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The first S-350 VITYAZ medium-range air defence system has been delivered to a Russian air defence training unit in the Leningrad region, according to a 26 February announcement on the Russian MoD website.

According to the MoD, the training centre’s command conducted an exercise with the newly-delivered system that focused on detecting and engaging a practice target. “The S-350 combat crew demonstrated their skills, hit a mock enemy with electronic missile launches, and marched to a new position,” a statement read. Other missions completed in the course of commissioning the system have included live fires and tracking real targets simulated by a MiG-29SMT, the report states.

Ria Novosti states that the system will be used to defend industrial complexes and Russian cities and that it is designed to replace the S-300PS. An S-350 launch vehicle carries 12 missiles, compared to the four per S-300PS vehicle, which provides each S-350 formation (eight 50P6E launch vehicles, two 50H6E radars and a 50K6E command vehicle) with a total of 96 missiles. The preferred deployment, however, is understood to be a ‘division,’ with 12 launch vehicles for a total of 144 missiles.

The S-350 is capable of firing two different missiles, according to the target: the “9M100 is designed to destroy any aerodynamic and ballistic objects at a range of about 120km,” Ria Novosti states. It can engage targets traveling at 4.8km/s.

The short-range missile is the 9M96, with an intercept range of 15km and target speed of 1km/s. Most important however, is the S-350’s tracking system, which can monitor 100 targets and engage 16 aircraft or cruise missiles simultaneously, according to manufacturer Almaz Antey. Alternatively, it can engage 12 ballistic missile targets simultaneously. The missiles are fired at two-second intervals, and the entire system can be brought into or out of action in five minutes.

The S-350 is designed for Russia’s Aerospace Forces, which means it will primarily be concerned with defending cities and important industrial facilities in coordination with the S-400 TRIUMPH and the PANTSIR short-range systems. Within this role, it will provide Russia with options to interdict in the event of any aggression. It is believed that any state-level warfare will be preceded by massed cruise missile strikes (a belief vindicated by recent US actions in Syria) that will target civil and military infrastructure. The S-350’s stated capability of engaging massed cruise missile strikes – or air formations – clearly indicates that it has been designed with an eye on US interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria and the perception of future conflict described above. It is not, as many would say, part of a concerted anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy. According to Kier Giles in Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities: Real and Imagined, published in 2019, there is no such phrase in Russian terminology: rather, it is a US concept, originally defined around China’s actions in the South China Sea. The S-350 should be thought of in the context of Russia’s wider military strategy and understood as part of a whole system that encompasses cyber and information warfare, in an effort to promote disunity within NATO.

Miles Quartermain in London for MON

Two S-350 launchers during the handover ceremony in February 2020. Russian air defence systems are moving towards a greater quantity of missiles per formation. (Photo: Russian MoD)

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