Can Soviet-era Tor, Buk, Pantsir, S-300 and S-400 handle evolving threats?

In November 2018, Viktor Murakhovsky, a writer for the Russian publication Arsenal of the Fatherland, posted a comment regarding the performance of Russia’s Pantsir S-1 air-defense system.

Read More Over-hyped S-400 and S-300 Surface-to-air Missile failed to Detect F-35I Adir

“In Syria, it turned out that the Pantsir was practically incapable of detecting low-speed and small-sized targets, which include military UAVs. At the same time, the complex regularly recorded false targets—large birds flying around the base—rather confusing the operators.”

Shortly afterward, Murakhovsky’s post disappeared. Some observers speculated there may have been pressure to silence negative press for a system Russia has already exported to Algeria, Iraq, Oman, Syria and the UAE. Others dismissed Murakhovsky’s claim for relying on an anonymous source

The Pantsir-S1 is a truck-mounted short-range air defense system, or SHORADS, combining both surface-to-air missiles and rapid-firing 30-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons. SHORADS protect front-line troops and key military bases from low-flying jets, helicopters and incoming missiles.

Tor ADS

As inexpensive drones have entered widespread use with both military and insurgent actors across the globe, SHORADS have grown in importance.

But the anonymous source Murakhovsky cited claimed the Pantsir performed poorly against drones compared to the older and more expensive Tor-M2U missile system.

“In a real combat situation, the Pantsir does not justify the hopes placed on it,” the source explained. “On July 1, [2018], the first drone attack occurred, and three drones from the group were able to fly up to the Russian base and drop nine makeshift explosive devices. Immediately after the start of the attack, the Tor-M2U crew detected the targets and destroyed four drones with five ground-guided missiles at altitudes between 2.5 and three kilometers. Another three drones were shot down by the Pantsir-S1, but it used 13 missiles to do so.”

“During the second half of July 2018, the Tors in Syria destroyed two UAVs with two missiles,” the source continued. “In August 2018, the Tors detected and shot down another eight UAVs, expending a total of 80 rockets. In the period from April to October 2018, the Tor-M2U complexes in Syria shot down eight air targets, with an efficiency of 10 percent.”

Pantsir ADS

“Meanwhile, the efficiency of the Pantsir-S1 during the same period was only 19 percent.”

“Murakhovsky was responding to an article that was likely planted by manufacturers of Tor,” Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert at the Center of Naval Analysis, told War Is Boring in an email.

“Russian defense industry and military journals have no problem criticizing their own performance, but many media articles are plants by rival companies criticizing each other’s products. The description of air defense performance in Syria can be summarized as ‘Rostec pushed Pantsir-S1 into mass procurement, but it fails at this particular mission, and actually Tor is much better but doesn’t have the political influence of Rostec’ and so on.”

Despite similar performance parameters, the Tor and Pantsir usually serve in different roles. The Tor, built by the state-owned firm Almaz-Antey, primarily functions as a forward air-defense asset for Russian ground forces. For this reason, the Tor-M2U—a recent modernization of a system that first deployed in the 1980s—is based on a 37-ton armored, tracked chassis and can acquire targets while on the move … and simultaneously engage up to four aircraft after stopping for three to five seconds to engage its vertical cold-launch system.

The $25-million SHORADS system carries up to 16 9M331 missiles with a range of 12 kilometers and a speed of Mach 2.5

Meanwhile, the Pantsir-S1 is based on an unarmored eight-by-eight truck chassis. It primarily operates with the Russian air force in static missions defending bases and weapons installations. This includes protecting S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile batteries from incoming radar-homing missiles such as the United States’ AGM-88 HARM.

The Pantsir boasts a passive electro-optical guidance channel in addition to radar-guidance. Its 12 57E6 missiles have a slightly longer engagement range of 20 kilometers. At $15 million per unit, it’s cheaper than the Tos is.

The Pantsir already had a mixed combat record in Syria. The Syrian military began receiving the first of 40 Pantsirs in 2007, but like the rest of Syrian air defenses, the Pantsirs have had little success in shooting down Israeli warplanes during their frequent raids.

In May 14 2018, a Pantsir reportedly was destroyed by an Israeli Spike missile. Russian media murkily claimed the unfortunate Pantsir was inactive, or had somehow expended all of its missiles.

Russia has deployed its own Pantsirs to protect its aircraft and personnel at Hmeimim air base in Syria.

On Jan. 6, 2018 the Pantsirs at Hmeimim engaged a swarm of 13 kamikaze drones deployed by Syrian rebels, shooting down two drones only.

In April 2018 Russia reinforced the Pantsirs at Hmeimim with Tor-M2U systems. Murakhovksy’s anonymous source suggests an explanation. Though to be fair, this was not the Tor’s first-ever deployment in Syria.

