Russian air defense systems continue to evolve

If we take all bombs dropped during the jet era, we may discover that most of them were dropped by aircraft made in the US and Western Europe. At the same time, if we image all the air defense missiles fired against those bombers, we may find that the lions share of them originated in the Soviet Union and now Russia.

6th Jun 2013

 Air defence

 Russian air defense systems continue to evolve

Byline: Vladimir Karnazov / Moscow

If we take all bombs dropped during the jet era, we may discover that most of them were dropped by aircraft made in the US and Western Europe. At the same time, if we image all the air defense missiles fired against those bombers, we may find that the lions share of them originated in the Soviet Union and now Russia. Investing heavily into air defense technologies and equipment, the Soviet Union has made more launches of air defense missiles than all other countries combined. It is no surprise, therefore, that Russia today is the most prolific supplier of air defense systems on the global market.

Rosoboronexport is the only authorized supplier of Russian-made weapons to foreign customers. Its share of air defense systems (excluding manned interceptor aircraft) in total shipments - worth over US $14 billion in 2012 - has been fluctuating between 10% and 20% of the total value.

By establishing the Almaz-Antey Concern of Air Defense as a 100% government-owned structure in 2002, President Putin put an end of the post-Soviet practice of "unhealthy competition" between dozens of independent OEMs specialized in air defense systems and their components. With nearly fifty enterprises on the list, this merger has a workforce of nearly a hundred thousand people and yearly revenues of Rouble 130 billion – more than US $4 billion - in 2010 and 2011. Order backlog information and exact financial figures are not made public on secrecy grounds.

General Director Vladislav Menshikov said in 2006 that the foreign orders accounted for 70% of Almaz-Antey’s income (and that their backlog was about US $6 billion), Russian defense orders around 20%, and civil production 10%. Since then the local orders have increased considerably and by some estimates outgrew export. Almaz-Antey’s annual report for 2011 says the state defense order was 4.6 times more than in 2010.

Almaz-Antey's systems are in service with 55 countries round the world. Half of them have ongoing contractual relations with the OEM. The annual report for 2011 mentions ongoing construction of new plants in Nizhny Novgorod and Kirov for the production of new missile systems now in development and testing (our guess is that, at least partly, the decision to expand manufacturing capacity is to meet the big demand for the S400 system).

Almaz-Antey is not completely focused on air defense. It also produces airborne and warship radars as well as cruise missiles - including the Club system developed by the concern's member company Novator. On the other hand, some air defense systems are produced by companies outside of the Almaz-Antey corporate structure. Kolomna-based KBP is responsible for the Pantsyr, Tunguska and Igla short range antiaircraft systems; and the Nudelman's design house is a specialist in short-range antiaircraft missiles for the Pantsyr, Tunguska, Tor, Strela 10M3 and Sosna systems.

Long range

There are two families of long range SAM available today: the S300P/S400 developed by Almaz and the S300V by NIEMI.

The S300P employs 5V55 command link missiles; its mobile variant the S300PS became operational in 1983. Among innovations there were microchip-based multiprocessor computing and a high level of automation - stretching from detection to firing and kill probability analysis. The multifunctional engagement radar has a passive electronically scanned phased array (PESA). Missiles run on solid-fuel instead of liquid used on previous generation systems and they are stored in sealed canisters. Vertical launch, cold start technology gives improved performance against aerodynamic targets as well as short-range ballistic missiles.

The Ukrainian armed services recently exhibited a S300PS transporter elector launcher (TEL) and 19Zh6 search and acquisition radar at the AviaSwit expo with the following vital data: maximum firing range and altitude 75km and 27km respectively, target speed up to 1200m/sec in the forward and 500m/s in the rear hemisphere.

Short of hard currency at the time, in 1993 the Kremlin cleared the S300PMU-1 for export. It featured two then-new PESA radars: the 64N6E for surveillance and the 30N6E1. It uses a 48N6E missile with semi-active radar head and a range of 150km. The system employs inertial guidance in mid-course with commands from the 30N6E1, shifting to track-via-missile nearer the target. Vietnam acquired two S300PMU-1 battalions in 2003-2005. Cyprus ordered the system in 1997 together with Osa-AKMs and Thor-M1s. This outraged Turkey, and these systems ended up fielded on the island of Crete belonging to Greece. China bought 12 S300PMU-1 battalions under a first contract in 1994 and a follow-on order in 2001. Three years later Beijing purchased eight battalions of the S-300PMU-2 Favorite - effectively becoming launch customer for this much improved system. Algeria bought eight battalions in 2006. The most recent Favorite shipments have been to Azerbaijan.

