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Russia Deploys New Missile Defense System

Russia has deployed a new missile defense system to protect the skies above Moscow. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from the Russian capital that the missile may also be made available for export.

The deployment included an Orthodox priest who blessed the new Russian S-400 Triumph missile system with holy water in a ceremony broadcast on national television news.

The surface-to-air facility upgrades the previous S-300 system with stronger rocket engines and an improved guidance system. Russian officials say the Triumph missile is capable of intercepting stealth aircraft and also objects flying as low as 10 meters.

But Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer notes that the S-400 could also present a danger to civilian aircraft.

"There is a lot of air traffic around Moscow," said Felgenahuer. "In a word, there could be complications with this missile, because operators control it to a certain point, but afterwards it flies on autopilot."

The analyst says the new missile extends the range of the previous S-300 system used by the Ukrainian air force to accidentally shoot down a civilian airliner over the Black Sea in 2001. Felgenhauer notes that a similar accident in Russia resulted in the downing of a passenger plane over the Urals in the 1960's. In time of war, he says, mistaken identity is all the more likely.

The Triumph missile, code-named the Growler by NATO forces, is currently being deployed to defend Moscow. The Igor Ashurbeili, director of the Almaz Design Bureau which produces the weapons system, says it could be sold on the export market.

Ashurbeili says, "Interest is already big." He adds that "by 2011, if a political decision is reached - a decision by the defense ministry - Almaz will be ready to supply the missile for export."

The S-400 is reported to have a range of 400 kilometers and is designed to shoot down aircraft and medium-range missiles.