But are the negative reports reliable? Kofman cautions “I would say industry competition plays a role in this discussion and so while facts may support the overall conclusion, context matters,” he said. “The Pantsir didn’t perform miserably, it simply doesn’t have a radar suitable for tracking small slow-flying targets. It was not built with that mission in mind. What’s the evidence of Tor performing better? Well, the one article that seemed to reflect very positively on Tor and very negatively on Pantsir.”

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Israel was able to destroy the Russian anti-aircraft missile system used by the Syrian army only after the Syrian crew made a mistake, and instead of changing its position, it remained in the same location waiting for the ammunition resupply vehicle, said Valery Slugin, the chief designer of the Pantsir system, in an interview with the Russian news agency TASS. The Pantsir system was created in Design Bureau of Instrument Engineering named after academician A.G. Shipunov which is part of the Russian state concern Rostec.

“The Israeli Defense Ministry published a video of the destruction of the Syrian Pantsir. Have you studied this footage, why did they manage to destroy it?” the interlocutor asked Slugin. In response, Slugin said: “This Pantsir of the Syrian Armed Forces managed to hit eight targets, and there were no missiles left. The combat crew left the vehicle and stood nearby waiting for an ammunition resupply vehicle. One person from the combat crew, as seen in the video, ran back. He apparently had left a phone in the car. They were not supposed to do it. It was necessary to immediately remove the combat vehicle from the position after using up the ammunition, immediately, then everything would be fine.

S-400 Air Defense System

The Israeli newspaper NZIV reported citing officials sources of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that Israeli F-35I Adir flew over the area covered by Russian-made S-300 and S-400 Surface-to-air missile system.

The Israeli Air Force’s F-35I Adir not only flew over Syria but ventured 200 kilometers inside Syria to bomb Iran-backed militants groups. Israeli named F-35I “Adir” meaning “Strong One,” one of the names of God in Judaism.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is israel_f-_1568875128-2.jpg
IAF F-35I Adir Flight Path over S-400 and S-300

The F-35I Adir has been flying over Syrian territory covered by so called stealth-killer S-400 SAM advertised, spread propaganda brochures and sold to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China and India, turn out to be another lame duck missile system manufactured by Almaz-Antey. The S-400 brochures says it can detect and engage interceptor missiles to a stealth fighter jet however, so far S-400 proved to be useless against stealth technology.

On paper and Russian propaganda machines were successfully spreads the news that S-400 is the best but Israeli F-35I armed with sophisticated electronic warfare technologies proved American superiority over Soviet-era Electronics. Previously, the Global Defense corp reported that the vulnerabilities of the search and fire control radar of S-400 can be fully exploited by the electronic warfare system of EA-18 Growler and F-35 stealth fighter jet. It’s a prove that the AN/ASQ-239 EW systems of F-35 successfully defeated the S-400 and S-300 radar systems.

S-300 Air Defense System

Israeli fighters launched missiles right under the nose of the S-300. The Syrian Army only used anti-aircraft guns while recently activated S-300 battery watches Israeli F-16 learned GDC quoting Russian media Avia.Pro.

The Israeli military not only carried out another attack on the positions of the Syrian army in the province of Homs, but also found another way to ridicule the Russian S-300 air defense systems, considered one of the most promising air defense systems. As it turned out, Israeli warplanes fired several missiles towards the Syrian S-300 positional area, successfully defeating the positions of the Syrian army, while the “Favorites” did not react again.

Read More “Russian-made S-300 and S-400 did not fire a single shot at Turkish and Israeli fighter jets and Drones”—Here’s Why

Russian Admission to ADS Failure

In February 2020, the Turkish Company Aselsan has handed its newly developed and locally produced KORAL to the Turkish Air Force. Turkey has deployed radar-electronic warfare system close to the borders with Syria in order to jam and deceive hostile radar emitters.

Turkish Koral system which was deployed on the border to the North. It has blinded all radar stations and systems over a 200 km area and the Turkish forces has hit them with drones and other air platforms.

“Koral is a ground-based EW system, and in order to effectively counter surface-to-air missiles, especially the kind of missiles that the S-400 uses – missiles that are specifically designed to withstand enemy electronic countermeasures – you need long-distance air-based EW systems and land-based attack system…” – Vladimir Mikheev, advisor to the first deputy CEO of KRET.

Israeli Air Force and Turkish Air Force have proven again and again that Russian Air Defense System can jammed using air-borne and ground-based electronic attack such as Rafael Sky Shield airborne support jammer, and ASELSAN Electronic Support (ES) and Electronic Attack (EA) System respectively.

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