The Favorite completed acceptance trials in 2007. It is a deep modernization of the S300PMU-1 using some technologies developed for the next-generation S400. Typically, a Favorite battalion includes a 54K6E2 control post, 64N6E2 surveillance radar, up to six combat units comprising a 30N6E2 engagement radar and up to 12 5P85SE2/TE2 TELs each loaded with four 48N6E2 missile containers. Operators' workplaces are furnished with color LCDs instead of cathode ray tubes. The 48N6E2 firing range is 200km. The Favorite is pictured as anti-ballistic missile system able to intercept tactical rockets with range up to 1,000km. Survivability is higher thanks to interaction with the 96L6E early warning and acquisition radar, which became operational in 2005. The S300PMU-2 is deeply integrated with Russia’s PVO (air defence organization) command and control structure and can closely interact with other modern SAM systems.

In late 2008 China subjected the Favorite to customer acceptance trials to check for the system's advertized performance and the suitability of the 48N6E2's algorithms for homing onto various types of targets. Also checked was interoperability with the 96L6E surveillance radar. During testing two missiles were launched against a ballistic target approaching at speed of 1000m/sec. Hits were scored at distances of 34km and 30.7km. Firing at a compact tactical ballistic missile culminated in two hits. A high-flying drone was destroyed at a distance of 185km and a low-flying one at 4.6km. Missiles were launched into rear hemisphere of a subsonic aerodynamic target for a kill at a distance of 68km.

The S400 Triumph is part of a fourth generation of Almaz SAMs. A first regiment re-equipped with the Triumph in 2006 and the system passed state acceptance trials in April 2007. At that time RusAF commander Gen. Mikhailov said he did not see a need to "reequip all of the 35 SAM regiments" and would rather proceed with rearmament at a rate of one-two regiments a year. "There is no need to accelerate S400 procurements, since many regiments have recently had upgrades done on their (existing) systems rendering them far more capable", he said.

The S400 has been designed to engage such difficult aerodynamic targets as stealth aircraft, PGMs, UAVs and so on. Typically, one set of the system includes a 91N6E surveillance radar, up to six 98Zh6E units each of 92N6E engagement radar and up to 12 launchers. Compared to respective Favorite elements, the 91N6E and 92N6E are of higher power and provide longer ranges against stealthy targets. The 30K6E control post can control a mixed grouping of S400 and S300PMU-1/2, and, through a Ranzhir-M control vehicle, Thor, Pantsyr and Tunguska systems. Target data can be fed from external sources such as 91N6E, 96L6E, Protivnik-GE or Gamma-DE radars. Foreign systems can be integrated on request. Interaction with upper level command beyond Baikal-E is provided.

The TEL is an evolved design; it can carry either four canisters of 48N6E3 missiles with 250-km firing range or have any one of those replaced with a group of four canisters with more compact 9M96E/E2s. In addition to these missiles and earlier missile types, the Triumph can also employ "a long range missile" [40N6] with firing range up to 400km. In-service missiles can be employed to shoot at ballistic missiles with incoming speed up to 2,800m/sec, while those being tested shall be capable of hitting targets approaching at 4,800 m/sec.

Missile developer Fakel states that new missile types are being tested with a wide use of advanced methods of computer modeling, taking account of both ground and flight tests. Against tactical ballistic missiles and PGMs the 9M96E/E2 demonstrated a 70% direct hit probability. In other cases, circular error falls within several meters, and the 24-kg charge guarantees disintegration of warheads on engaged targets.

Speaking to Russian TV, Almaz CEO Igor Arshubeili stated the potential of the S400 systems recently delivered to the RusAF is only 25% of the system's nominal capability [probably due to number of TELs not matching that of radars and control posts]. This leaves much room for enhancement of S400 battalions' combat strength "through to 2030". Arshubeili confirmed that the development of more capable S500 next-generation SAM is ongoing and likely to be completed within the next five years. This system is intended for use against "weapons not yet in service". S400 export slots are available starting in 2021.

The S300V (9K81) employing 9M82/83 missiles became operational in 1988. It was developed by the Scientific Research Institute of Electrical Mechanics (NIEMI). The system has the 9S15 Obzor mobile acquisition and 9S32 high-power agile-beam engagement radar both equipped with PESA antenna. The 9S52M Polyana-D4M automated command and control system is designed to provide automated control for a mixed grouping of S300V, Buk, Tor and Tunguska. The system also has vehicles with equipment to provide interface with 1L13, 9S18M1, 9S15M and 39N6S radars.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the S300V and S300P became competitors. The former had better performance against ballistic targets through the employment of bigger missiles, but was more expensive and complex. The early gap in ABM performance has been closing as Almaz subsequently introduced improved designs developed by funds coming from foreign sales. NIEMI had less funding, which was largely confined to Russian MoD contracts. In 2003 the primary customer ordered "cost-effective modernization" of the 9M82/83 missiles so as to give them "new qualities" through insertion of "proven technologies and modules" from other systems.

