In late May Kazakhstan finally approved the long proposed deal to become part of a unified multi-national air defense system sponsored by Russia. This is just in time as Russia is delivering five S-300 anti-aircraft missile batteries (“divisions” in Russian) to Kazakhstan this year. Another four batteries are going to Belarus, which has also agreed to join the aid defense system. Armenia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are also expected to sign on as well.
All this is more than helping out a neighbor with their defense needs. Russia wants to rebuild the old Tsarist Empire that the communists managed to lose in 1991 when the Soviet Union came apart and half the population of that empire went off and formed 14 new countries (or reconstituted old ones the Russians had conquered). Since then Russia has been proposing things like customs unions, military cooperation and rebuilding the old Soviet air defense system that used to defend everyone in the empire. The first step in getting everyone to cooperate with the expanded Russian air defense system is to ensure that everyone has the latest fire control equipment and Russia is willing to supply that cheap (often for free). The air defense agreement is good for five years and is meant to be automatically renewed every five years.
While the S-300’s may be Cold War era weapons, their fire control and communications systems have been upgraded. These S-300 systems being handed out have recently been retired by Russia and replaced by S-400s. Kazakhstan is getting their S-300s cheap while Belarus is said to be receiving them free. Since 2007 Russia has been replacing its Cold War era S-300 air defense systems with the newer S-400 (SA-21). Each S-300/400 battery consists of 4-8 launcher vehicles (each with two missiles, plus two reloads) plus radar vehicles and a command vehicle. Russia is planning to have 56 S-400 batteries in service by the end of the decade.
The original S-300 was known to NATO, during the Cold War, as the SA-10. This system entered service in the late 1970s and was upgraded several times since then. One major upgrade came to be called the SA-12 and it entered service in the late 1980s. Finally, there was the SA-21, which was so different from the original S-300 that it was given a new name by the Russians: the S-400. These systems began entering service, slowly, in 2007.
Russia has 160 older S-300 batteries, most of them the SA-10 model. A third of the existing S-300 batteries are not in service (and are supposed to be in storage, just in case). Each S-300 battery had a long-range search radar to detect targets and 6-8 launcher vehicles (each carrying four or two missiles).
The S-300V/SA-12 missiles had a range of 75 kilometers and were considered somewhat similar to the American Patriot systems. Later models of the S-300V had some capability to shoot down short range ballistic missiles. The SA-12 missiles were carried in canisters (either four or two per launcher vehicle). Each launcher vehicle also contains a guidance radar.
The S-400 claims to be superior to the U.S. Patriot and may be to justify the fact that it is expensive. Russia is now offering to export the S-400, despite all the advanced technology in it. The S-400 missiles weigh 1.8 tons each, are 8.4 meters (26 feet) long, and about 50cm (20 inches) in diameter. There are actually three different missiles, each with a different range (120, 250 and 400 kilometers). All missiles can reach targets as high as 30 kilometers (93,000 feet). The missile has a 145.5 kg (320 pound) warhead. The target acquisition radar has a range of 700 kilometers. S-400 missiles can hit short range ballistic missiles up to 60 kilometers away.
The S-400 has more range than the U.S. Patriot, weighs twice as much, and claims the ability to detect stealthy aircraft. The S-400 also has an anti-missile capability, which is limited to shorter range (under 3,500 kilometers) ballistic missiles. That would mean a warhead coming in at about 5,000 meters a second (the longer the range of a ballistic missile, the higher its re-entry speed).
The S-400 system actually has two types of missiles, one of them being smaller with a shorter range (120 kilometers) and two larger missiles with much more range (250 and 400 kilometers). The 120 kilometers range missile are deployed four to a launcher, like S-300 systems. The S-400 has no combat experience but U.S. intelligence believes that the tests these systems have undergone indicate it is a capable air defense weapon. Just how capable won't be known until it actually gets used in combat. None of the S-300 series systems have any combat experience either but some models have performed well in tests.