First Look at Russia’s S-500 Missile System: Built to Shoot Down Satellites, Hypersonic Planes and More

The first footage of Russia’s long-awaited S-500 Prometheus air defence system has been released, following a test launch at the Kapustin Yar test range in southern Russia targeting a mock ballistic missile. 

The S-500’s entry into service has been delayed by over four years at a conservative estimate, which is speculated to be a result of the system’s required specifications becoming more ambitious to counter emerging threats from space and hypersonic weapons. 

The Prometheus is not a direct successor to any prior generation of the Russian weapons system, and despite some initial speculation, it has been confirmed that it will not replace the A-135 anti-ballistic missile system or the S-400 air defence system - with the former being replaced by the A-235 and the latter having no clear replacement. 

As previously speculated, the S-500’s mobile transporter erector launcher will carry two surfaces to air missiles - where the S-400 and S-300 carried four. This is due to the fact that the S-500’s missiles are significantly larger, and retain a 600km engagement range - while long-range missiles on the S-300 and S-400 typically have ranges of 200km or 250km. 

Some sources have speculated that the missile shown in the latest image shows a battery armed with 9M82 or 77N6-N, with the video released notably edited to avoid showing the missile that emerged from the launcher. 

The Russian Defence Ministry stated regarding the new defence system following the test at Kapustin Yar: 

“The S-500 anti-aircraft missile system has no analogues in the world and is designed to defeat the entire spectrum of existing and promising aerospace attack weapons of a potential enemy in the entire range of altitudes and speeds.” It remains uncertain what scale the S-500 is projected to be deployed on, or when it will be marketed for export, with some leading potential clients including China, India and Algeria. 

The system provides one of the most cost-effective means of countering high-speed hypersonic missiles, and while the Western world lags behind Russia in developing such weapons they are expected to increasingly pose a threat to countries outside the Western sphere of influence. 

Hypersonic aircraft such as the American SR-72, which is expected to be developed into both reconnaissance and bomber variants, is also a potentially serious threat that the S-500 is considered ideal for countering. 

The system will be able to integrate into existing networks using Russian and Chinese built air defence systems such as the S-300 and HQ-9B, and its powerful sensors are expected to significantly improve the situational awareness of the overall networks which will be valuable against stealth targets such as America’s upcoming B-21 Raider strategic bomber - which will make its first flight in 2022.

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