When Almaz-Antey was being founded, it was widely suggested that "unhealthy competition" between Almaz and NIEMI would soon be over on the account of the latter (in 2009 NIEMI was ordered to become part of Almaz; merging is not yet complete). But in 2009 the S300V went back on the market. Venezuela has recently taken a batch of S300Vs, emerging as the first foreign buyer of the system. There are press reports about an Antey-2500 - an exportable V300VM variant. It is capable of intercepting aerodynamic targets with the 6,158-kg 9M82M2E missile at maximum range of 200-250km and ballistic missiles with ranges up to 4,500km. However, there is some evidence to suggest that in reality a less advanced variant with modest ABM performance is actually being supplied.

In the period 2010-2012 the Russian MoD contracted NIEMI to develop the S300V4 Vityaz, and Almaz-Antey to delivery over 30 battalions. Information on this system is scarce. It is not even known whether it is a rebuild of in-service equipment or newly manufactured hardware. It might be suggested that the overloading of the S400 production line has caused resurrection of the S300V. This improves Rosoboronexport's sales prospects in near and medium term, as it can now offer impatient foreign customers a quickly available alternative to the overbooked S400.

Medium range

There is only one product in this category, the Buk developed by Tikhomirov's NIIP. The original 9K37 Buk appeared in 1980. The Novator 3M38 missile weighing 685kg can engage targets at a distance up to 32km and altitude between 25 and 20,000 meters. Capable of intercepting everything from Tomahawk missiles to Cobra helicopters, the M1 version entered production in 1985. Finland and India were the first overseas buyers. Georgia received some from Ukraine, with which it downed several RusAF jets during the August 2008 conflict in South Osetia.

Since 1998 newly made and reworked systems complied to the Buk M1-2 standard are able to use both the legacy and 9M317 missile - the latter with a firing range of 45km. The 5.55-meter 715-kg weapon is capable of homing on Lance ballistic missiles, sea-going targets (destroyer at 25km) and contrast ground targets (15km). Egypt and Cyprus are among M1-2 operators.

Successfully tested in 1988-1990, the Buk M2 did not go into series production until earlier this century. An exportable version made its appearance at MAKS'2007, boasting a number of improvements over the original design - including new software, modern Baget processors and the ability to interact with the shorter-range Thor system. At that time NIIP general director Yuri Belyi told journalists: “We now have a serious contract which allows production to start at the Ulianovsk mechanical plant". Buyers are Syria and Venezuela, the latter having selected wheeled chassis instead of tracked. At last year's parade Iran demonstrated - as though they were locally developed - "Ra'ad SAM with Ta'er 2 missiles" along with the Kasta-2E2, a modern Russian radar able to interact with the Buk. The system can also take data from the metric-wavelength 1L119 Nebo-SVU radar Iran has been operating since 2010.

The 9S18M1-3E target detection station equipped with PESA enables an M2E battalion of six launchers shoot simultaneously at 24 targets instead of six for M1-2. For higher effectiveness against low-flying targets, the battery can have an optional target illumination radar topping a 21-meter telescopic mast mounted on a tracked chassis. The 9A317E self-propelled launcher differs from M1's in having the flat-shaped 9S36E target illumination and guidance radar in place of a bulkier initial model.

Funds from export orders enables NIIP proceed with development of "a more advanced version". It employs a reworked missile with active (instead of semi-active) radar homing head of the 9B-1103M series from Agat. The new missile is likely to be unified with the 9M317ME employed by the Shtil 1.1 vertical-launch containerized system that equips the Indian navy frigates of the Improved Talwar class.

The M3 is likely to employ "means of passive location" (thermal imagers, low-level TV) so as to evade antiradar missiles. Another prediction is that the future Buk will use active phased arrays: NIIP has been selected to supply an AESA radar to the Sukhoi fifth-generation fighter and is now testing experimental examples on PAKFA prototypes. The M2/M3 versions of the Buk are expected to sell well, but face competition from Chinese clones HQ-16 and LY80 (with copies of the 9M317 missile equipping PLAN warships armed with Russian-made Shtil 1).

Short range

There are a myriad of Russian short-range antiaircraft missile systems and their variations on the market. Overlapping and unhealthy competition are the two most polite descriptors of the situation in this market sector.

From viewpoint of recent sales, the Pantsyr from KBP comes first. By performance and design solutions this system is in a class of its own. Although lightweight (76kg), the 57E6 missile has advertized maximum firing range of 20km - twice more than competing designs of the same size! Flying high does not eliminate the threat; the small weapon can reach altitudes up to 10-15km. This is due to the superb kinetics: after launch the weapon accelerates to 1300 m/sec.

