MOSCOW - S-400 Triumf is one of the world’s most advanced air defence systems that can simultaneously track numerous incoming objects — all kinds of aircraft, missiles and UAVs — in a radius of a few hundred kilometres and launch appropriate missiles to neutralise them. It is now bang in the middle of the ongoing stand-off between Russia and Western nations. Among the countries under pressure from the U.S. not to buy this weapon is India. The system is a large complex of radars, control systems and different types of missiles.
The highly automated S-400 has radars that can pick up an incoming object up to a 1,000 kilometres away, track several dozen incoming objects simultaneously, distribute the targets to appropriate missile systems and ensure a high success rate. The command post detects, tracks and identifies the target. Then the tracked object is taken over by manned anti-aircraft missile systems of the complex, which launch the counter attack.
The development of S-400 (NATO name SA-21 Growler) was started towards the end of the Soviet Union in the 1980s and was disrupted by the collapse of the Communist bloc in 1991. The system is specifically designed to detect and destroy an array of targets — strategic bombers; aircraft used for electronic warfare, early warning, and reconnaissance; fighter jets such as F-16 and F-22; and incoming missiles such as Tomahawk.
Russian forces have deployed at least half-a-dozen S-400 regiments, at least two of them are for the protection of Moscow. Russia has also deployed at least two S-400 systems in Syria, much to the concern of observers who fear the system could contribute to a global conflict breaking out in Syria. A single unit, consisting of eight launchers, 112 missiles and command and support vehicles, costs at least $400 million (₹2,500 crore).
S-400 traces its origins to the desperation of the Cold War period to find a credible counter to the threat from missiles and incoming enemy aircraft. S-400 is a dramatic improvement from its predecessor S-300, which was the mainstay of Soviet Union’s air defence during the Cold War, when nuclear missile threat was at its peak.
S-300 was initially developed against incoming cruise missiles and aircraft, but the latter versions could also intercept ballistic missiles. They were deployed in the 1970s across Soviet Union for protecting key industrial complexes, cities, and other strategic assets.
Today, the S-400 uses four different types of missiles and can track and shoot down incoming objects as far away as 400 kilometres, while it also has shorter-range missiles to track and shoot down objects that are closer.