Flaunting the concerns of the US, Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency announced on Thursday that Moscow has deployed its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile system to a base in Syria.
The S-400 anti-missile system, known to NATO as the SA-21 “Growler,” is said to have a maximum range of 250 miles, and can bring down airplanes at up to 90,000 feet – more than double the height of a cruising commercial airliner. The range puts Israel squarely in the system’s sights.
Russia’s decision to deploy the system to its base in Latakia, located in western Syria where it is propping us Bashar al-Assad’s regime, comes after Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 fighter jet on Tuesday near the Turkish-Syrian border, killing one pilot.
The system has been placed in a region some 50 kilometers (just over 30 miles) from Turkey, adding extra urgency to the tensions between Russia and Turkey.
An American official on Wednesday said there are “significant concerns” over the deployment, and spokesperson William Stevens of the US Embassy in Moscow said earlier on Thursday that the deployment “will further complicate an already difficult situation in the skies over Syria.”
The system does “nothing to further the fight against ISIL, as they have no air force,” he told Interfax, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State (ISIS); Russia claims it is in Syria so as to fight the jihadist group.
Stevens said that the US expects Russia to honor a joint memorandum signed between the sides, which is meant to ensure flight safety in the area of military operations in Syria. The US is heading an anti-ISIS airstrike campaign in the country.
The S-400’s range covers most of Syria, southern Turkey, the eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea, much of Israel and the British airbase of Akrotiri in Cyprus.
No less than 300 targets can be tracked simultaneously by the radar complex of the S-400, which sports six anti-aircraft missile launchers.