Checkpoint Asia

Russian Air Defenses Are World’s Best, but Could the Americans Simply Overwhelm Them With Numbers?

The US can afford to expend numerous missiles and converted decoy drones to saturate Russian defenses and deplete their ammunition

Historically, the Air and Missile Defense Forces (Voyska Protivovozdushnoy i Protivoraketnoy Oborony—PVO-PRO) have constituted one of the main strengths of the Soviet/Russian Armed Forces and an indispensable national security element (Vko.ru, June 27, 2012).

From late 2018 to early 2019, Russia has showcased a number of new achievements that will purportedly reinforce its existing PVO-PRO systems, with special emphasis placed on short- and medium-range complexes (see Part One in EDM, April 30).

However, in spite of the highly publicized progress, some leading Russian military experts have voiced concerns and posed serious questions about the ostensible “omnipotence” of the Russian PVO-PRO systems.

In a relatively recent article published by Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, leading Russian military expert Alexander Khramchikhin expresses his doubts, stating that the declared invincibility of the Russian PVO-PRO might in fact seriously diverge from reality.

Specifically, Khramchikhin suggests that both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO—with the United States as its leading force) and China (whose strategic alliance with Russia, he says, is “nothing but rhetoric”) are capable of overcoming or destroying Russia’s PVO-PRO system.

Regarding the former opponent, the expert argues that, in case of hostilities, the US can easily turn quantity into quality “by simply ‘pounding’ Russian anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems with large numbers of Tomahawks, AGM-86, AGM-158, [and] JASSM-ER [cruise missiles]…

Aside from this, QF-16А/Сs [remote-control-capable drones built from aging F-16 fighter jet platforms], which are formally considered to be nothing but [full-scale] aerial [practice] targets, will most certainly be used as unmanned combat aerial vehicles [UCAV] for delivering maximum damage to the Russian PVO-PRO system…

This will be primarily directed at our S-300/400 systems to exhaust their ammunition and make them useless targets that can be easily destroyed” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 29).

Khramchikhin writes that, based on elementary mathematical calculations, Russia simply does not have enough PVO-PRO systems to ward off a massive aerial attack from a much stronger adversary, such as the US.

He goes on to suggest that “Americans can allow themselves to ‘waste’ several hundred missiles and QF-16s (that have already become relatively obsolete) to destroy every regiment (especially, those located outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and have no ‘backing’ from other regiments). Yes, this is quite expensive, but they have enough money” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 29).

In addition, Khramchikhin admits that China also has a huge arsenal of various types of ballistic and cruise missiles (such as the DH-10/CJ-10), as well as outdated Shenyang J-6 and J-7 fighters that “are already being transformed into UCAVs for the same purpose: delivering maximum damage against a strong PVO-PRO system.”

According to Khramchikhin, “This problem is becoming more and more serious… We can actually witness it now unfolding on a limited scale in Syria” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, March 29).

Incidentally, as Khramchihin contended last year, it is on Russia’s eastern flank where existing PVO-PRO systems reveal multiple flaws and “inadequacy with regard to the challenges faced by Russia” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye,November 22, 2018).

Source: Jamestown Foundation