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Analyzing S-200’s Range: Can it Shoot Down Aircraft 300 km Away?

Analyzing S-200’s Range: Can it Shoot Down Aircraft 300 km Away?

Yann Yann
Air Defense SAM Ukraine

The recent downing of two Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft and a Tu-22M3 bomber proved the Ukrainian army’s capability to intercept large targets effectively.

According to statements by Ukrainian officials, an old Soviet S-200 system was used for long-range interception of Russian aircraft. However, it is unlikely that Ukraine had this system in 2024. So what is this system, where did it come from, and what is it capable of?

S-200VM capabilities

Documentation of the 10th Anti-Aircraft Defense Research Test Range (military unit #03080) will help us study the issue of SAM capabilities.

The S-200 uses missiles with semi-active radar homing, which are guided to a target using the system’s radar beam reflected from it. Accordingly, the radar is the “eyes” and “index finger” of the system and is a key element in determining the capabilities of the air defense system.

Depending on the size and radar cross-section of the aircraft, its detection range will vary. The larger these parameters, the more visible the aircraft will be to radar.

If we are talking about large and highly radar-contrasting objects, such as the Russian A-50s that have been known to fall suddenly, it will be useful to study practical research from military unit #03080.

In 1983, this military unit carried out the “Assessment of the characteristics of S-200V air defense systems when working with Il-76 and An-26 aircraft.” During the study, the aircraft performed multiple controlled flights around the radar at different distances and altitudes to determine practical data.

According to the results of the studies, it was concluded that the average range of stable automatic tracking of an Il-76 aircraft flying at an altitude of 9,000-10,000 meters was 303 kilometers. At the same time, the average range of issuing a “launch authorization” on the aircraft was 247.3 km.

It should be noted that the “range” parameter was averaged, because the value of the radar cross section of the aircraft, which is the key, varies depending on the angle at which the aircraft is relative to the radar.

5V28 missile potential

Since the radar can be replaced, the final potential of the anti-aircraft system is determined by its missile. The S-200VM uses a 5V28 interceptor missile, also known as the undead V-880 index.

In November 1986, military unit #03080 conducted pilot firing tests of 5V28 missiles in order to determine their real maximum range of combat use.

As a target simulator, MR-9ITs-A missiles were used, which, after reaching a certain altitude, opened the parachute and slowly descended.

Brief reports described the successful defeat of target simulators with an anti-aircraft missile 5V28TB under various conditions:

  • Launch No. 572: carried out at the moment of target finding at a range of 302.1 km and an altitude of 20 km. The missile homing on the target was stable. The missile hit the target at 228 seconds of flight, at a range of 300 km and an altitude of 16.5 km. The target was destroyed.
  • Launch No. 573: carried out at the moment of target finding at a range of 293 km and an altitude of 11.1 km. The missile homing on the target was stable. The missile hit target at 230 seconds of the missile flight at a range of 293 km and an altitude of 9.5 km. The target was destroyed.
  • Launch No. 574: carried out at the moment of target finding at a range of 295 km and an altitude of 12.5 km. The missile homing on the target was stable. The missile hit the target at 234 seconds of the missile flight at a range of 295 km and an altitude of 10.6 km. The target was destroyed.

These experimental launches showed that the 5V28 missile is fully capable of striking objects at a distance of 300 kilometers, exceeding the previously established maximum range.

With an increase in the interception range, the radio horizon significantly limits the minimum defeat altitude. Therefore, launches No. 572 and No. 573 are particularly notable, demonstrating the capability to hit non-maneuvering targets at maximum distances at altitudes of 16,500 and 9,500 meters.

Such results became available due to the changes in the ballistics tables of the digital obstructing machine of the target illumination radar.

According to the results of mathematical calculations, the maximum capabilities of guided flight of 5V28 missiles in ideal conditions are limited to 250 seconds – this is how long the rocket motor and on-board electronics of the missile can operate. Therefore, when shooting at large aerodynamic targets due to a possible increase in the missile flight time to the point of meeting more than 250 seconds, it is recommended to limit the range of combat use by 275 kilometers.

Ukrainian S-200

After the collapse of the USSR, the Ukrainian army had a significant number of modernized S-200VM systems and hundreds of 5V28 missiles. As of 2012, the Armed Forces of Ukraine had several divisions at these systems: they covered industrial facilities in Crimea, Odesa, Lviv, Kherson, and Kyiv.

In 2013, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense declared the S-200 SAM obsolete and decided to withdraw them from service with subsequent disposal. Despite official assessments, this decision is considered biased, since it was made by the then Minister of Defense, Pavlo Lebedev, who is now accused of treason.

However, despite the abovementioned facts, as of 2024, it is known about the use of these systems by the Ukrainian side in the war against Russia. Footage of this system launcher’s use with the 5V28 missile was released on the web.

Presumably, Poland could become a donor to these systems. At the Defence24 Days conference, which was held in Poland in May, 2024, a representative of Polish Armed Forces Command said that the 3rd ‘Warsaw’ Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade no longer has these systems in service.

In the 1980s, Poland received two such systems in the export version of the S-200VE from the Soviet Union. In 1999-2001, one of them was upgraded to the S-200C variant. As part of the modernization, the system was divided into two independent batteries. Due to the replacement of a large number of analog systems with digital ones, as well as the replacement of the command post, the degree of automation and reliability of this systems were significantly increased.

However, the possibility of restoring decommissioned Ukrainian systems cannot be discounted. There are several noticeable differences when comparing the control units of the Polish and, as assured by representatives of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, the Ukrainian S-200 systems, suggesting that they are two distinct systems.

The Ukrainian outpost is distinct from any other, suggesting that it may have been established during this war. The Chief of Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, probably meant the same:

“This time we used, let’s just say, what we pieced together from scratch using old components, and so forth. We’ve upgraded some things; the engineers have done a commendable job, trust me,” Budanov remarked regarding the downing of the Russian Tu-22M3 bomber.

In this case, relying on video that shows the system’s usage, we can confidently say that the old Soviet system was switched to a modern digital element base with a new command post’s integration.

To increase the range of operation, the updated system could also receive upgraded radar illumination of 5N62V targets and one of the Ukrainian surveillance radars capable of detecting targets at a distance of up to 400 km.

The video depicts moments of the Ukrainian system in action, with the operator specifying the parameters of the detected air object: “Azimuth 125, distance 356, altitude 8,” indicating the distance to the Russian Tu-22M3 at 356 km and its flight altitude at 8 km.

Despite any upgrades, operating S-200 systems remains extremely challenging. The 5D12 liquid fuel rocket motor, with its complex design and numerous components, requires regular inspections, repairs, and replacements. Therefore, after decades of storage, these missiles will require mandatory repair, which will significantly limit their mass use.

Another problem with S-200 operation is fuel. 5V28 uses two-component fuel: TG-02 and AK27I oxidizing agent. After decommissioning, Ukraine disposed of all its reserves, so even if missiles return from storage depots, it will be necessary to look for alternative fuel sources for them abroad.

Rocket fuel to the missiles of the complex is extremely toxic, and the oxidizer is a concentrated 70% nitric acid. Accordingly, aggressive components are filled into the missile tanks only during the deployment of the complex. The antiaircraft installation service does this in military protective gear. All this makes exploitation difficult, time consuming and real only in the deep rear.

Air Defense SAM Ukraine