Russia says it tested latest Pantsir-SM air defense system

The Pantsir or SA-22 combines short- and medium- range missiles with guns or anti-aircraft artillery. It is self-propelled, meaning it is mounted on a large truck.

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April 8, 2019 03:42
2 minute read.
A Pantsir-S surface-to-air missile system fires a missile during the Keys to the Sky competition

A Pantsir-S surface-to-air missile system fires a missile during the Keys to the Sky competition at the International Army Games 2017 at the Ashuluk shooting range outside Astrakhan, Russia August 5, 2017. (photo credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS)

The Russian military says it has tested its most up-to-date version of the Pantsir air defense system. The test took place in March at a test site in the Astrakhan region, according to Moscow’s TASS news agency.

The Pantsir, or SA-22, combines short and medium range missiles with guns or anti-aircraft artillery. It is self-propelled, meaning it is mounted on a large truck. The Pantsir system tested in Russia in March is the SM variant, according to the report, which has an extended range of up to 40 km.

“The Pantsir-SM showed its high efficiency against ultra-small targets,” said Air Defense and Missile Defense Forces Deputy commander Yuri Grekhov. This means the system was tested against small drones or quadcopters. Drones and other types of UAVs have become a major problem for militaries in recent years, as technology allows the best armies to be more versatile using their drones and even allows terrorist groups to re-purpose civilian drones to harass forces. For instance, Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in Syria has been regularly targeted by drones, according to reports. Most of these are likely flown by terrorist or Syrian rebel groups based in Idlib. But Russia has also hinted that the US or others have coordinated drone attacks.

The benefit of using drones to knock out air defense systems is that a military can lose drones more readily than risking the loss of a pilot. In addition, modern armies now have access to loitering munitions or “suicide drones,” which is basically a drone that is designed around a warhead and destroys itself on impact. Unlike a cruise missile or smart bomb, these kinds of drones can theoretically return to base or self-destruct – and can “loiter” over the target for hours – whereas a guided missile can’t fly in circles for hours. A variety of different weapons have reportedly been used in Syria against Syrian air defense. This includes hundreds of airstrikes Israel has said it carried out.

Russia has been seeking to showcase its air defense systems in recent years, with major sales of the S-400 to Turkey and other countries. In addition, Moscow wants to show that its layered missile and air defense is high quality. This is made more complex by the fact that Syrian regime-operated Pantsir systems have been destroyed in airstrikes. These were older versions; Russia wants to show that it now has a missile and air defense solution that can deal with small drones and other threats. This potentially can be a lucrative market for Moscow if the system is shown to work well. Very few countries produce cutting edge air defense – the US and Israel being two others – and Russia has a long list of worldwide customers that it has sold to in the past. 


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