Following on from a long line of long range surface to air missile platforms, from the S-25 commissioned under Joseph Stalin to the S-400 Triumf which entered service in 2006, Russia’s Air Defence Force is set to induct the most capable system yet - the S-500 Prometheus. With air defence platforms today serving as perhaps the most iconic symbols of Russian military power and technological sophistication in the defence sector, weapons systems unrivalled elsewhere and sought out by several traditional Western clients as well as Russia’s own military partners, the S-500’s entry into active service is set to be a landmark event. While the S-500 has seen a number of delays in its development, a result of the extremely complexity of the system and the highly ambitious performance requirements, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Prometheus to enter mass production in the near future.
President Putin stated regarding Russia’s need for the S-500 in a meeting on May 15th: "One of the key tasks is to improve anti precision warfare means. It is necessary to develop and build up technological groundwork in the area of air defence, to continue modernisation of Pantsir (medium range) systems, to finish the development and preparations for mass production of the S-500 newest systems capable of hitting targets at super high altitudes, including near the earth space.” Reports indicate that early stage production of the Prometheus has already begun at a number of Russian facilities. The S-500 is set to serve primarily as an anti ballistic missile platform, replacing the A-135 which entered service in 1995. The system will also be capable of targeting aircraft and low flying satellites at extreme ranges. With a planned engagement range of 600km, the weapons system will exceed the formidable 400km range of the S-400, which itself surpasses all rival platforms by a significant margin. The U.S. THAAD system, a platform with a comparable role to the S-500, is restricted to a range of under 200km.
The S-500 is of particular strategic importance to Russia given the recent redoubling of efforts by the Western bloc to develop hypersonic cruise and intercontinental ballistic missiles for nuclear delivery. Russia’s induction of a number of hypersonic weapons systems, including the Mach 20 Avangard ICBM and the Kinzhal ‘Carrier Killer’ air launched platform among several others, spurred Western militaries to redouble their efforts to develop hypersonic weapons platforms to close the gap between their strike capabilities and those fielded by Moscow’s forces. While systems such as the S-400, S-300V and A-135 are all currently sufficient to deal with missile threats posed by platforms such as the U.S. Minuteman III ICBM, should the Western bloc begin to induct hypersonic missiles Russia would require a greater degree of protection. The S-500 will thus prove an invaluable asset, and is set to be the world’s first air defence platform capable of intercepting hypersonic missile attacks. While projectiles travelling at extreme speeds such as the Avangard will be well beyond the S-500’s capabilities to target, the air defence system is designed to be able to intercept hypersonic platforms travelling at little over Mach 5. Whether the S-500 will see the same amount of foreign interest as its predecessors, and whether it will be modified into a specialised anti aircraft variant for export, remains to be seen.