Russia’s missile defense system lures allies from American weapons
It may be Russia’s most successful military export since the Kalashnikov — at least at driving a wedge between the U.S. and some key allies.
The S-400 advanced missile defense system, which has been a linchpin protecting Moscow’s military bases on the battlefields of Syria, is attracting renewed interest from countries such as India and Turkey — pitting Russia against the Trump administration’s drive to boost competing U.S. defense sales.
Since entering the Russian arsenal in 2007, the S-400 Triumph air defense system, which is also known by the NATO moniker SA-21 Growler, has quickly assumed the mantle as Moscow’s premier anti-aircraft missile system. Touted as a direct competitor to the Americanmade PAC-3 Patriot air defense missile system and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense or THAAD — the main ballistic missile defense system fielded by U.S. forces, the S-400 is the beneficiary of an increasingly aggressive marketing campaign from Moscow.
The S-400’s performance in the Russian mission supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad is proving a major selling point, Russian military contractors say.
“The demand is rather significant after the Syrian events,” Alexander Mikheyev, CEO of Russian weapons firm Rosoboronexport, told the Tass news service last month. He said talks with other potential export customers are accelerating.
Moscow Defense Brief, a Moscowbased publication that monitors Russian military developments, said countries such as Algeria, Belarus, Iran and Vietnam are eyeing the S-400 and that the surface-to-air missile defense system could bring in up to $30 billion in sales over the next 15 years.
Rosoboronexport recently announced that it will stop conducting its export deals in U.S. dollars, allowing purchasers to use local currencies.
Moscow has ramped up its marketing of the weapon to foreign militaries, including those with long-standing military and diplomatic ties with Washington, despite a threat from the State Department that buyers of the S-400 face U.S. sanctions.
Moscow has racked up a series of S-400 sales to China, a near-peer competitor to the U.S. that is actively looking for systems to counter American THAAD deployments on the Korean Peninsula.
Beijing claims THAAD is a threat to the country’s ballistic missile deterrent and is also reportedly eying the S-400 in a bid to curb American and allied efforts to contain its ambitions in the South China Sea.
Russia has also targeted Turkey, a NATO member, and held discussions with other U.S. allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose military and diplomatic relationships with Washington are coming under increasing strain.
Tensions reached a head with Ankara over the proposed Turkish deal last month when Congress voted to block sales of the next-generation F-35 fighter jet to Turkey in opposition to its deal to buy the S-400.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is feuding with President Trump on a number of fronts, affirmed last year that his government was proceeding with the estimated $2.5 billion purchase despite American reservations. Turkish workers reportedly have been busy preparing a site that will host the Russian missile defense system.
The Pentagon and private defense analysts fear Ankara’s decision to field the Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system will draw Turkey deeper into Moscow’s growing sphere of influence in the Middle East.
Retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO, warned that the willingness of U.S. allies to consider the S-400 is disconcerting.