After more than seven years of civil war, the Syrian regime is armed to the teeth with Cold War-era missile defense systems which, despite their age, still managed to shoot down a large percentage of missiles launched during an assault by a US-led coalition earlier this month on the country’s chemical weapons facilities.
But as the US flirts with taking a more aggressive role in the conflict, two of the world’s most advanced weapons systems – the US’s tomahawk missiles and Russia’s S-400 missile defense system – could end up facing off against each other, the Telegraph reports.
Following the latest coalition attack, Russia said it would supply Syria with some of its S-400 systems. A showdown between the S-400 and the US’s tomahawk missiles in Syria would mark the first time that the two systems ever came into conflict.
Russia’s S-400 – the latest generation of its missile defense systems – is the most advanced weapon of its kind in the world. It’s equipped with a sophisticated radar array that allows it to target dozens of missiles and enemy aircraft simultaneously at ranges up to 250 miles.
To be sure, its missile-intercepting capabilities are shorter range, roughly 75 miles, but the missiles can fly at speeds up to a thousand meters per second and hit low-flying targets at just a few meters of altitude.
Meanwhile, the tomahawks – launched from US navy ships – could deliver a 1000 pound (450kg) warhead with pin-point accuracy from ranges of 800 to 1500 miles.
But US military observers say the American forces could overwhelm the Russian air defenses by launching an overwhelming number of tomahawk missiles in a strike that would resemble the one launched against the Shayrat airfield in Syria last April, when President Trump fired 59 of the missiles, destroying Syrian planes and other military hardware.
“The system should have plenty of capacity to shoot down individual missiles. But it is fairly easy to swamp it just in terms of the sheer number of interceptors required,” said Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute.
Of course, if the S-400 does manage to stop most or all of the tomahawks in a scenario like the one described above, it would have serious ramifications for NATO, which would need to revise its expectations surrounding Russia’s aerial-defense capacity.
“The performance of the S-400 would be very significant for Nato. The system is feared in Europe and Kaliningrad. If it was shown to be incapable of stopping significant numbers of Tomahawks it would have implications for Russia’s deterrence capability,” said Mr Bronk.
“That could be why the Russians refrained from intercepting the Tomahawks fired at Shayrat last year – nothing is more terrifying than the unknown.”
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unveiled a range of new Russian weapons, including a nuclear warhead that he said could surpass NATO’s missile defenses in Eastern Europe and strike nearly any target on Earth.
With all these new weapons being unveiled, we imagine NATO’s commanders have already been forced to go back to the drawing board again and again to try and work out how best to contain Russia with its new arsenal, which is giving the US a run for its money.