Is Russia’s S-500 Air Defense System: A Hypersonic Missile-Killer?
The new hypersonics arms race to find new missiles and better defenses is on.
Hypersonic missiles have been seen as a serious threat to the security of the United States. Traveling at five times of speed of sound and with the ability to maneuver with computerized precision the missiles could be quite difficult to counter. Additionally, the speed and force could be so significant that hypersonic missiles can inflict serious damage from the sheer “kinetic” impact without even the need for explosives.
Even as several nations are seeking to develop such weapons, efforts are also underway to stop them.
Russia is reportedly working on such technology, and last week Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin told reporters that that the S-500 surface-to-air missile/anti-ballistic missile system could be a possible “antidote” against an enemy’s hypersonic missiles.
The Russian leader added that Russia is actually a step ahead of the rest of the world, as it is developing the platforms to stop hypersonic missiles even before any of its potential adversaries have such weapons available.
It certainly makes for a unique type of “arms race” where the counter weapon is developed concurrently with and essentially even before the latest system is actually perfected and employed.
“We are working, among other things, on the ‘antidote’ against future hypersonic weapons in other countries, in the world’s other leading armies,” Putin told reporters, according to Tass. “I am confident that we will do that and we are on the right way.”
Victor Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of the Russian magazine Arsenal of the Fatherland, was also quoted as saying, “the S-500 system can become that ‘antidote.’”
Last month, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper reported that work on the development of the S-500 mobile air defense and anti-ballistic missile platform was scheduled to be completed in 2021. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov had previously told reporters at the Army-2020 international show in August that the S-500 was undergoing state trails and was well on its way towards serial production next year.
The first trails of the S-500 took place in 2019, and the missile system was able to strike targets at a range of 481.2 km, which was 80 km further than any existing missile system.
The S-500 can reportedly detect and simultaneously attack up to ten ballistic missile warheads flying at speeds of over four miles per second. The anti-missile platform also can utilize several distinct radar systems that are geared toward different targets—and this could include different radars to detect planes, helicopters, drones and missiles at the same time.
The director for the development of the Foundation for Assistance to 21st Century Technologies, Ivan Konovalov also told Tass that Russia was ahead of the United States in developing hypersonic technologies. However, as America will likely catch up with Russia, Konovalov said a proper defense against hypersonic weapons would be necessary for maintaining balance.
Already, the United States Navy is exploring ways that hypersonic weapons could be employed on its surface vessels, while the U.S. Air Force has been conducting tests to deploy hypersonic missiles from B-52 and B-1B bombers.
“The classical military way of thinking is that an attack weapon should always be supported by a defensive weapon, because the potential adversary will also develop this sphere,” said Konovalov. “Therefore, in the classical paradigm, an attack technology must always be complemented with a defensive technology, and vice versa.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.