Turkey has been under a lot of pressure recently to reconsider its decision to purchase Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 Triumf air-defense systems rather than the weapons offered by NATO allies, notably the US Patriot PAC-3. American officials are threatening Turkey with sanctions. The S-400 deal with Russia has been finalized, and Ankara shows no sign that it’s having second thoughts. Anyway, a potential purchase of the US system would not preclude the deal with Russia, for the simple reason that the PAC-3 is not an alternative to the Triumf. Some countries, like Poland, buy it for political reasons, but that system is no match for the S-400 from the standpoint of its operational capabilities. According to the Quartz news website, “the US and its allies the world over are paying billions for medium-range missile interception systems without a track record of success.”
Both systems are long-range, high-altitude, all-weather weapons theoretically capable of countering ballistic and cruise missiles, drones, and the most advanced aircraft. However, the Patriot has a very unimpressive record of failure every time it has been used under combat conditions. It recently missed its targets when attacking Saudi Arabia from Yemen.
The Russian system supports four different intercept missiles with ranges from 40 km. up to 400 km., as compared to just one interceptor with a range of 96 km. that is supported by the PAC-3 (the PAC-2 older version had a range of 160 km.). The S-400 will detect, track, and fire at a target long before the Patriot can even begin to get the haziest of readings on it. The Triumf can deploy in five to ten minutes. The American Patriot takes about an hour to position itself and get ready to fire. That’s a huge difference under combat conditions.
The Triumf’s 9M96E2 (120 km.) missile is beyond compare, as it can fly at Mach 15 (around 18,500 kph), and engage targets five meters off the ground. The Patriot can only hit low-flying targets at an altitude of 60 m. Here the S-400’s superiority is also evident. What’s more, the missile can maneuver at up to 20 Gs. The mind boggles.
The S-400 has optional acquisition radars, which operate in multiple frequency bands. They can see US stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 and the F-35. The system is capable of targeting up to 36 airplanes at a range of 150 kilometers. Unlike the Patriot, the S-400 does not need to track its target, thanks to its fire-and-forget capability. The interceptors are equipped with homing devices to lock on a target and kill it.
The PAC-3 can only fire at an incoming missile during the terminal phase of its flight, instead of earlier, before the warhead has separated, when it is possible to use electronic countermeasures. The system has a range of 35 km. against ballistic missiles but Yemen’s war experience shows that the intercepts are too last-minute, threatening high-value assets and the populated areas the Patriot is supposed to protect. For comparison, the S-400 can hit ballistic targets flying at speeds of up to 4.8 km/s at altitudes from a few meters to a few dozen kilometers, from a distance of 60 km. No other system in the world can measure up to it.
Here is another comparison: the S-400 is priced at about $2.5 billion. The Patriot costs twice as much. For instance, Poland has to fork out $4.75 billion. As in other examples, this is a significant difference.
Moscow does not have to strong-arm anyone to sell the S-400 abroad. Deliveries to China, a big-league consumer, have already started. Would-be buyers, including America’s closest allies, are lining up. This month Turkey requested that the procedure be expedited, thus waving a red flag in front of the American bull. Saudi Arabia has also signed a deal to purchase the S-400 from Russia, fueling US anger. And Qatar is among the potential buyers. India is seeking exemption from US sanctions so it can buy the Triumf. Iraq is looking to buy the S-400 despite America’s pressure and threats. Pakistan is pondering a deal too. No doubt there’ll be others.
Everyone wants the best. Russia abides by the principles of fair trade that the US demands from others while refusing to honor itself. Washington does not shy away from pressure and arm-twisting to force other customers buy a commodity that is obviously inferior in quality. The S-400 is certainly not the only example of US duplicity. This American policy is facing broad resistance. The US could have offered a better defense system but it failed to develop and produce one. This “do as I tell you or else” policy is the only option left for those who don’t know how to lose gracefully.