The system has two radars with phased array antennas: one for missile guidance (receiving signals from missile's beeper), and the second for target acquisition and tracking, with range up to 40km. The 1RL123-E features an AESA with solid-state transceiver modules, whereas other Russian SAMs use either passive e-scan or mechanical ray steering. The Pantsyr can simultaneously track twenty targets and fire at three when stationary or in motion. In covert mode, the system uses electro optical and infrared channels. The multi-channel nature and digital data processing makes Pantsyr effective against compact targets such as UAVs and PGMs. Missiles are directed onto target by radio-commands, and tracked either by radar or electro optical systems working in conjunction with missiles' beepers. Pantsyr's combat vehicle carries twelve missiles instead of eight for Thor.

The Pantsyr is a logical development of Tunguska, from which it inherits the secondary armament of two 30-mm twin-barrel 2A38 rapid-fire cannons. These are effective even against the armored A10 Warthog ground attack aircraft. Tunguska also uses 9M311 missiles. Weighing 45kg, the weapon has a two stage design, with the booster detaching upon accelerating the missile to 900m/sec. The upper stage does not have a motor, but its sleek aerodynamic shape insures slow energy bleed when maneuvering. Missiles are directed onto target by radio-commands and tracked either by radar or by an optical system. Accepted in 1982 and modernized in 2003, the Tunguska has the 1RL912M acquisition radar with 18km detection and 16km tracking ranges, and a smaller fire control radar. The 34-tonne tracked armored vehicle 2S6M1 has good cross country capability.

The Thor developed by NIEMI combines radars and missiles on a "tank-alike" turret with 360-degree rotation. The system was designed to protect high-value targets from cruise missiles and aircraft attacking with PGM. The latest version M2E unveiled at MAKS'2009 has a wheeled chassis, while all preceding variants (since 1991) have tracks. Other changes include new radar antennas, modern means of data processing and added optoelectronics targeting channel. Thor M2 can fire at four targets simultaneously in a wide body angle thanks to e-scan phased array radars: one for engagement and the second for 360-degree surveillance (the engagement radar used to be mechanically scanned). Digital processing for precise targeting of 167-kg 9M330 vertically-launched radio-command missile ensures the system's ability to intercept airplanes, helicopters, cruise missiles and PGMs. Thor is service with Cyprus, Greece, Iran, China, Belarus (M2 deliveries in progress), Venezuela etc.

The Osa-AK/AKM with 9M33M3 radio controlled missiles is another legacy platform that saw several major upgrades. The latest version was displayed at MAKS’2005. This system was brought to life by a request from the land forces. They asked for a means of protection for armored vehicles on the front line against tactical fighters, attack aircraft and helicopters armed with laser, TV and optical target designators. Typically, thus equipped aircraft fire at targets at distance of 3-5km, 8km maximum. A radar-equipped Osa with a firing radius of 10km and most effective at distance of 5-6 km was able to open fire at the attacking aircraft before their pilots could see their targets in crosshairs. The Osa was popular with Soviet client states, and also went to Greece and Cyprus.

The Strela 10M3 was developed by Nudelman's Precision machinery design house in the 1970s as a low-cost SAM to cover ground forces. It was exported in large numbers to more than twenty countries. Despite achieving positive combat experience, the system is now considered outdated. The OEM is offering the Sosna air defense missile system on the Strela 10M3 chassis. It features multichannel high precision “practically all-weather and round-the-clock" automatic optronics fire control system. Emitting no radio waves, the system is immune to ECM. The Sosna is loaded with 12 Sosna-R laser-guided missiles. The 30kg weapon accelerates to 910m/sec. It can engage aerodynamic targets flying at speeds up to 500m/sec at maximum distance of 8km. Relatively simple and cheap, the missile can also be used against lightly armed combat vehicles. At MAKS’2009 a more advanced version of the Sosna was on display, featuring the 1L122-2E radar. The sensor is a longer-range (80-km) derivative of the 1L122-1E in production since 2007.

Finally, Russia has a very successful family of man-portable missiles. The Strela series attributed to first generation fought well in Vietnam and the Middle East. The current Igla-S (9M342 missile) was developed by Kolomna KBM in 2002 on the base of earlier Igla (9M39), originating in 1983. In addition to the main shoulder-launched version, the Igla can be fired from Strelets, Dzhigit and Komar launchers, as well as from rails mounted onto road vehicles, APC, IFV etc. The missile has a firing range up to 8km and an optical homing head (alternatively, it can be guided by radio commands, and tracked by a thermal imager).

Russian portable systems have found many buyers, including the RoK, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. The Igla series shall soon be superseded by the third generation of shoulder-launched SAMs from Kolomna. The company completed development and awaits MoD's approval to start production. The Russian military say they will take deliveries of Morfey short-range air defense system in 2015, effective at ranges of up to 5km. The system has been in development since 2007.


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