The S-300, S-350, S-400 and S-500 are Russian designations for two related but separate surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. Modern Russian long-range SAM units are typically organised around a battery-level unit, often described as a “complex” in Russian, each consisting of a single engagement radar and multiple vehicles that carry the missiles during movement, erect them to vertical when going into operation and launch them during the engagement - and are thus referred to as transporter-erector-launcher (TELs).

S-300 Series

The S-300PMU1 air defence missile system is designed to counter mass raids of air attack weapons, including modern and prospective aircraft, low-flying targets, strategic cruise missiles, aeroballistic, tactical and theatre ballistic missiles within a vast variety of their operational altitudes and speeds, under severe ECM conditions.

The S-300PMU1 multi-channel mobile air defence missile system is a long-range SAM asset designed to meet the joint requirements of the Soviet Army, Navy & Air Force manufactured by Almaz-Antey. Almaz-Antey produces the whole range of Russian top-line anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, including S-300PMU2 Favorit (long-range), S-300V, S-300VM (Antey 2500), S-400 Triumf,  S-500 Triumfator, S-300 Rif-M (Ship-Based), 9K37 Buk, and 9K330 Tor. China has cloned a version of the S-300 called the HQ-9, an export version called the FD-2000 and a naval version called the HHQ-9. The HQ-2 is a Chinese copy of the S-300PS system (self-propelled variant).

Development began in 1969 and the system entered Russian service in 1980. Even the initial S-300PT represented a huge advance in technology beyond its predecessors. It was the first system to use microchip-based processors in all of its components. Its missiles were faster and more agile, its TELs carried more of them and could launch in any direction, and they were guided by a far more advanced radar. This ability to “shoot and scoot” gives the system greater survivability against suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) aircraft.

S-400 "Triumf"

The S-400 "Triumf" (NATO designation SA-21 Growler) is referred to as another “deep modernisation” of the system with improved performance against stealthy aircraft, UAVs, precision guided munitions (PGMs) and large-scale raids as well as the ability to engage stand-off EW, ELINT and AWACS aircraft. It is touted to be the most advanced and sophisticated missile defence system in the world. It achieves these capabilities by incorporating longer-range radars and missiles, and adding smaller missiles for defence against PGM saturation attacks. The S-400 can be armed with flexible mixes of missiles designed to counter a range of different targets, providing a truly multilayered defence capability. The S-400, analysts largely agree “in many respects is more capable than the U.S. Patriot series and offers mobility and performance and thus survivability much better than that of Patriot"

The S-400 is equipped with sophisticated electronic warfare systems. Hence, jamming of the S-400s acquisition and engagement radars will prove challenging, because they employ countermeasures such as rapid frequency-hopping and agile beam-steering. The S-400 also employs new methods that reportedly have shown some ability to detect stealth aircraft. Among the most potent is the use of new radar systems such as the Nebo-M, which employ a combination of sophisticated radar systems designed to track and engage stealth aircraft at tactically meaningful distances. Significantly, the Triumf has been exported to China and India is also negotiating for an early delivery of 4 complete systems.

S-500 Triumfator

The S-500 Triumfator M (sometimes also designated as Prometheus) continues the S-400’s line of development. In contrast to the S-400, whose primary purpose was air defence, the S-500 is intended to be a full fledged anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. The S-500 is derived from the existing S-400 Triumf, but reduced in dimensions and more power-efficient. The choice of vehicles intended to carry the S-500 launchers, radars, command posts, and other electronic equipment suggests a highly mobile and survivable system, built for “hide, shoot and scoot” operations.

What remains a source of speculation, however, is the kind of interception the S-500 missiles will use. One option is a nuclear blast because it can destroy “the entire cloud of incoming warheads with no need to determine true threats from dummies.” Most of the missiles in the S-300 and S-400 systems use high-explosive fragmentation warheads. Russia, however, is working on two new missiles that have been designed for the S-500 (and the S-400): the 77N6-N and the 77N6-N1.

The system is said to be capable of engaging targets including ballistic missiles with a range of 3,500 km (or perhaps even ICBMs), hypersonic cruise missiles and perhaps objects in low earth orbit.

Prioritising Missile Defence

Despite doubts over the delivery of actual capability, it is clear that Russia devotes significant attention and considerable resources to ballistic missile defence.

And there exists a certainty, the Russians are not overtaking anyone (meaning the West in general), they are not lagging behind, and on the contrary, the United States in particular is attempting to overtake the Russians at least in the sphere of ballistic missile defence technologies. In order to retain its notion of great-power status, Russia needs capabilities, which is state-of-the-art, which in missile defence translates into the most sophisticated systems capable of destroying both IRBMs, ICBMs and a host of incoming hostile enemy projectiles. (All Program data is excerpted from the Aviation Week Intelligence Network, U.S. Strategic Studies Institute And U.S. Army War College Press)