A Western S-400 and its potential purposes

The Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system (a.k.a. SA-21 Growler) is famous and succeeding the S-300 as the preferred area air defence nightmare. S-300 sales negotiations make Western warmongers fear for their ability to bomb Third World countries. S-400 is much more powerful - and much more expensive, too.

Most S-400 batteries are deployed around the air defence capital of the world, Moscow. The others are located at certain points of great interest to Russia. We would likely not see many S-400 batteries in a Russia-NATO conflict at the front, but most likely a few, since their unique capabilities are so useful.

S-400 is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles, aircraft, cruise missiles - the usual stuff for an area air defence system. Two characteristic stand out:
  • a UHF search radar that can detect low and very low observable ("stealth") aircraft at very useful ranges because their shaping doesn't help against these wavelengths
  • a super long range missile (one type believed to have 400 km nominal range) that would force transport aircraft, tanker aircraft, Elint aircraft, jammer aircraft and long range radar aircraft (AWACS/Sentry, Erieye, Hawkeye, J-STARS, ASTOR/Sentinel) to stay at a respectful distance, minimising if not eliminating their utility to the opposing forces.
There would be several possible fields of employment among not very Russia-friendly countries for such a missile system, particularly the 40N6 missile:
  • Taiwan dominating the Taiwan strait and securing the first ~ 100 nm of a convoy lane eastward
  • Poland cutting Kaliningrad Oblast off regarding transport aircraft (and thus reinforcements in wartime)
  • Sweden dominating much of the air space over the Baltic Sea and over its North
  • Finland covering the airspace of its vast North
  • Japan securing its West and the Tsushima Strait against PRC air power
  • United States defending Guam, including against ballistic PGMs

The alternative to most of these would be fighter patrols, but even quick reaction alert fighter forces could not cope with saturation attacks and strike packages as well as a battery that can launch dozens of missiles in a few minutes. Either way, past about 200-250 km one would need external radar sensors (typically AEW) to exploit the range of such a missile.

- - - - -

SM-6 launch
Well, what do we have in the West? To my knowledge we only have the RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile a.k.a. SM-6 in this category.

I'm not typically in favour of anyone buying anything from one of the big American arms manufacturers (Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, all three shipyards etc.) for they are slow to deliver, expensive and often underperforming. The only alternative in this case would be MBDA, though. They could use the Aster-30's booster technology with a modified (all ramjet) Meteor missile to approximate the performance of SM-6 and 40N6, but this would take many years and billions. So there would be no reason at all to ask it do develop such a thing unless MBDA would pay back much of the buyer's bill through taxation.

SM-6 can be launched from a vertical silo, and assuming that the missile can be stored for a while in the horizontal position (which is most likely) there should be little difficulty in creating a land-based version. I wouldn't ask for a complete area air defence system, though. A containerised launcher, a command & control container, a radio datalink (Link 16) container and an off-the shelf generator trailer should suffice. Sensor data could be provided by external sources such as AEW aircraft radar, warship radar, fighter radar or land-based radars.

This could still turn into a multi-billion nightmare, and I'm not talking Zimbabwean dollars here. The best course of action would be if Raytheon made such a land-based SM-6 firing unit design ready and available off-the-shelf, so merely IADS integration, certification and technical manual translations would be necessary development activities for a sale. A price of about USD 5 million per missile is bad enough - there should be no huge development expenses for a niche product be paid by the first or any customer.



P.S.: I resent Raytheon in part for repeatedly sending press releases out claiming that SM-6 did set records for surface-to-air kills in tests without ever mentioning the achieved distance. Deliver or don't claim!


  1. Would THAAD be suitable as well?

    1. THAAD uses a shrouded infrared seeker. The shroud is removed for the terminal approach and testing suggests that it could function afterwards at low altitude, but I doubt that it's as good against low flying targets as the SM-6's active radar seeker (~modified AIM-120's radar).

      Moreover, SM-6 appears to have more range than THAAD and costs something around USD 5 million each, not around USD 11 million. THAAD really is a dedicated ballistic missile killer.

  2. https://corporalfrisk.com/2014/11/23/a-ground-based-air-defence-system-for-finland/
    The range is shown quite well in the link.

    SM6 has the ability to engage surface targets, the range secrets may be that it is pushing INF. Just a guess.

    I belive that NASAMS FDC software has the capability to grow so as to direct the SM 6.
    The thing lacking is a radar.
    A launcher could fit on a MAN 8x8.

    SM6 Can also be directed by F35.

    1. That's conventional thinking.
      Land-based area air defences aren't really for killing; they're for repulsion. The motivate intruders to avoid their engagement envelope by going another route or flying very low (into range of SPAAGs and ManPADS).

      The point of these SM-6 installations would in most cases (not Guam) be to scare the opposing forces' air war HQ, not mass destruction of aircraft. A 5-20% likelihood per sortie that the surveillance-strike chain works from some non-organic sensor till switch to terminal engagement phase is scary enough to keep AEW&C, jammer, ElINT, SAR/GMTI, ASW/MPA, large bomber (H-6) transport and tanker aircraft out of its effective range.

      An organic radar is utterly dispensable for this purpose; it would be an unnecessary expense.

  3. Zimbabwean dollars. I laughed so hard for that

  4. What about the SAMP/T?


    1. Altogether different range class than SM-6.