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Week of November 10, 1997

The Favorite Defence Systems

By Vovick Karnozov

At MAKS'97 in August, Russia unveiled a new air defence system capable of intercepting short and middle-range ballistic missiles. Christened "Favorit," it represents a thorough modification of the well-known S-300PMU1 created by TsKB Almaz under the supervision of Academician Boris Bunkin.

The war in the Gulf showed that despite the advent of new-generation SAMs, the Scud-class missiles remain dangerous weapons for population of large cities. To increase the lethality of the original R-17, some third world countries initiated programs on improving its guidance and propulsion systems, as well as the warhead. In the modified form the Scud can become an affordable and highly-effective carrier of mass-destruction warheads, be they nuclear or chemical or bacteriological.

"To have ballistic missiles like the Scud has become a matter of national prestige for a number of countries," says Vladimir Svetlov, general designer of MKB Fakel. Ironically, the Russian-made R-17 and its long-range derivatives have become quite dangerous weapons for Russia itself.

To eliminate the threat, TsKB Almaz and MKB Fakel began development of a new version of the S-300PMU shortly after the Gulf War. On 10 August 1995 the companies performed the first trial for the S-300PMU2 "Favorit" at the Kapustin Yar firing range. In this trial two 48N6E2 missiles were launched against an approaching R-17. The first missile exploded in the air, making the Scud's warhead detonate. A series of other tests that followed have proved a high effectiveness of the Favorit against short-range ballistic missiles.

Visual changes between the S-300PMU1 and S-300PMU2 are minimal. A new element is the brand-new 96L6E autonomous mobile radar, working in conjunction with the 83M6E2 control post and S-300MPU2 launchers. All these are mounted on wheeled chassis with high off-road capabilities. In comparison with the S-300PMU1, the Favorit is better at intercepting ballistic missiles and combat airplanes during conditions of extensive jamming. It also has a longer firing range - 200 km instead of 150 km. New mathematics algorithms provide a better trajectory for the missile.

The key element in the Favorit is the 48N6E2 missile developed by MKB Fakel. Weighing 1,800 kg, the missile is 7.5 m in length and 0.5 m in diameter. After a cold start in the upright position with help of a catapult, the 48N6E2 accelerates up to 1,900 m/s in 12 sec time, and then approaches the target from above. The 48N6E2 differs from the older 48N6E in having a new warhead specially designed for destroying ballistic missiles. The S-300PMU2 launcher can fire both the 48N6E and 48N6E2.

The Favorit has a kill ratio ranging from 0.8 to 0.93 against airplanes and from 0.8 to 0.98 against Tomahawk-series cruise missiles. It can engage targets flying from 10 m to 27 km above the surface at a speed of up to 10,000 km/h.

According to Russian specialists, the S-300PMU1 - let alone the Favorit - noticeably surpasses the MIM-104 Patriot, also capable of intercepting ballistic missiles. It has a firing range of 150 km versus 100 km, warhead of 143 kg versus 70-90 kg, kill ratio of 0.8-0.98 versus 0.6-0.8 and deployment time of 5 min versus 30 min.

The Patriot became operational in 1983. During the Gulf War (1991) its efficiency against the R-17 ballistic missile and its long-range derivatives (Al-Hussain, Al-Abbas) was between 0.4 (estimation of the Soviet Command) to 0.6 (US data). The US system intercepted Iraqi missiles too near their targets, which often resulted in the Scuds' warheads causing considerable damage to the SAM-protected area. In some cases Scuds were not intercepted. Had the Iraqi missiles had chemical warheads, the results of the Gulf War would have been much more disastrous.

The Favorit is being marketed by the joint stock company "Defence Systems", which is a central body in a newly-established union of major Russian developers and manufacturers of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and associated equipment.

According to Yuri Rodin-Sova, the general director of the Defence Systems, the idea to form a powerful union of SAM-makers was formed during the fulfillment of a foreign contract. It materialised on 23 January 1996 in the shape of a finance-industrial group. Some 75% of its members are large industrial enterprises like TsKB Almaz, MKB Fakel, Northern Plant of St. Petersburg and others.

The financial part is represented by BALTUNEXIM bank.

The Defence Systems was founded to provide coordination of actions between dozens of Russian scientific and industrial enterprises involved in the production of air defence systems. With the collapse of the USSR, some sub-manufacturers of various components to the S-300PMU1 appeared to be outside the territory of the Russian Federation. Although CIS countries have signed a series of interstate agreements on a joint air defence system, they usually act as rivals on the international weapons market.

Despite resistance from the Russian side, certain CIS countries have sold copies of hi-tech Soviet weaponry to the US, being Russia's traditional rival in the battle for the title of the world's best arms-maker. In November 1994 the US acquired elements of the S-300PMU1 air- defence system from Belarus via a Canadian mediator. Later, the Americans purchased some key components in that system from the Ukraine.

Almost simultaneously, Russia decided to sell the S-300PMU1 to China, in an effort to get some money for its cash-striving missile-makers. As of today, China remains the only foreign user for the S-300PMU1. The second can be Cyprus, which signed an appropriate agreement with Rosvooruzhenie (Russian Armament) state arms-trade agency on 4 January 1996.

Despite heavy political pressure from Turkey and the US, Russia is not going to terminate the lucrative business of supplying modern weapons to the island in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. The Russian politicians rebuff Turkish demands to cancel the Cyprus deal by saying that the S-300PMU1 is no more than a defensive weapon with no strike functions. "The contract with Cyprus will be fulfilled timely and fully," states Rodin-Sova, general director of the Defence Systems.

Today, Cyprus has about 10,000 national guards supported by a few dozen modern armoured machines, including T-80U main battle tanks and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles purchased in Russia last year. Since 1974, Turkey occupies the south part of the island, maintaining 35,000 servicemen. These are supported by 90 combat aircraft based on the mainland. By means of acquiring state-of-the-art SAMs, the Cyprus Government deprives the Turkish Air Force of the ability to conduct unpunished actions in case of hostilities.

The political scandal over the sale of the S-300PMU1 to Cyprus shows how sensitive to high-tech weapons the modern world is. In that sense, the systems like the S-300PMU/Favorit and Patriot are arguably the most peaceful weapons in existence, for they were specially designed not to strike, but to protect.

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