Air Defense: Here Comes The 16th Air Defense Army


May 1,2008: Russia is converting its 16th Air Army to the 16th Air Defense Army over the next year. The new organization will be responsible for keeping smart bombs away from vital targets in Russia. Or at least that's how government officials describe the effort. To that end, Russia is buying and deploying S-400 missiles systems around vital areas.

Last Summer, the first S400 battalion (eight launchers, each with four missiles, plus a control center and radar, around Moscow) officially became operational. A second battalion will be deployed in the same area later this year. The Russians claim that this new system can detect stealth aircraft, implying that the hypothetical enemy is the United States.

Russia also claims the S-400 can knock down short range ballistic missiles (those with a reentry speed of up to 5,000 meters a second, in the same way the similar U.S. Patriot system does.) S-400 has a longer range (at 400 kilometers) than Patriot (70 kilometers). Export efforts are hobbled by a lack of combat experience for the system. Patriot has knocked down aircraft and ballistic missiles, S-400 has not. Moreover, Russia anti-aircraft missile systems in general have a spotty history (especially when confronted by Western electronic countermeasures.) But Russia is already touting a new, S500 system, that can knock down longer range ballistic missiles (with higher reentry speeds) and stealth aircraft. The missiles around Moscow are part of a project to rebuild the Soviet era air defense system, which has fallen apart since the early 1990s. The new system will be completed in about eight years. The S-500 will be available before that.

Belarus, the only satellite state Russia still has, wants to buy the S-400. Russia is prepared to help finance this, as such a system would be integrated into Russias air defense system, providing more depth against attacks from the west.

At the end of the Cold War, Russia still had hundreds of launchers equipped with a mix of relatively new, and sometimes ancient (over 20 years old) missiles. These were not maintained during the 1990s, and largely fell into an inoperable state. It will cost several billion dollars to achieve even a minimal state of air defense coverage over most of European Russia.




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