S-500: Russia's New Air Defense That Could Win a War Against NATO?

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May 21, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaMilitaryDefenseS-400S-300S-500NATOUkraine

S-500: Russia's New Air Defense That Could Win a War Against NATO?

Russia is banking on its advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, particularly the S-500 Prometheus, to counter Western weapons aiding Ukraine's defense.


Summary: Russia is banking on its advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, particularly the S-500 Prometheus, to counter Western weapons aiding Ukraine's defense.



-The S-500, developed by Almaz-Antey, is touted as capable of targeting fifth-generation aircraft and low orbit satellites.

-Despite delays, Russia plans to deliver the first batch later this year, with full production expected by 2025.

-The S-500 can reportedly engage targets up to 600 kilometers away and may be exported to countries like Turkey and China.

-If operational as claimed, the S-500 could significantly bolster Russia's air defense and impact the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

S-500 Prometheus: Advanced Air Defense for Modern Warfare

The Kremlin hopes its forces’ advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems will thwart the Western weapons Kyiv is receiving to bolster its defense. Moscow will rely strongly on its S-500 Prometheus SAM system, which it touts as a “fifth-generation killer.” The missile’s true capabilities are up for debate. 

Last month, Russia’s defense minister at the time, Sergei Shoigu, announced that the Russian Armed Forces would receive the first batch of Prometheus systems later this year, The Eurasian Times reported. According to Shoigu, the weapon will be delivered in two variations: as long-range air defense missile systems and as anti-missile defense complexes. As Ukrainian forces begin to fly the American-made F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Kremlin is depending on its self-proclaimed powerhouse SAM system to take down these fourth-generation fighters.

Introducing the S-500

Russia’s Almaz-Antey manufacturer oversees the development and design of the S-500 SAM system. In the Cold War, the Soviets depended on the S-200 Angara high-altitude SAM system to defend against enemy bombers. The Angara became operational in the mid-1960s, replacing the country’s B-25 Berkut. 

As soon as the Angara was up and running, the Soviets began developing an even more sophisticated successor: The S-300 was meant to counter emerging threats such as the West’s new fourth-generation fighter jets. The S-300 SAM was then followed by the S-400.

Finally we come to the S-500 Prometheus, which is designed to defeat fifth-generation aircraft in addition to low orbit satellites. Like many of Russia’s military systems, the S-500 suffered a number of delays. Moscow declared its design development phase complete in 2011, but the SAM system’s serial production has been pushed back several times, most recently to 2025.

Testing the S-500 Air Defense System 

Russia reported in 2018 that it had conducted the longest-range SAM test with the S-500. According to state-run media, the S-500 was capable of striking targets 300 miles away. 

One year later, Russia’s Defense Ministry published footage claiming to show the successful launch of a new anti-ballistic missile system, which was suspected again to be the S-500 Prometheus. 

Once the S-500 is indeed operational, Moscow will likely export this SAM to both Ankara and Beijing. In fact, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed that Turkey would produce the S-500 collaboratively with Russia. 

Detailed Specs and Capabilities

As reported by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the S-500 can fire 40N6M long-range missiles that can travel to a range of up to 400 kilometers, while 77N6 series interceptors can reach approximately 600 km. 

“The system features four radar vehicles per battery, including the 91N6E(M) S-band acquisition radar, 96L6-TsP C-band acquisition radar, 76T6 multi-mode engagement radar, and 77T6 anti-ballistic missile engagement radar,” writes CSIS. “This radar complex reportedly allows the S-500 to detect ballistic and airborne targets at up to 2,000 and 800 km, respectively.” 

Moscow contends that its new Prometheus system is the only weapon able to intercept the country’s Kinzhal hypersonic missiles. The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, designated by NATO as Dagger, has an estimated range of around 300 miles and a reported top speed of Mach 10. Reportedly capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads, the Kinzhal is one of Moscow’s most formidable weapons.

The S-500’s claimed ability to detect and intercept airborne targets up to 600 km means it can engage incoming threats well before they are able to reach military assets or other critical infrastructure. As outlined by Army Recognition, “Moreover, the S-500 Prometheus system integrates advanced radar technology and command-and-control capabilities, ensuring seamless detection, tracking, and engagement of multiple targets simultaneously, including stealth aircraft and missiles that employ low-observable technology to evade detection.”

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If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues through 2025, the potential addition of the S-500 Prometheus could change the conflict and give Russia a noticeable advantage. If the lethal SAM functions as the Kremlin boasts it will, even Kyiv’s most sophisticated weapons systems will be in trouble.

About the Author: Maya Carlin 

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

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