After Sergei Shoigu, the Minister Defense of the russian federation, announced the supposed shooting down of 24 planes in just five days, TASS, russian state-owned news agency, reported that a new scheme was used for this, involving the use of the A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft in tandem with the S-400 missile system.
It should be noted that Sergei Shoigu’s statements may not be reliable, given that the russian Ministry of Defense previously claimed to have downed 515 Ukrainian planes out of 79 estimated by The Military Balance in Ukraine as of 2021. Nevertheless, the information about the A-50 and S-400 tandem is worth considering.
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The TASS report indicates that the S-400 missile system was fired at targets located at an altitude of about 1 km, utilizing the missiles at their maximum range. It was also noted that new warheads of surface-to-air missile were employed.
The 40N6 missile, with a stated target destruction range of 380 km, serves as the S-400’s most long-range missile. In contrast to the 48N6 missile, which, in its 48N6DM version, has a target destruction range of up to 250 km, the 40N6 employs a combination of active and semi-active guidance, rather than a radio-command guidance system, as claimed.
It is possible that the missile’s self-guidance system can operate in a semi-active mode during the mid-flight phase, receiving reflected signals, and then switch to an active self-search mode in the terminal phase. In theory, this could indeed allow for firing beyond the line of sight of ground-based radar, as for an aircraft at an altitude of 1 km, the radio horizon for ground-based radar would be approximately 140 km.
In theory, the A-50 aircraft could potentially provide target designation for a target within, as claimed, a range of up to 400 km, and the 40N6 missile could then fly towards that target. Whether the Shmel radar (or the upgraded Shmel-M radar) can illuminate the target for the passive mode of the 40N6 missile’s radar guidance head remains an open question, as there is no available information. The capabilities of the A-50 aircraft to perform radio-command guidance for the 48N6DM missile are also uncertain.
Indeed, it is entirely possible that the reference is to the use of the 40N6 missile in a launch mode near the target location, as identified by the A-50 aircraft, where the missile autonomously acquires and tracks the aircraft.
It should be noted that the 40N6 missile was declared to have been accepted into the russian military’s arsenal as early as 2018. However, actual deliveries to the Armed Forces of russia began only in 2020. Additionally, it has become known that there is a plan to supply approximately 1000 such missiles by 2027. The missile itself is designed as a two-stage system, with a total launch weight of 1900 kg, 180 kg of which is attributed to the warhead, featuring a declared engagement range of 300 meters.
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