In recent weeks, Russian state media have published a few details regarding the military’s next-generation air and missile defense system, the S-500, though most specifications have been largely held back.
For instance, Sputnik noted that “most of the new system’s technical characteristics remain under wraps” but did provide a few specifics regarding the system’s technical abilities.
The report said that the S-500 “is expected to be able to engage targets at altitudes of over 60 miles,” which is higher than any missile defense systems currently in use by any country’s military.
The state-linked news site also claimed, cryptically, that “sixty miles and more is also the near space zone where the majority of foreign military satellites are now orbiting our planet.”
Sputnik reported further:
According to publically available information, the S-500 will feature the 40N6 extended-range guided missile capable of engaging targets up to 155 miles away.
Since ground-based radar systems are useless in space, the 40N’s homing system will differ from what can be found on all other air defense missiles.
The S-500 is expected to able to detect and simultaneously attack up to ten ballistic missile warheads flying at speeds of over 4 miles a second. Its one-of-a-kind self-homing warheads search for their targets and, finding them, switch to an automatic-homing mode.
The 30-foot-long two-stage solid fuel missile travels at nine times the speed of sound and is able to intercept targets moving at a speed of 15.6 Mach.
The 40N6 missile carries a blast-fragmentation warhead with a range of 310 miles and 95-percent accuracy.
The report further claimed that the Russian military would begin deploying the first S-500 systems around Moscow and “Central Russia” around 2020.
Analysis: The S-500 Prometey, also known as 55R6M “Triumfator-M,” is being designed to augment currently-deployed S-400 air defense systems. But according to other analyses and published reports, the S-500 is believed capable of challenging the most sophisticated U.S.-made stealth fighter aircraft — the F-22 and F-35 variants, and B-2 bombers.
The National Interest reported in April 2017 that the S-500 would likely include “the 91N6A(M) battle management radar, a modified 96L6-TsP acquisition radar, as well as the new 76T6 multimode engagement and 77T6 ABM engagement radars.”
Other reports indicate that 40N6 missiles may already be in use with S-400 systems and that modified versions of it may be able to attack satellites and even down hypersonic missiles. What’s more, Russia intends to sell 40N6-equipped S-400 systems to India and has already begun delivering these systems to China. Whether those systems will include modified 40N6 missiles isn’t clear; surely, Moscow is concerned about the Chinese reverse-engineering them, even haphazardly.
In late July, Russian newswire service Tass reported that China was preparing to test an S-400 (which has never been used in combat, by the way). It’s not clear a test was carried out, however, based on open-source (OSINT) reporting.
Still, the proliferation of the S-400, called a “game changer” by some analysts, and the upcoming deployment of the S-500, which could also take place in parts of the world where Russia and the U.S. are sharing airspace (like Syria), represent serious challenges — reportedly — to U.S. stealth combat aircraft, which are expensive to build and maintain or, in the case of the B-2 and F-22, are limited in number.