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How could Ukraine destroy Russia's newly deployed S-500 Triumfator-M air defense system in Crimea?.

According to the Kyiv Independent on June 13, 2024, Ukraine's military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov announced that Russian forces have installed their latest S-500 air defense system in occupied Crimea. Budanov indicated that the Russian air defense system is being enhanced, noting the presence of the newest elements of the S-500 in Crimea. He described this deployment as an experimental application of the system.
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The S-500 air defense system's response time of three to four seconds marks a substantial improvement over its predecessor, the S-400, which has a response time of nine to ten seconds. (Picture source: Russian media)

The situation for Russian air defense in Crimea has become increasingly weakened due to continuous Ukrainian missile strikes. Ukrainian forces have targeted key air defense installations and command centers across the region, using advanced Western-supplied missiles such as the ATACMS and Storm Shadow. These strikes have resulted in damage to critical sites, including the destruction of a command center at the Saki airfield and impacts on air defense infrastructure in Dzhankoi. Despite Russian statements claiming the successful interception of several missiles, reports indicate damage and casualties at these locations, suggesting that not all incoming threats have been neutralized.

The recent reduction in Russian air defense capabilities in Crimea, following multiple Ukrainian missile strikes, poses potential risks to the security of the Kerch Bridge. This logistical link between Russia and Crimea has already been subjected to previous strikes, leading to operational disruptions and requiring protection efforts. With weakened air defenses, the Kerch Bridge faces increased vulnerability to further attacks. Continued losses of air defense systems may compel Russia to either risk using the bridge for military logistics or divert resources to enhance its defense.

In response to these challenges, it is plausible that Russian forces seek to enhance their air defense capabilities in Crimea by deploying advanced systems, including a pre-production sample or even a development prototype of the S-500. This system, which offers quicker response times and improved capabilities, is likely intended to counter threats such as Neptune, ATACMS, and Storm Shadow missiles, aiming to protect military infrastructure in Crimea amid persistent Ukrainian attacks. Additionally, Russian troops have begun constructing barriers to hide these air defense systems, seeking to protect them from further strikes.

To potentially destroy the S-500 air defense systems in Crimea, Ukrainian forces could use a combination of advanced Western-supplied missiles, electronic warfare, and drones. ATACMS and Storm Shadow missiles, known for their effectiveness in targeting key Russian installations, can strike from long distances, potentially overwhelming the S-500 systems. Electronic warfare can disrupt the radar and communication systems of the S-500, reducing its effectiveness and creating opportunities for missile strikes. Drones like the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 and the US-supplied Phoenix Ghost and Switchblade can target S-500 launchers and radar units directly. Long-range unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for surveillance and targeting can further enhance the precision and effectiveness of these attacks.

The Trembita cruise missile, developed by Ukrainian engineers, can be also used to destroy the S-500 air defense systems by leveraging its unique characteristics and deployment strategy. The Trembita, a surface-to-surface missile, is designed to be affordable and effective against advanced air defense systems. By launching multiple missiles simultaneously, Ukraine can create a saturation attack that exhausts the S-500's interceptors, increasing the likelihood that some missiles will penetrate the defenses. The Trembita’s range of approximately 140 kilometers allows for safe distance launches, while its pulsejet engine enables low-altitude flight, making it challenging for interception. Integrating the Trembita with electronic warfare tactics can create confusion and delays in the S-500’s response, enhancing the chances of successful attacks. Combining the Trembita with coordinated attacks from other missile systems and drones can maximize the chances of disabling the S-500 installations in Crimea.

By launching multiple Trembita cruise missiles simultaneously, Ukraine can create a saturation attack that exhausts the S-500's interceptors, increasing the likelihood that some missiles will penetrate the defenses and effectively neutralize or destroy the S-500. (Picture source ZN.UA) 

Earlier, on April 25, 2024, Army Recognition reported that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu revealed that the Russian armed forces would receive new military assets by the end of the year. This includes the initial deployment of the S-500 Prometheus anti-aircraft missile system in two configurations. Other systems such as the S-400, S-300V4, Buk-M3, and Tor-M2U anti-aircraft missile systems, along with new generation radar stations, are also scheduled for delivery. These systems are likely intended for deployment in Ukraine.

The S-500 air defense system features a response time of three to four seconds, an improvement over the S-400's nine to ten seconds. This development has been accelerated, with Shoigu noting that weapon production timelines have been significantly reduced in response to perceived increased threats from Western countries. Previously taking five to eight years, production is now completed in four to seven months, a production pace not seen since World War II.

Oleg Glazunov, an associate professor and expert from the Association of Military Political Scientists, discussed the strategic importance of the S-500 system in Russian media. He explained that the system is designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles and engage targets in near-Earth orbit. The deployment of these systems is intended as a deterrent to NATO and American military strategists, highlighting Russia's enhanced air defense capabilities.

The S-500 Prometheus, also known as the 55R6M Triumfator-M, was developed by Almaz-Antey. It is designed to engage a wide range of aerial threats, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), hypersonic cruise missiles, and low-orbit satellites, at altitudes up to 200 kilometers. Initiated in 2009, with the first prototype completed by 2012, the system has evolved with enhanced capabilities. The Russian Armed Forces received their first pre-production prototypes in 2016, and the final phase of testing was conducted on February 22, 2024, demonstrating its ability to intercept hypersonic targets.

The S-500 employs the 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 missiles, capable of reaching hypersonic speeds and designed for kinetic impacts. These missiles enhance the system's ability to handle threats at distances up to 600 kilometers. The system's quick response time further underscores its advanced design.

The S-500 system is mounted on the BAZ-6909 family of vehicles, known for their mobility in various terrains, supporting the system's deployment capabilities. The missile launcher unit, the 77P6, and various command and control vehicles are integral to the system’s operational structure, ensuring coordination of defense strategies against aerial threats.

The radar systems of the S-500 include the 91N6A(M) acquisition and battle management radar, which enhances the system’s situational awareness and operational readiness by allowing for the detection and management of multiple targets. Other radars, such as the 96L6-TsP acquisition radar and the 77T6 ABM engagement radar, play roles in the detection and engagement processes, securing airspace against potential threats. These radars enable the S-500 to engage up to 10 targets simultaneously, an important feature to counter techniques like saturation attacks, where multiple threats are launched simultaneously to overwhelm air defense systems.

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