They are designed to be able to destroy all aerial objects including airplanes, helicopters, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
S-400 international deployments
Russia currently has five S-400 regiments deployed across its territory: two in Moscow and one each in the Pacific, Baltic and Southern Military Districts with further plans for 28 more regiments by 2020, each comprising of two or three battalions with four systems each, mainly in maritime and border areas. Syria, Belarus and China also currently own S-400 systems.
Russia has been training Chinese military personnel on the use of the air defense system for several years. China was the first international customer to place an order in 2014, worth $3 billion.
While Turkey and India may be in the media limelight, other U.S. allies currently negotiating with Moscow for the hardware include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq and Qatar. In February 2017, Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Rostec Corporation — the state-owned firm producing the S-400 — stated that Egypt was interested in the S-400 air defence system. But the negotiations were delayed due to Egypt’s financial issues.
S-300 missile system deployed in 17 countries including NATO allies
The earlier version of the S-400 system uses identical radar system is currently in the possession of 17 countries including Greece, Slovakia and Bulgaria — all U.S. allies. Ukraine, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Egypt, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Georgia, Moldova, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan also have the S-300.