Earlier this week the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it had received the third S-400 Triumf missile air defense system regiment, but the question is whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has already made the system ineffective for targeting its aircraft. The S-400 was developed and produced by Almaz-Antey to provide protection from air strikes including cruise, tactical and operational ballistic missiles as well as intermediate-range missiles in a radio-jamming environment.
However, reports have circulated online that the Royal Air Force (RAF) along with the Royal Navy (RN), which have each increased patrols near Russian borders near where the S-400s and older S-300s are currently deployed, and have begun successfully jamming the radar systems. The S-400 and S-300 are designed to operate in conjunction to provide increased effectiveness of the Russian military’s Integrated Air Defense System (IADS).
The EurAsian Times reported that the United Kingdom’s military has scanned the frequencies of the defense system to enable aircraft to identify vulnerabilities in the Russian anti-aircraft platform. If that is true a window could be opened for stealth aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to approach Russian airspace at a closer distance without being detected by the powerful radar on the S-400.
The Russian state media site Avia.Pro also suggested that the British military was studying for “holes” in the IADS, and that Russia may need to find a workaround to plug any weaknesses in its air defense platform.
Stealth Hunter or Hype
The S-400 surface-to-air-missile system has been touted as a stealth hunter, and as one of the most advanced long and medium-range surface-to-air missile platforms in use today. It was designed to detect and destroy aircraft as well as the aforementioned cruise and ballistic missiles, but is also capable of eliminating ground-based installations.
The platform, which entered service in 2007, has a range of up to 400 kilometers and its missiles can travel up to six times the speed of sound at heights up to 30 kilometers. The S-400 can also employ 40N6 long-range, hypersonic, surface-to-air missiles that can engage low maneuverable aerodynamic targets.
In theory at least, the S-400 was designed to nullify the stealth technology of fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-35. However, it remains questionable whether the radar can do little more than potentially track the advanced aircraft. In other words, tracking may be possible to some extent but actually targeting is another issue all together.
The fact that the S-400 was designed to track stealth aircraft was a key sticking point in U.S. relations with Turkey, which has sought to adopt the Russian-built platform while also seeking to be a partner in the F-35 stealth fighter jet program. The United States, and other NATO partners, saw this as a serious conflict—one that could potentially give the S-400 designers the extra insight to provide an advantage for the anti-aircraft platform. As a result Turkey was expelled from the F-35 program.
The question now is whether the RAF have truly found a weakness in the S-400 that would enable the F-35 and other stealth aircraft to continue to maintain that stealthy edge.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.