Major news outlets around the net are carrying a story with the image above at its center. They claim that this image shows Russia’s most advanced and long-range air defense system, the S-400 “Triumpf”/ SA-21 “Growler,” has been deployed to Syria, something the Kremlin flatly denies. The truth is there is nothing in the image above that proves such a claim.
Latakia Air Base, where Russia is running its Syrian air campaign, is known to already be guarded by Panstir-S point defense systems. Although this system’s range is highly limited, it is well suited as a close-in defense for expeditionary operations, especially where there is little if any actual aerial threat. Still, that does not mean Russia will not build-out its surface-to-air missile defenses over time as it seems that they will be making themselves at home in that country for a long period of time.
Even if Russia were to chose to upgrade its surface-to-air missile systems in Syria, it does not mean the Kremlin would deploy its most advanced air defense system, one that is capable of engaging targets hundreds of miles away. Even in Crimea, right on NATO’s back-doorstep, Russia did not deploy its S-400 system, instead deploying the capable, numerous and proven S-300 system. With this in mind, it is doubtful that Russia would chose to deploy the S-400 to Syria at all.
Now let’s get back to the picture that outlets claim is proof that the S-400 has arrived in Syria. Simply put, the equipment shown does not prove that claim at all, quite the opposite really. The twin lobed radar on the left appears to be a Kasta 2E1 radar. This system is used to detect aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and small unmanned aircraft, especially at low altitudes and around ground clutter. The system can be used determine a target’s range, and azimuth and identification friend or foe. It has a range of about 75 miles.
The vertically elongated radar next to the Kasta 2E1 is a version of the “Thin Skin” height finding radar. A common pairing with a 2D radar such as the Kasta 2E1. Together these systems can determine a targets exact location, altitude and azimuth. They can also be used to direct short and medium range missile systems.
Finally, there is the relatively advanced phased array radar on the far right which is the 96L6E 3D radar system. This system can track 100 target’s range, azimuth, and altitude up to very high elevations and over a range of about 200 miles. This system can be used alone or it can be integrated into later versions of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system.
Once again, this radar’s presence does not mean the S-300 is present, and it definitely does not mean the S-400 is present. It could provide a capable long-range search and track radar system to augment the pair of shorter-range systems close by.
Like so many other untrue reports out of Syria over the last few months, there is no information at this time that would point to Russia deploying any medium or long-range SAM systems to its base south of the Syrian port city of Latakia. This does not mean it is is not possible, but there is no public information to support such a claim, including the widely dispersed but improperly analyzed photo above.