Sword of Damocles and “Prometheus”: what threats should the S-500 fend off


Hypersonic missiles and nuclear warheads, as well as low-orbit spy satellites – these are the main targets for the new S-500 Prometheus anti-aircraft missile system (SAM). As a  source close to the military department told TASS, the first brigade set of the complex entered service with the 1st Special Forces of the Aerospace Forces (VKS) of Russia, covering Moscow and the Central Economic Region. For understanding: this is the territory of 13 constituent entities of the Russian Federation with an area of ​​486 thousand square meters. km and a population of more than 32 million people.

Previously, it was guarded from an aerospace attack by the S-400 Triumph complexes and the A-135 strategic anti-missile system. Now Prometheus has been added to them, according to some information, uniting not only shock, but also information means of the country’s air defense and missile defense systems. On July 20, the Ministry of Defense reported that the air defense missile system performed test combat firing at a high-speed ballistic target at the Kapustin Yar training ground. It was noted that the tests confirmed the specified tactical and technical characteristics and the high reliability of the military equipment of the Russian air defense.

Defense strike

The Russian Federation is the only country in which the air defense system is built on an echeloned principle. Quite simply, the echelon is a specific soldier with a portable anti-aircraft missile system on the shoulder “Igla” or “Verba”, crews of tracked “Tors”, “Buks”, S-300 and S-400 in positions. Breaking through their rocket palisade is difficult, but possible. America already has the concept of “Prompt Global Strike” – a massive missile attack with non-nuclear weapons. What it looks like, the Americans have demonstrated in practice many times: in Iraq, in Yugoslavia and finally in Syria.

In 2017, 59 BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles hit the Shayrat airfield in the SAR. Only 23 vehicles flew to the target, and the damage was insignificant, but something else is important. This was done by only two ships of the US Navy: the destroyers USS Ross and USS Porter from the combat patrol area in the eastern Mediterranean. Former Deputy Chief of the Russian Navy, Adviser to the Russian Defense Minister, Admiral Igor Kasatonov, in a conversation with me then noted that, apparently, this was done without prior preparation, that is, suddenly. In general, the Americans are capable of sending up to 6 thousand Tomahawks to the target in only one salvo. And these can be vehicles not only with conventional, but also nuclear warheads.

To repel such an attack does not seem realistic yet. The United States already has about 70 destroyers of the Ross and Porter class. They ply the seas and oceans, they are constantly located near the Russian borders, including in the Black Sea. This makes Prompt Global Strike our enduring headache – they can strike at any moment. But there are nuances.

In the same operation to shell the Syrian airfield at Shayrat, the United States programmed its missiles so that they diligently bypassed the zone of responsibility of the Russian S-400 Triumph at the Khmeimim airbase. If you look at the flight pattern of the Tomahawks posted by the flight tracking service Flightradar24, you can see that they entered the target, as they say, from the rear, flying around Russian anti-aircraft missile systems. Otherwise, only a few could reach the goal, and not 23 cars.

Sphere “Prometheus”

Very little is now known about the S-500 complex. So, his appearance in the armament of the Aerospace Forces was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov – at one time, being the Deputy Minister of Defense for Armaments, he said that a global air defense-missile defense system was being created in the country. The appearance of “Prometheus” leaked the calendar of the concern “Almaz-Antey”. And this year, a video of the Ministry of Defense appeared, filmed during the testing of the system – it is shown how the “classic” in the case of the Almaz-Antey products, the launcher fires a rocket.

However, an inquisitive observer immediately noted that the base on which the system was located was significantly different from the one that the defense concern had previously shown in its calendar. In the picture on the calendar was the MZKT-792911 produced by the Minsk Automobile Plant: a six-axle tractor with a characteristic cabin and two huge tubes of launch containers with missiles. For a long time, this very image was perceived by experts as a standard. But a recent video from the Ministry of Defense showed a five-axle tractor of the Bryansk Automobile Plant (BAZ). Several years ago this enterprise became part of a pevosh concern. Actually, this example may be nothing more than an example of import substitution or independence from closest allies.

In the mid-2000s, as part of the press pool of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, I more than once visited the headquarters of the Almaz-Antey concern on the Leningradskoye Highway. Waiting for the end of the closed meeting of the head of the military department and representatives of the company, the journalists wandered around the huge workshop with the equipment and its elements arranged. Then, apart from the Belarusian tractors, on the basis of which all our S-300 / 400s were built, nothing seemed to strike the eye. This is understandable: we are present to create a resonance, and completely different things are told and shown to the minister. However, on one of the stands lay a mock-up of a radar with an active phased array (AFAR). And what is very important – a spherical shape.

Let me explain that AFAR is a unique thing. Unlike antennas of previous generations, which must be rotated to scan space, this is a monolithic product that combines several hundred transmit-receive modules. By moving an electronic signal between them, the system is able to instantly display the environment. Today, such radars are installed on the fifth generation aircraft F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II and our Su-57. In the latter case, the antenna field is located not only in the nose of the vehicle, but also on its “cheeks” and even in the leading edges of the wing.

At one time, Anatoly Sinani, the chief designer of the VV Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Engineering (NIIPT – part of the Almaz-Antey concern), told me that thanks to this technology, the Su-57 radar field of view exceeds 200 degrees … The new locator can scan space, select targets, aim weapons at them, work as a means of electronic countermeasures, that is, the pilot, as in science fiction films, is inside the information sphere. He sees what is in front of him, above, below and behind. The same thing, as I suppose, is happening with the S-500 Prometheus complex – it has a global spherical vision of the situation. True, all this is still my speculation, since the military has not yet shown the locator of the complex. 

