The new air defence system, designed to engage all manner of aerial targets, from drones to hypersonic cruise missiles and even spacecraft, began production last month, and is currently expected to start entering service with the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces in 2020.

China may become the first and main foreign buyer of the S-500 Prometey (Prometheus) air defence system once sales abroad begin, independent defence publication Military Watch Magazine believes.

“While China has made significant progress in developing its own indigenous air defence systems with platforms such as the HQ-9B, their capabilities remain limited relative to the latest Russian platforms such as the S-400 and S-300V4, meaning for the foreseeable future the PLA will continue to rely on Russian platforms,” the publication noted.

Pointing to the popularity of previous generations of advanced Russian military hardware among the Chinese, and the recent start of deliveries of a second batch of S-400s to the country, the magazine suggested that China could very well become “a leading client for Russia’s upcoming S-400 missile system.”

China became the third country after Russia and Belarus to receive the S-400, currently fielding one regiment of S-400s after deliveries began and concluded last year. The US slapped sanctions on the Chinese military over the purchase, which included Russian-made 40N6E, an anti-aircraft missile with an estimated range of up to 400 km (enough to defeat most enemy standoff missiles), and hypersonic capabilities.

“The deployment of [that] missile system has" already "been heralded as a game changer for the defences of China’s east coast,” Military Watch Magazine stressed.

The delivery of China’s second batch of S-400s started last week, with three ships’ worth of components expected to provide almost all the necessary parts for a second regiment of the system to enter service with the Asian country’s air defence troops in the near future.

The S-500’s technical specifications remain shrouded in secrecy, although reports speculate that the system will be capable of destroying targets from distances of up to 600 km away, and tracking and striking up to 10 ballistic targets moving at hypersonic speeds up to 7 km per second (the equivalent of about Mach 20).

Along with China, Turkey and India has also signed multi-billion dollar contracts with Moscow for S-400s, with deliveries to Turkey starting earlier this month, and India expecting to get its systems by 2023. The US has contemplated sanctioning both countries over their purchase of the systems, with Ankara warning last week that it might reconsider these deals with Boeing if Washington put sanctions on the country over the S-400s.