Russian S-400 Surface-to-Air Missile System: Is It Worth the Sticker Price?


John Parachini, International/Defense Researcher

As countries around the globe struggle with the global pandemic, national leaders will face difficult spending decisions. Health care demands will inevitably stress national budgets, and this will pit domestic health care spending against national defense spending. The decision to buy expensive air defense systems like Russia's S-400 warrants a detailed analysis of alternatives.

The analysis of alternatives should not just consider other air defense systems, but should also consider other means to address the threat countries perceive. Russia is marketing the S-400 air defense system to countries all around the world, some of which have a questionable need for such a sophisticated system. What is often not appreciated by prospective buyers is that in order to be effective, the S-400 must be accompanied by other systems to detect incoming threats and defend against them. To make air defense systems effective, it requires radars on the ground and other short range missile systems to protect the S-400. The need for these additional systems increases the cost overall.

Moreover, having a networked, expensive air defense system requires a highly trained military workforce in order to operate it and maintain it. To achieve this level of sophisticated personnel, lots of training is required. Even with lots of training and a sophisticated network system, there are recent cases where drones and low flying cruise missiles defeated air defense systems. Thus, as countries think through decisions about how to meet their air defense needs, they should think through the options, consider alternatives, price them out carefully, but also consider other means that they might employ, such as diplomatic measures that might achieve the same security ends that they seek.

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