On April 23rd, Russian Defense Minister, Army General Sergei Shoigu, unveiled a significant development in Russia’s military capabilities. He disclosed plans for the introduction of the latest S-500 anti-aircraft missile systems, scheduled to commence in 2024. Notably, these systems will be deployed in two distinct configurations: ballistic missile defense [BMD] systems and extended-range anti-aircraft missile systems.

The inception of the cutting-edge S-500 missile system dates back to 2015, when it garnered initial attention during its conceptual phase. However, by 2021, the system, codenamed Prometheus, transitioned into mass production. In May of the same year, Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted at the impending completion of testing phases.

An article published by Izvestia, attributed to a Ministry of Defense insider, revealed a pivotal test executed by the Russian Armed Forces. This trial showcased the S-500’s efficacy against hypersonic targets, casting a favorable light on the Prometheus system. On February 22, 2024, the S-500 demonstrated its capabilities by successfully engaging and neutralizing an R-29RMU2 Sineva intercontinental ballistic missile. This remarkable display of prowess, conducted from the Tula nuclear-powered submarine traversing the Laptev Sea, intercepted the missile above the Chizha test site in the Arkhangelsk region.

The Evaluation

The Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that the S-500 Prometheus cleared all operational benchmarks during its assessment, affirming its ability to counter both present and future aerial threats. Its adept handling of hypersonic targets signifies a significant leap in air defense technology, positioning Russia as a leader in missile defense capabilities.

Unlike its predecessor, the S-400 Triumph, the S-500 Prometheus is engineered to complement and augment it. Notably, the S-500 system is capable of assuming command roles for the S-400. Against aerodynamic threats, the ultra-long-range 40H6M anti-aircraft missiles, already integrated into the S-400 system, are deployed. Furthermore, the 77N6 anti-missiles are utilized for intercepting ballistic missiles beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, likely in near space.

The S-500 Prometheus, also known as the 55R6M “Triumphator-M,” represents the next evolutionary step in Russian surface-to-air and anti-ballistic missile systems. Developed by the renowned Russian defense firm Almaz-Antey, it serves as an enhancement of the highly regarded S-400 missile system.

Featuring a sophisticated and versatile battery layout, the S-500 system incorporates a centralized command center, radar installations dedicated to detection, tracking, and targeting of missiles, and purpose-built launchers. Its impressive mobility is facilitated by mounting all components onto heavy-duty vehicles, ensuring swift deployment and repositioning capabilities.

The system’s radar array is particularly noteworthy, comprising various radar systems, each fulfilling a specific role. Among these, a versatile phased array radar stands out for its ability to track aerial objects and ballistic missiles. Augmented by additional radar types, it excels in target acquisition, missile guidance, and post-launch assessment.

One of the most striking attributes of the S-500 system is its remarkable range, enabling operations at distances of up to 600 kilometers against aerodynamic targets and 400 kilometers against ballistic threats. This extended reach allows for comprehensive surveillance of vast territories, safeguarding critical strategic assets effectively.

The S-500 employs two distinct missile variants, the 77N6-N and the 77N6-N1, featuring inert warheads designed for kinetic impact. Tasked with intercepting ballistic missile warheads, hypersonic cruise missiles, and other aerial threats, these Russian-made missiles demonstrate innovative and effective anti-missile capabilities.

The reported testing of the S-500 in operational conditions involved the destruction of the Russian satellite Kosmos-1408 on November 15, 2021. This incident generated a significant amount of space debris, prompting concerns from the US Space Command regarding the threat posed by anti-satellite systems to strategic stability. While there is no definitive evidence linking the S-500 to the Kosmos-1408 incident, speculation among Russian analysts persists, urging a cautious approach to the matter.

In 2019, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu hinted at President Putin’s emphasis on advancing internal missile and aerial defense capabilities, specifically mentioning the S-350, S-500, and the lesser-known S-550 for military application.

Initially, industry analysts speculated that the S-550 might resemble a scaled-down version of the S-500, similar to the relationship between the S-350 and the more extensive S-300 and S-400 systems. The S-550 mobile ballistic missile defense [BMD] system, originally conceived between 1981 and 1988, resurfaced in discussions, although it never saw official deployment.

Further clarification came from Sergei Chemezov at the Dubai Air Show, where he outlined the S-550’s objective to detect and neutralize ballistic missiles over a greater range than the S-500. Additionally, he confirmed the completion of essential components necessary for the system’s realization.