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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2400

S-400: the weapon system with potential to hit air-borne targets and break alliances

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

A few months ago, Mohammad Bin Salman, popularly known an MBS, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, issued a stark warning to its tiny neighbour, Qatar, which has been subjected to isolation on many fronts by a Saudi-led coalition.

Saudis got the wind of a potential purchase of a weapon system by Qatar, something that military analysts have been dreading for years – Russia’s formidable S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system.

Although, the system hasn’t been delivered to Qatar yet, the indications are that the latter will go ahead with it, despite the Saudi threats; Qatar maintains that it’s a sovereign nation and what it does with its defence arrangements are, simply, none of other’s business.

Then it took an amusing turn: Saudis showed an interest in buying the very system too, despite being a major weapon buyer from the US and the West.

There is no doubt S-400, the latest update from the existing S-300 system, is a force to reckon with. Otherwise, its presence or potential presence will not stir a significant unease among powerful countries.
S-400 clearly outclasses its nearest rivals as it is capable of firing four types of missiles in the event of a threat being identified.

The operational ranges are as follows:

  1. 40N6 missile – 400 km
  2. 48N6 missile – 200 km
  3. 9M96E2 missile – 120 km
  4. 9M96E missile – 40 km

By contrast, even the Patriot Weapon System of the US, supports only one type of interceptor with a range of about 96 km. At present, they are being used by Saudi Arabia and Israel in order to intercept and destroy their corresponding enemy missiles – with success.

As for the S-400 system, its anti-aircraft missile with the longest range, the 40N6 missile, can even pose a threat to flying command posts such as E-3 Sentry AWACS of the Western allies, operated from the squadrons based in Japan.

In addition, it can fly at Mach 15 – 5000 metres per second with the speed of sound being just 320 metres per second – and can hit targets that are as low as less than 10 metres off the ground. That means it can finish off the cruise missiles and aircrafts, just about leaving decks of aircraft carriers or ones that are airborne. Moreover, the S-400 can ‘sniff out’ even the presence of stealth fighters such as F-22 and F-35.

The energy and resources that Russia has put in, while developing this formidable anti-aircraft system, according to analysts, is a way of compensating for its relatively small size of its fleet of fighter aircrafts, compared with that of NATO.

While the functional capabilities of the S-400 are well known, the little known fact remains what it does way away from military fields.

The phrase, S-400, has the potential to rattle military alliances to the core, if it has not done it before. For instance, Turkey is going to buy it for $ 2.5 billion, much to the dismay of the United States and the NATO, as the former being the second biggest army in the alliance. In addition, other members of the alliance, Bulgaria and Greece are doing the same, incurring the wrath of the most powerful member of the NATO.

As for Turkey, the US threatened that it would not sell F-35, if the former went ahead with the purchase. Months later, the US and Turkey locked horns over the arrest of a Christian pastor that took place two years ago!

Meanwhile, India completely ignored the opposition from the US over acquiring the S-400. The defence minster vowed to go ahead with the purchase.

All in all, the S-400 has already done a significant damage at political level in the friendly alliances. Its military might, however, still appears to be hypothetical, as it has not been in action yet. In short, it hasn’t been subjected to the ‘proof-of-the-pudding-is-in-the-eating-test’ yet and it remains to be seen.

- Asian Tribune -

S-400: the weapon system with potential to hit air-borne targets and break alliances
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