Russia Expedition Force Deploys S-350 Vityaz System to Syria

 - September 25, 2017, 4:55 PM
Russia displayed the S-350E Vityaz SAM system at the MAKS Air Show in 2013. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

The Russian expedition force is Syria has fielded a battery of the S-350 Vityaz surface-to-air missile (SAM) at Masyaf to supplement S-400 Triumph, S-300VM Antey, S-300PMU Favorit and Pantsir S1 air defense systems already in theater.

Earlier this month, the Russian defense ministry stated that “an integrated air defense system” of the Syrian Arab Republic has been rebuilt, and now employs both Russian- and Syrian-manned equipment. Following successful trials at firing ranges since 2013, the ministry decided to field the advanced antiaircraft system in the war-torn country to prove its capabilities in a real war situation.

While Russia maintains lines of communication with all state actors involved in operations in the area of hostilities, including the U.S.-led coalition, Israel and Turkey, conflicts sometimes arise. According to information released during the ARMY 2017 forum in August, Russia credits the Pantsir missile-and-gun antiaircraft system in Syria with downing 12 unmanned aerial objects classified as hostile targets between March and July, including three IAI-made Heron UAVs, a U.S. RQ-21 Blackjack and a Turkish Bayraktar. (The U.S. Marine Corps press desk at the Pentagon said the service had received no reports of a mishap involving the RQ-21.)

Russia fielded the Vityaz battery at Masyaf as fighting escalated between pro-Assad and U.S.-supported militants. Six Kurdish fighters were injured in Russian aerial strikes east of Deir-ez-Zoir on September 16, while the Syrian Arab Army twice came under heavy artillery fire from U.S. coalition-held territory in the same area. On September 19, the Russian military police and special forces repelled a massive Al-Nusra assault south of Idlib, during which three Russians were wounded and between 350 and 850 attackers killed. Moscow accused “U.S. intelligence agencies” of sharing vital information with the terrorists and “inspiring them to go into action so as to retard the Syrian army advances in Deir-ez-Zoir.”

The Vityaz is described as a medium-range SAM for repelling largescale attacks using modern UAVs and air-launched munitions. It was developed as a direct replacement of early variants of the S-300 and the Buk family. Following a successful concept definition study in 2007 and development of a broadly similar KM-SAM system (also known as “Cheolmae”) under order from Republic of Korea, the Russian Ministry of Defense in 2010 contracted the NIEMI design house, a unit of the Almaz–Antey Air and Space Defense Corporation, to develop the S-300V4 Vityaz and deliver 30 batteries. The Vityaz is expected to complete state acceptance trials this year, with its developer due to demonstrate a required number of successful missile launches against a variety of target types.

The system had its public debut at the 2013 MAKS Air Show in Russia under the export designation S-350E. The Vityaz export version is described as an “inexpensive, simplified version” of the S-400 Triumph, as both are based on same technologies and share hardware components. The biggest difference between the systems is that the Vityaz employs only two missile types against seven available for the more complex S-400 system.

Meanwhile, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed confidence that a controversial S-400 order with Russia will not lead to “complexities with NATO” since another alliance member—Greece—has operated S-300PMU1 and Thor SAMs for many years without being criticized by its partners. “The process has commenced. Production of the equipment on order proceeds in accordance with the payment schedule,” the Turkish president said.