Russia to deploy new S-350 air defense missile system near Moscow to counter Ukrainian drone attacks

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu revealed earlier in March 2023 that Russian armed forces aim to complete the modernization of its missile defense systems using the new S-350 air defense system, tasked with protecting Moscow against Ukrainian drone attacks, by the end of the year.
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A battery of Russian-made S-350 medium-range air defense missile system. (Picture source

Russian Minister of Defense further stated that Russia plans to establish an air defense division and brigade, a special-purpose air and missile defense brigade, an anti-aircraft regiment equipped with the S-350 surface-to-air missile complex, a space monitoring radar station called Razvyazka, and a special operations brigade for air and missile defense by the end of 2023.

Since 2020, a significant portion of Russia's State Armament Program has been dedicated to developing aerospace defense capabilities. Over 3.4 trillion Rubles (approximately US$44.3 billion) have been allocated to the initiative, which began in 2011. The air defense upgrade accounts for around 17.5% of the total investment.

The urgency to modernize Russia's air defense capabilities has increased due to ongoing long-range drone attacks by Ukraine against Russian positions. For example, Russia recently claimed to have shot down an alleged Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh drone using EW equipment in a town located 180 kilometers from Moscow.

In December 2022, Russian air force bases suffered an airstrike thanks to the use of the old Soviet-made modified reconnaissance drone Tupolev Tu-141 launched from Ukraine and fitted with an explosive warhead.

On December 5, 2022, Russia announced that two military air force bases were bombed by unidentified aerial systems. One of the explosions was at the Engels-1 air base in the Saratov region, the other at Dyagilevo in the Ryazan area - both hundreds of km inside the Russia-Ukraine border. On Tuesday, December 6, 2022, another Russian air force base was hit at Kursk in southwest Russia, near the Ukrainian border.

The Tu-141, a Soviet-era long-range high-speed reconnaissance drone, has been part of Ukraine's arsenal since 2014. In the absence of longer-range missiles and rockets, it is believed that Kyiv's forces have repurposed these drones, retrofitting them with explosive warheads and using them to strike targets deep within Russian territory.

The S-350, also known as Vityaz, is a Russian surface-to-air missile system designed to provide medium-range air defense. It is intended to replace older systems like the S-300PS and complement more advanced systems like the S-400 Triumf. The S-350 is capable of intercepting a variety of aerial threats, including aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, and UAVs. With its advanced radar and multiple-target tracking capabilities, the S-350 missile system enhances Russia's air defense capabilities and forms an integral part of their modernization efforts.

The S-350 Vityaz air defense system employs 9M96E and 9M96E2 surface-to-air missiles to target a wide array of aerial threats. The 9M96E missile has a range of approximately 1-60 km (0.6-37 miles) and can reach altitudes up to 30 km (18.6 miles), while the 9M96E2 missile has an extended range of approximately 1-120 km (0.6-74.5 miles) with the same maximum altitude.

Both missile variants use fragmentation warheads, which detonate in close proximity to the target, effectively destroying it with shrapnel. The 9M96E missile's warhead weighs around 24 kg (53 lbs), whereas the 9M96E2 missile's warhead is slightly heavier at approximately 26 kg (57 lbs).