Air Defense: October 10, 1999


AIR DEFENSE THREATENS US SUPREMACY: The US Air Force is deeply concerned over world developments in air defense technology. The Serb defenses during the Kosovo campaign were inadequate (with SA-2, SA-3, and SA-6 missiles), and were barely used simply because the Serbs knew that full operations would result in their own destruction within days. The next war is not likely to go so well, and the new series of Russian anti-aircraft missiles that will be reaching the world market in five years or less could make war very costly for the US. 
The Serbs scored few successes against NATO, but the degree of their sophistication in the deployment and networking of their obsolete weapons did give mission planners some sleepless days. 

Serb infantry units deployed dozens of brand-new SA-18 Grouse shoulder-fired missiles in the original factory cases. The individual firing posts were linked by walkie-talkies and cell phones, and US intelligence planes could listen in as entire networks of SAM posts coordinated efforts to track NATO aircraft. Some of the SA-18s (which are smart enough to ignore NATO flares and decoys) were deployed on the tops of mountains, where the thin air and higher altitude gave them slightly longer range. Virtually every mission over Yugoslavia required support from EA-6B jammers; some late-war missions into undefended areas were made by B-2s and F-117s without jammer support. 
NATO's nightmare, however, was the S300 (SA-10/12) missile system, which has a range of about 100 miles and is vastly smarter than the 1960s vintage SA-2/3 series. With missile batteries over a wide area able to engage the same aircraft, the US and NATO planes flying at 15,000+ feet would have been at serious risk. Only stealthy aircraft with airborne jammer support could operate within range of the S300. The Russians are already selling this system abroad, for example, to Cyprus. 

While the F-22 is designed to fly over SA-10/S300 missile sites at Mach-1.5 at 40,000 feet without being seen or hit, even it is threatened by the new S400 series which are just now entering testing.
The S300 is already in service with Cyprus (on Crete), China, and Russia. It uses the 48N6 missile which has a range of 150km. The Russians are now offering the improved 48N62 missile, which has a range of 200km and is designed primarily to shoot down tactical and theater ballistic missiles. It has a new directional warhead designed to be more effective in near miss situations.
In another move, the Russians are fitting smaller 9M96 (range 40km) and 9M962 (range 120km) missiles to existing S300 launchers. Each of the four 48N6/62 missiles on the S300 system can be replaced with four of the smaller 9M missiles. These could then be used to provide both a medium-range and long-range defense from the same launcher. 

What really horrifies US Air Force planners, however, is the newer S400, which could (if the Russians can find the money for it) be in service in numerous countries within five years. The S400 has a range of up to 400km and is designed to shoot down AWACS, JSTARS, tankers, and other support aircraft hovering on the edge of the aerial battlefield. If these are pushed back and forced to lower altitudes, they would be far less effective. The S400 can also load the 9M6 and 9M62 missiles on the same launcher as the new 400km weapons.--Stephen V Cole


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