In a conversation with me, Sinani then noted that one of the main problems of creating AFAR until recently was the transition to a new technological level of production – to monolithic microwave modules based on gallium arsenide. The development of the structure for them was carried out under the leadership of Academician Zhores Alferov, and 6 billion rubles were invested in the production of these “miracle devices”. It is not hard to guess how much the creation of “Prometheus” could cost the country.

Looked into the horizon

At present, Russia has created a unified information field for warning about a missile attack. Its basis is the Voronezh-type long-range over-the-horizon target detection radars. They are openwork structures capable of tracking the flight path of cruise missiles and nuclear warheads towards our country. Radar crews are on alert in the Leningrad, Kaliningrad, Irkutsk, Orenburg regions, in the Altai, Krasnodar and Krasnoyarsk territories. Several years ago, the military for the first time simultaneously put into operation three Voronezh stations at once – in Orsk, Barnaul and Yeniseisk – thereby ensuring complete radar control of air and outer space from the southwest of Russia to the Pacific Ocean. For example, the Yeniseisk station alone tracks all ballistic missile launches and the trajectory of tennis-ball-sized space objects between Greenland and Japan. Radar duty shift is capable of detecting and escorting up to 500 such targets from a distance of up to 6 thousand km.

But here’s the caveat. Shoot down all this in which case it is necessary, as they say, at the doorstep. This is where Prometheus should step in. Sebastien Roblin, a columnist for The National Interest and military analyst, writes that the S-500 will be particularly effective against the F-22, F-35 and B-2 stealth planes. However, judging by the available descriptions of the characteristics of the system, the confrontation of such aircraft will not become its main task, Roblin also notes. It would be wrong to disagree with him. Judging by the available information, Prometheus is a much more global system than its predecessors, the S-300 and S-400.

“The very long range of the S-500 makes the complex an ideal weapon against the largest and most invisible targets. It will be difficult to identify and hit a bomber from a long distance, but AWACS aircraft of early warning and control systems or aircraft of electronic warfare and ground combat control E8 J-Star will be in much greater danger and, most likely, will be forced to operate outside the range of the S-500, “- said the military analyst.

Earlier it was said that the S-500 can hit targets at an altitude of about 200 km, and will stop the approaching ballistic missiles at a distance of 640 km. That is, at a much greater distance than the most modern Russian air defense system S-400 “Triumph” can – 400 km. Former commander of the Russian Air Force, Colonel-General Viktor Bondarev said that the S-500 can simultaneously fire up to ten targets, with a reaction time of 3 to 4 seconds. For comparison: the S-400 has six targets, and the reaction time is 9 seconds. The Americans believe that the arsenal of the new air defense system will include interceptor missiles with an active radar homing head.

According to experts, this will make it similar to the American THAAD system (mobile ground-based anti-missile system for high-altitude transatmospheric interception of medium-range missiles). Again, according to some reports, the arsenal of the Prometheus complex consists of long-range missiles of the 40N6M type with a target intercept distance of 600 km, as well as the 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 hypersonic missiles.

According to some reports, they will use kinetic energy. That is, the missile is capable of hitting a target in physical contact with it, and not through a high-explosive fragmentation warhead that explodes in close proximity to it and destroys the object with a huge number of damaging elements. The 77N6 interceptor missiles will fly at a hypersonic speed of 5 to 7 km / s, which will allow them to intercept enemy supersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic nuclear blocks.

Sword “Prometheus”

In his message to the Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 revealed the maps of Russian rearmament – for the first time such complexes as Avangard, Burevestnik, Poseidon and Zircon were named. All of them, as the head of state noted then, make us the favorites of the military-technical process. “For the first time, Russia is not catching up, but they are catching up,” stressed Vladimir Putin.

“Hypersonic weapons have already been put on alert – the Avangard and Dagger complexes. Other unique weapons systems are on the way, including the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, the Zircon shipborne hypersonic missile, and the S-500 Prometheus anti-aircraft systems. and other complexes, “- said Vladimir Putin this year at a meeting in the Kremlin with graduates of military universities.

The head of state also said that a new state armament program with a planning horizon until 2034 is already being formed taking into account the promising developments of leading research teams, defense institutes and design bureaus. “Its implementation will be aimed at further strengthening the country’s defense potential. And of course, you will have to work with this equipment,” the president said.

In recent years, the country has already moved into a new military security dimension. To fend off threats from the West, large-scale and extremely costly programs to re-equip the army and navy were implemented. According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the number of new, or rather, modern military equipment in the troops is 72% – this is an absolute record for all armies in the world. 

As for the S-500 Prometheus, this is another confirmation of a technological breakthrough. Although the military is cautious only talking about the arrival of “elements” of the complex: launchers, radars, missiles and other attributes of the anti-aircraft missile system. The scale of the issue is clear – the possibility of a massive missile strike by non-nuclear weapons weighs over us like a sword of Damocles. And in this vein, updating the air defense-missile defense system is evolutionarily justified. Just like in human history, it cannot go in leaps, and the system, like a puzzle, is made up of separate blocks

Courtesy: (TASS)