The short to medium-range air defence system S-350 “Vityaz” has shown for the first time that it can intercept multiple tactical aircraft of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and UAVs at the same time in a fully automatic mode from the time they are spotted by the 96L6-CP Cheese Board radar and the multifunctional radar 50N6A to when the 9M96DM surface-to-air missiles are guided to their targets.
In particular, the S-350 complex’s computerised fire control system allowed targets to be found by the circular surveillance radar and designated by the 96L6-CP (this central antenna post in the C/X band is designed to select both ballistic and aerodynamic targets against the enemy’s electronic countermeasures), their paths to be tracked, target designations to be sent to the multifunctional illumination radar/command post 50N6A, and precise auto-trajectories to be set.
The 96L6-CP radar works like the 9S19M4 Ginger radar in the S-300V4 air defence system. It is a software monitoring radar. During this automatic capture, the S-350’s combat crew did nothing but watch and analyse the radar situation as it was shown on the automated workstations in the command post 50K6A.
The S-350 “Vityaz” complexes have several operational and tactical advantages over systems like the S-300V4 (Antey-2500) short to medium-range anti-ballistic system and “Buk-M3” because of the automatic operating modes of the fire control system and the presence of two multifunctional radars for engaging ballistic and aerodynamic targets (96L6-CP and 50N6A). They also have technical features of the 9M96DM missile control system and auxiliary radio reconnaissance assets in the division’s architecture.
First, the 9M96DM missiles have gas-dynamic control surfaces with nozzle planes perpendicular to the missile’s longitudinal axis. This allows the missiles to do lateral manoeuvres on paths reaching about 65 overload units. This makes it possible to intercept objects with loads of 27-30G.
The 9M317MA surface-to-air missiles of the “Buk-M3” systems have gas-jet deflection units that allow them to move up to 60 times faster than normal when the solid-propellant charges are burning. After the fuel runs out, the 9M317MA can only move because of its aerodynamic control surfaces. On the other hand, the 9M96DM missiles in the “Vityaz” complex can still move because of their gas-dynamic control units, even after the fuel has burned out.
Second, each divisional or regimental S-350 air defence complex can be equipped with movable passive radio reconnaissance and target designation antenna posts, such as the 96L6-VP. Six-sided passive interferometric phased array radars are placed on a universal mast with two elbow-shaped beams at about 17 metres.
The 96L6-VP units can find and track enemy radio-emitting targets like active tactical aircraft onboard radars, electronic warfare onboard systems, tactical information exchange stations, etc. In this case, the S-350 team can avoid turning on the division’s radars 50N6A and 96L6-VC so the enemy’s radio reconnaissance equipment doesn’t find out where they are. The 96L6-VP’s radio posts can tell the 9M96DM surface-to-air missiles where their targets are by giving them their coordinates.
Also, giving the S-350 section three mobile posts 96L6-VP makes it possible to use triangulation to determine how far away radio-emitting targets are. The command post of the combat control point measures the time difference between the signal bearings from the antennas spread across the terrain with the known distances and angles between the 96L6-VP posts to figure out how far away the radio-emitting object is. The launcher units 50P6A and the command and control points 50K6A can be placed in places that are hard to see – for example, outside the coverage sectors of the AN/ZPY-2 side-looking airborne radar of the RQ-4B Global Hawk strategic radar reconnaissance UAV. The compact passive antenna posts of the radio reconnaissance 96L6-VP can be placed slightly beyond the screening of terrain relief to look for enemy radio-emitting sources in the airspace.
The mobile posts 96L6-VP are also fully functional radio reconnaissance complexes. They allow the S-350 air defence system crew to do radio reconnaissance of aircraft-hazardous directions. This includes a full analysis of the frequency parameters and modes of operation of enemy radio emitting devices, followed by their identification and a model of jamming signals with their own frequency and amplitude parameters so that they can be used to block enemy signals.
Not all of the most powerful air defence systems have these features. For example, for the self-propelled firing units 9A317M of the Buk-M3 complexes to work in passive mode, they must first be synchronised with the automated control systems of mixed anti-aircraft missile brigades “Polyana-D4M1,” which must then be connected to passive surveillance systems like the Valeria and Autobaza complexes, and so on.
Like all air defence systems that use active radar guiding, the S-350 “Vityaz” can shoot down low-flying targets over the radio horizon or hidden behind natural or artificial terrain features. Thanks to their active radar homing seekers, 9M96DM surface-to-air missiles can continue to intercept ballistic targets or attack air defence missiles even when multifunctional guidance radars may lose track of targets due to their limited angular scanning sector, especially when the targets are diving at angles of 85 to 90 degrees.
The S-350 Vityaz, S-300V4, and Buk-M3 represent the most recent versions of their legacy systems.