Russia's air defenses: issues and problems

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Russia's air defenses: issues and problems - Sputnik International
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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - Early this week, some media circulated a statement by General of the Army Anatoly Kornukov, the former commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force. The general claims that the Moscow air defense system has failed to live up to its mission. Moreover, he says, Russian air defense forces lack capabilities to intercept tactical missiles, which pose one of the main threats to developed nations.

As any statement of this kind, it contains a grain of truth, but not a full picture. To begin with, the present Moscow anti-ballistic missile system (A-135) was set up in the 1970s and 1999s to protect the Soviet capital against a large-scale nuclear strike.

It was to be equipped with two types of anti-missile missiles. The first, the 51T6 (NATO reporting name Gorgon), was meant for long-range (exoatmospheric) interception of missiles at altitudes of 80 km to 100 km and a distance of over 600 km. The second, the 53T6 (Western reporting name Gazelle), was intended for close-range (endoatmospheric) interception at altitudes of 50 km and a distance of 350 km.

The A-135 system was completed in the main by the mid-1980s. Successful tests confirmed the ability of anti-missiles to intercept ballistic targets, including such sophisticated ones as multiple individually targetable warheads. The A-135 firing systems, provided with a total of 100 anti-missile missiles, went on combat duty in 1995, following shakedown trials and workup.

All missiles need target designation. So radars and satellites of the early warning system formed a key part of the Space Missile Defense Force, established in 1967. In the twenty years that followed, the Soviet Union deployed a network of radars able to detect ballistic missiles coming in from any direction. Early warning satellites were to pinpoint missile launches and send the information to command centers and ground detection facilities. Currently, radar information is collected by the Space Missile Defense Force command post and the Don-2N radar, which serves to guide intercepting missiles onto targets.

Despite its capabilities, the Moscow air defense system is unable to deal with a large-scale nuclear strike. In fact, no country in the world - not even the United States - has such a system. The ultimate the Moscow system can do is to repulse a blow from second-tier nuclear powers - France, Britain, China and the "latest comers," such as India or Pakistan - or to intercept one-off and provocative launches. A bigger mission - to fight back a multiple strike from the U.S. - would fall short of missiles especially now that 51T6 endoatmospheric anti-missiles have been removed from operational status after they outlived their predicted life span.

The remaining 53T6 missiles, according to specialists, have enough power to destroy lone ballistic missiles, all the way up from tactical to strategic. This gives hope that Moscow will be defended in a conflict with some second-tier country having a small number of such missiles.

Still, trimmed as it is, the system makes Moscow the world's most protected city.

On the other hand, Moscow and its environs are not the only target sought by Russia's potential opponents. To intercept missiles in other areas, outside the A-135 umbrella, S-300 and latest S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile systems can be used.

In the S-300 family, there is a special S-300V series, designed to engage short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. In addition, S-300P systems, optimized to deal with aerodynamic targets, can also be used to intercept ballistic missiles, but with less effect.

The S-400 system, which began to be deployed in 2007, combines the advantages of both families, while the long-range 40N6E missile, some sources claim, is capable of bringing down warheads of intercontinental ballistic missiles, if necessary.

Currently, Russia's combined Air and Air Defense Forces have two battalions of S-400 surface-to-air systems, very much superior to the promising U.S. THAAD system, which is expected to be deployed this year. The rates of S-400 deployment are expected to quicken in the next few years. By 2015, the Air Defense Force must get 23 S-400 battalions, while in the longer term all existing air defense regiments, equipped with S-300 systems, will be refitted to S-400s.

It should be remembered, however, that the best defense is to destroy hostile missiles before they are employed. Therefore, the defense of Moscow and all of Russia should be seen in the context of the armed forces in general, their combat readiness and proficiency, above all those armed services that can engage the opponent at long range and with high precision - the Strategic Missile Force, the Air Force and the Navy.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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