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Russia Parades New Missile Defense System


Russia has celebrated the 64th anniversary of its World War Two victory over Nazi Germany with its second show of military force on Red Square since the Soviet collapse nearly 18 years ago. The parade featured 1,000 more troops than last year and mostly the same Soviet-era tanks, missiles, and aircraft. But a new exhibit this year and a recent addition to the Russian arsenal was the S-400 missile defense system, which some experts said has advantages over its American counterpart, the Patriot.

9,000 Russian soldiers shouted a thundering "hurrah" following a speech by their commander in chief, President Dmitri Medvedev, who issued a warning to Russia's potential enemies.

"Any aggression against our citizens will be met with appropriate resistance, and the future of Russia will be peaceful, successful and happy," said Mr. Medvedev.

Dozens of Soviet-era heavy tanks, howitzers and missiles rumbled through Red Square for the country's annual Victory Day Holiday, and combat aircraft roared by just 300 meters overhead. Making a public debut was the S-400 missile defense system, which was first deployed around Moscow in 2007.

Vice Admiral Alexander Pobozhny, who retired from the Russian navy in 2003, told VOA the S-400 is in the same category as the American Patriot. The admiral considers his country's system to be better, but notes it does not affect any military balance.

Pobozhny said the S-400 is strictly a defensive system, so it won't change anything. He added that it simply increases the security of Russia.

Russian military expert Alexander Konovalov told VOA development of the system began about ten years ago following the advent of long distance precision-guided weapons.

Konovalov said the S-400 hits targets at a distance of 125 to 150 kilometers, which means it identifies them when they are still 400 kilometers away. He said the system can intercept incoming weapons from the very lowest altitudes to as high as 30 kilometers, which means it can hit airplanes, cruise missiles and tactical missiles that have a range of about 3,500 kilometers.

The S-400, code named the SA-21 Growler in the West, was first deployed around Moscow two years ago. However, Konovalov said Russia lacks the industrial capacity to produce the system quickly enough and in sufficient numbers to defend the entire country.

Independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer agreed. He traced the situation to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which built weapons with components supplied by republics that are now independent nations. Felgenhauer said another factor is a work force that is aging along with Russia's weapons, because of low salaries in the country's military industrial complex.

Felgenhauer said there are no young people (in defense industries) where the average age has now stabilized at 60, because people are either retiring or dying off.

Felgenhauer noted that Moscow has been buying weapons components abroad and may soon purchase entire weapons systems and know-how in the West. As an example, he cited Russia's deal last month to buy unmanned Israeli intelligence-gathering planes.

Nonetheless, the Red Square parade impressed virtually every veteran in attendance, and Felgenhauer said the aging weapons on display remain very deadly.

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