Russia’s armed forces have deployed large numbers of new Pantsir-S1 combat vehicles to Syria to protect ground assets deployed to the country since beginning large scale military operations in 2015. The new air defence platform, which only entered service in 2012, made its debut in Syrian’s seven year war against insurgent forces and has been deployed by both the Russian and Syrian armed forces. A Syrian Pantsir-S1 reportedly made the first ever combat kill for the weapons system in June 2012 when it downed a Turkish F-4 Phantom over Latakia province, and the combat vehicles have achieved numerous successes since. The light and short ranged vehicles come equipped with both surface to air missiles and auto cannons for an anti aircraft and anti missile role, as well as advanced capabilities to engage land based targets. The Pantsir’s relative simplicity and high mobility compared to platforms such as the BUK and S-400, as well as its far lower cost, has made it highly suitable for Russia’s armed forces and attractive to a number of export clients. The air defence system has been deployed extensively by Russian forces against hostile drones operated by a number of hostile parties, and were key to protecting Russian military facilities from large scale drone attacks by Islamist forces in late 2017. In Syrian hands the Pantsir remains the most modern air defence system available, serving a complementary role alongside upgraded variants of older but longer ranged platforms such as the S-125 and S-200. With Russia having refused to provide Syria with more modern long range platforms, this is set to be the case for some time to come.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated regarding the Pantsir’s recent operations in Syrian hands: “In anti aircraft combat, the Russian-made Pantsir S-1 system that had been previously supplied to the Syrian armed forces was actively used.” He added that the Pantsir air defence batteries showed a 100% efficiency in Syrian hands in intercepting the joint U.S., U.K. and French strike on the country on April 14th. While highly restricted by its range, the Pantsir nevertheless proved a highly effective complement to the KUB, BUK, S-125 and S-200 which between them neutralised 71 of 103 missiles.
The Pantsir’s effectiveness is set to be enhanced in the near future with the addition of hypersonic missiles and new sensors, which will significantly improve its engagement range and firepower. With Russian surface to air missile systems already widely sought out by a number of states, including longstanding Western clients such as Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the Pantsir’s performance in both Russian and Syrian hands is likely to increase interest in the highly cost effective weapons system. While Russia’s S-400 has garnered the most interest as a platform with unrivalled ranges and advanced anti stealth capabilities, the Pansir’s short ranged capabilities and ability to rapidly respond against low altitude threats, against which the S-400 could potentially prove vulnerable, combined with its versatility are likely to make it a popular export. Ten countries currently operate or have placed orders for the Pantsir system, six of which are in the Middle East. The Pantsir is also attractive due to its modular nature, which allows it to installed on a number of different chassis including 4 wheeled and 2 full track vehicles, stationary defence platforms and warships, allowing it to be adapted to different conditions. The combat vehicle’s excellent cost effectiveness meanwhile, under $15 million each for advanced variants, makes it attractive to a number of developing nations which would struggle to purchase the heavier and longer ranged air defence platforms but which nevertheless seek to modernise their capabilities.