Home Global Village THAAD vs S-400: A comparative analysis

THAAD vs S-400: A comparative analysis


Mariyam Masood |

Missile defense systems are intended to safeguard a country against imminent ballistic missile attacks. Both THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) and S-400 are missile defense systems, developed by the United States and Russia respectively. THAAD is a relatively recent addition in America’s anti-ballistic missile defense system which has the capability to intercept and destroy short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles at the range of 200 Km and altitudes of up to 150 Km.

The THAAD missile intercepts threats inside or outside the atmosphere during their final or terminal phase. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corporation, after the failure of Patriot Defense System, a THAAD battery incorporates six launcher vehicles; each vehicle is able to fire eight missiles. THAAD batteries comprise of four fundamental components: launcher, interceptor, Radar, and Fire Control unit.

The S-400 system also has fire control radar and a command post which enables it to shoot surface-to-air missiles and eradicate imminent missile attacks.

The THAAD launcher is truck mounted which makes it portable, capable of carrying up to eight interceptors that can be quickly ejected and reloaded. THAAD interceptors use hit-to-kill technology where the imminent threat is wrecked by kinetic energy and uses the largest Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2).

This air-transportable X-band Radar search, track, and distinguish objects at the range of up to 1000 km and give tracking information to the missile interceptor. THAAD intercepts rockets amid their terminal period of flight like Patriot defense systems, however, gives the broad defense that Patriot system could not.

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On the other hand, S-400 is a heavy hitter with a longer range of 400km making it more capable than American THAAD. S-400 is developed by a Russian state-owned company Almaz-Antey and it is the most advanced surface-to-air missile defense system. It can shoot down threatening aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.

It can also engage UAVs and in aircraft, it can engage fighters, AWACS, J-STARS, EA-6B support jammers. It is basically an upgraded variant of S300 and its range is up to 400 kilometers. S-400 consists of 8 launchers and maximum 112 missiles. Most importantly, it can simultaneously engage 80 targets which none other system are capable of.

With its unique capabilities and advanced technology, it is bound to make Pakistan’s decision makers to think about countering this threat.

Its response time is 9 seconds and missile attains the maximum speed of 15 Mach (15 times speed of sound) that is almost 5km/sec, which is a remarkable speed for an anti-ballistic /anti-aircraft missile system. S-400 is capable of firing three types of missiles to create a layered defense which is a very strong point of this system. The system is also capable of exchanging data with other defense systems such as SA-12, SA-23, and S-300.

Presently, it is inducted by Russia, China, Belarus and Algeria in their forces, whereas deals have been done recently with Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia. The S-400 system also has fire control radar and a command post which enables it to shoot surface-to-air missiles and eradicate imminent missile attacks. As a result, it creates an air defense shield. With its specifications, S-400 provides the same defense system as both Patriot and THAAD combined which enables it to target and hit at distances up to 60km.

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The US-built THAAD can hit targets only at very high altitudes (minimum 40-50 km) due to which it is useless against fighter jets or long-range tactical aircrafts, making it strictly an anti-missile defense system. Whereas, S-400 can target aircrafts as well as cruise missiles and ballistic missiles which makes it more effective than THAAD. Moreover, THAAD has never been used in actual warfare, whereas, S400 is time-tested in the actual operational environment in Syria.

In the South Asian context, S-400 is a game changer. Playing on the thin strategic balance between Pakistan and India, its incorporation in the Indian defense system will give India an advantage over Pakistan. With its unique capabilities and advanced technology, it is bound to make Pakistan’s decision-makers to think about countering this threat.

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Over the years, it will lead to an increased offensive posture from the Indian side as the increased military capability would give it an edge over Pakistan. This will be detrimental to the security and stability of the region while rendering Pakistan insecure.

Mariyam Masood is a Research Intern at CISS. She can be reached at mariyam60@live.com. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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