Since the delivery of Russian S-400 surface to air missile systems to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), following the singing of a multi billion dollar contract for the sale in 2015, it has long been speculated whether the platforms were equipped with 40N6 hypersonic missiles – the S-400’s signature weapon.
While the S-400 deploys a number of long range hypersonic munitions, including the 250km range 48N6DM/48N6E3 and 200km range 48N6E2 which both travel at around Mach 6, the 40N6E deploys unique capabilities unparalleled by those of any other surface to air missile system in the world.
The missile retains a 400km range, and is capable of engaging targets with a high degree of accuracy at an extremely wide variety of altitudes – from 30km to just 5 meters.
While other surface to air missile systems are highly restricted in their minimum altitude at long ranges, with the curvature of the Earth limiting their ability to strike low altitude targets, the 40N6 follows a unique trajectory.
The missile climbs to high altitudes using an active radar homing head, before switching to search and destroy mode and semi active guidance for world leading over the horizon capabilities.
On February 18th 2019 Russia’s state owned industrial conglomerate Rostec confirmed that 40N6 missiles were being exported to China. The corporation’s CEO, Sergei Chemezov, stated that a contract for the supply of the hypersonic munitions was “signed quite long ago.”
He further noted, however, that the delivery of these missiles had failed when the vessel transporting the munitions was caught in a storm – forcing the crew “to liquidate all the missiles that were on the vessel.”
He further reported that new missiles were being manufactured to fulfil the Chinese order.
Analysts have speculated based on data on the movements of Russian cargo vessels and the incidents they have had that the accident likely took place in the English Channel or the Baltic Sea – both of which would place any missiles lost deep in NATO territory.
The recovery of even a single 40N6 missile by NATO forces, for which the United States retains a vast fleet of specialised vessels such as the modified Seawolf Class submarine USS Jimmy Carter, would be a priceless asset both to advanced Western surface-to-air missile technologies and to counter by far the most capable long range surface to air missile in the world – which is deployed to limit the freedom of action of Western assets from Syria to Crimea, the Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea and covering the Korean Peninsula.
The imperative of destroying all missiles onboard, each costing several million dollars, thus cannot be overstated.
Source: Military Watch