An event that could potentially have a significant impact on the state of Belarusian-Russian relations was quite unnoticed in Belarus. The influence of this event could be negative for Minsk.
A new long-range 40N6 anti-aircraft missile, which is part of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, has been adopted in Russia. It has passed the entire required test cycle and the manufacturer has already announced their intention to start mass production of the product in the foreseeable future.
One can ask, how can this missile affect relations between Moscow and Minsk. It’s all about the technical characteristics of the missile. Traditionally, weapons are manufactured in two versions: for the own needs and the supply of trusted allies, and for the export. The latter has more modest characteristics. At the moment, the characteristics for the export product are publicly announced: the maximum range of damage for aerodynamic targets for the 40N6E rocket is 380 km. Unofficially, it is reported that the “full-fledged” 40N6 has a range of almost 1.5 times bigger. It is very likely that this is an overly optimistic indicator, so let us note that in the foreseeable future, Russian air defence systems can get armed with anti-aircraft missiles with an effective range of over 400 km. We use the word “can”, because the technical readiness of the Russian military industrial complex to launch mass production of new missiles in the near future is unclear. But the manufacturer undertakes to produce about 1000 missiles in the next 10 years. It is very likely that this optimism, at least partially, has a real basis.
Further, according to the developer, the radar stations from the S-400 air defence system make it possible to detect targets at a distance of up to 600 km. It is clear that the targets can be different. In this case we are talking only about the biggest aircraft. For example, such as airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft.
A school course in geography is enough to understand: the deployment of the S-400 air defence system in the Kaliningrad region and near the Russian border with Belarus will essentially allow Moscow to control the entire airspace of our country. Which implies two conclusions.
Firstly, the significance of the Unified regional air defence system of Belarus and Russia is sharply decreasing, although not disappearing. The official Minsk’s statements that the Belarusian air defence protects the Russian sky as well can be practically ignored by Moscow. Which reduces the possibility of Belarus to use the security factor in bargaining with the Kremlin on issues that are not related to security.
Secondly, the Belarusian generals and personally Aliaksandr Lukashenka will need to rethink the direction of development of Belarusian fighter aircraft park. Formally Russia is still an ally. The fact that it essentially receives the instrument of control of the airspace of our country from its territory should not inspire fear at the moment. But the key phrase here is “at the moment”. The task of the military command is to take into account the maximum number of factors and events, including those that seem unlikely, when planning the development of the national defence system. And there must be a question of how rational it is now to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrading to new fighters. After all, because of the small amount they will not play big role in the event of a conflict with NATO. In the case of confrontation with Russia, the latter can create serious problems for our aviation in our airspace from Russian territory. Although, of course, it would not be able to eliminate the Belarusian air force completely.
In this regard, the possibility of the implementation of the contract for the purchase of heavy Su-30SM fighters from Russia by Belarus looks even more dubious.
This is not to say that a stalemate is happening. The further development of the national missile program and the acquisition of surface-to-surface missile weapons, the effective range of which will be not less than the range of the 40N6 anti-aircraft missile can help to resolve the issue. In the event of a hypothetical conflict with NATO, this will help to “push away” forward-based airfields in the west. And in the event of a confrontation with Russia — the S-400 in the east. That will clear the sky for the national Air Force.
It can be expected that the “renovation” of the fighter aviation fleet of Belarus will be directly connected to obtaining new types of surface-to-surface missile weapons with a range of 400+ km: missiles first, airplanes second.