Air Force Killer: Putin Pushes Need for S-500 and S-550 Missile Systems

Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin has been a man on a mission to modernize and significantly upgrade the Russian military. He has personally touted the capabilities of Russia’s efforts to develop hypersonic missiles and autonomous weapons platforms, and this week he’s emphasized the importance of delivering the advanced S-350, S-500 and S-550 surface-to-air missile systems to Russian troops. 

Putin made those remarks during his recent meeting with top Russian Defense Ministry officials and heads of Russian defense industry enterprises, according to a report from TASS. 

“Measures to adequately respond to the volatile situation near Russia’s borders were considered. Huge attention was paid to improving the country’s system of aerospace defense,” Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday. “The head of the state put a special emphasis on the importance of advanced development of domestic air defense and anti-ballistic missile systems, of delivering S-350, S-500 and S-550 systems to the Russian armed forces.” 

Multiple Platforms 

The Russian military has an inventory that consists of multiple surface-to-air missile (SAM) defense systems. These include the S-350E—also known as the 50R6 Vityaz—which was developed by GSKB Almaz-Antey to replace the aging S-300PS and S-300PT-1A platforms. The medium-range SAM has its roots in the joint South Korean/Russian KM-SAM project, and it utilizes the same 9M96 missiles as the S-400 “Triumf.” 

The mobile, ground-based S-350E has been in service since 2019, while the Russian Navy’s Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates carry S-350E Resurs. Multiple classes of Russian corvettes carry them too. 

This year, Russia began state trials of the S-500 Prometey (Prometheus), which is also known as the 55R6M “Triumfactor-M.” The S-500 is a surface-to-air missile/anti-ballistic missile system. It isn’t meant to replace the S-400, but rather it would be used to succeed the aging A-135 missile system, while also supplementing the S-400. 

Development of the S-500 began more than a decade ago, and originally the Russian state-owned Almaz-Antey Air Defence Concern had set a goal for the platform to enter production by 2014. However, production delays resulted in the timeline being adjusted. Serial production finally began this past summer.

The S-500 has also been among the weapons platforms to earn high praise directly from Putin, who told graduates of Russia’s military academies that the SAM platform would enter service soon alongside the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile and the sea-based Tsirkon hypersonic missile. After the tests finally conclude, the first S-500 system will be deployed to an air defense unit outside Moscow. 

In the meeting with Russian Defense Ministry officials, Putin also called for efforts to move forward on the S-550. TASS has reported that the S-550 is a high-mobility terminal air defense system that was being developed in the Soviet Union in 1981–1988. The project, along with many others, was halted per Soviet-U.S. military agreements at the end of the Cold War. The equipment installed on the system’s prototype was dismantled after 1992, while the project’s groundwork was destroyed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

It’s unclear whether Russia is restarting the program with existing data or beginning anew with a new platform using the same S-550 designation, but it seems that Putin has continued to place an emphasis on defensive platforms to protect the motherland. 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on 

Image: Reuters

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Peter Suciu