According to Major General Andrey Koban, chief of the radio-technical troops of the Aerospace Forces of Russia, this is "a reasonable and logical response against the background of increased activity of foreign intelligence near the borders of Russia and the development of aerospace attack assets of other states". And it's hard to disagree with this - the initiative is important and necessary. But, as elsewhere, there are some nuances that should be mentioned separately.
First of all, let us clarify - we are talking about the system of so-called "over-the-horizon" radar stations (radar) "Container", which can monitor the air situation at a distance of up to 1500 kilometers. It is this figure that appears in the latest statements of high-ranking Russian military and experts, although earlier figures of 2,000 kilometers and even more were mentioned. Probably, it makes no sense to look for any contradictions here - long-range radar is very dependent on the state of the atmosphere in general and the ionosphere, in particular, because the effective range of scanning of airspace may differ. Most likely, the military name the minimum figure - there are less embarrassment and information for potential opponents.
The first "Container" radar was commissioned in 2019. From the point of view of the layman, accustomed to seeing in the composition of any air defense system both transmitting and receiving antennas at once, this object is very unusual. But judge for yourself: the transmitting antennas of the complex are located in the Nizhny Novgorod region, and the receiving ones are in Mordovia! In Kovylkino (Mordovia) there is a complex of 144 antenna masts 34 meters high each! It is a truly large object, capable of receiving the weakest signals reflected by aircraft from a distance of over a thousand kilometers. Moreover, this signal, before reaching the antennas of the 29B6 "Container" complex, is itself reflected several more times from the ionosphere and from the earth's surface, each time losing power. The sensitivity of this miracle of scientific and engineering thought is such that it can only be compared with the sensitivity of the most powerful radio telescopes capable of receiving a signal from corners of the Universe, billions of light years away from us.
The principle of operation of this radar, if extremely simplified, is approximately as follows: the transmitting station emits radio waves of a certain length. They, moving straight, at some point are reflected from the ionosphere and begin to go to the earth's surface, at a certain angle. Then the wave is reflected from the Earth and again goes up to the ionosphere. And so - several times, until the signal finally weakens. And if the wave meets some kind of obstacle in the air, the signal will be reflected from it and will go back to the ionosphere, to the Earth, again to the ionosphere, and so on, until it hits the receiving radar antennas.
Of course, there is no exact information about the characteristics of the "Container" in the media. But it is known, for example, that its field of view is from 180 to 240 degrees horizontally. This, coupled with its enormous range, allows just one over-the-horizon radar to monitor colossal areas from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean Sea. It is no secret that this very direction is the most threatening for Russia - almost all NATO states are located there, and from there it is closest to fly to Moscow and other military and industrial centers of Central Russia and the North-West. So the choice of direction in this case is absolutely justified. Equally, the desire of the country's leadership to create similar complexes in other areas is fully justified. Ideally, we can talk about creating a continuous radar field around Russia, through which it will be almost impossible to break through any aerodynamic target.
However, this program should not be confused with a missile attack warning system. Yes, within the framework of the national missile defense system, we have a complex of several gigantic Voronezh radar stations capable of detecting ballistic missiles thousands of kilometers away. But they only see objects that have risen above the radio horizon, that is, in the case of ballistic missiles, at an altitude of hundreds, or even thousands of kilometers. Alas, they are simply not able to detect targets flying low enough, even at an altitude of several tens of kilometers.
In this case, we are dealing precisely with the detection of not ballistic, but the so-called aerodynamic targets, that is, aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, drones, and so on. The powerful computing system of the complex provides simultaneous tracking of up to ten thousand objects - this is a huge figure. With such power, it is not difficult to simultaneously control the flight of all air objects over most of Europe, timely detect the launch of cruise missiles, the rise of tactical aviation from airfields, and the entry into the control zone of enemy strategic aircraft.
At the same time, this type of radar has weaknesses. There are only two main ones, but they are very serious. First of all, the errors at such distances are still quite large. No, they will not interfere with determining the location of an airborne object with a sufficiently high accuracy. But it will no longer be possible to aim an anti-aircraft missile at him. On the one hand, this does not seem to be critical, because anyway, anti-aircraft missiles of such a range do not yet exist. On the other hand, such an opportunity in itself would not have hindered the military, for example, it would be possible to aim long-range air-to-air missiles at the target, if the interceptor fighter for some reason had to interrupt the target tracking.
The second nuance is a rather large dead zone. Roughly speaking, such a radar station cannot see anything under its nose. This means that in a combat situation this object itself requires cover from air attacks. Again, there is no exact data on the radius of this "dead zone" - secrecy. But we can assume that we are talking about at least one hundred kilometers, or even more.
That is, with all the desire to use the "Container" can only be used for reconnaissance of the air situation in one or another sector of space. This is very important and useful, without the slightest exaggeration. But he does not add combat capabilities to traditional air defense systems and fighters, and even more so cannot replace them.
A separate question is whether an over-the-horizon radar, even the most advanced one, is capable of detecting air attack weapons made using stealth technology. The military says that there is such a possibility. But so far we have nothing but their words ...
True, logic partly confirms their words. The fact is that stealth technologies are designed not so much to absorb radio waves as to reflect them away from the radar. And the best stealth rates for stealth aircraft are precisely when they look strictly at the radar. But in the case of over-the-horizon radars, everything is a little different - the signal falls on the target either from above or from below, and the effective reflecting surface of the object in this case increases several times, if not orders of magnitude. However, this is still the area of knowledge from which the secrecy label will not be removed for many years (if not decades).
Beyond the west, Russia desperately needs radar surveillance from all sides of its vast perimeter. For example, the northern direction is almost deserted in peacetime, it can become one of the "hottest" in the event of a war. It is through the North Pole that the closest fly to North America. And it is from there that hundreds, if not thousands, of cruise missiles or B-2 Spirit strategic stealth bombers can fly to us. Until now, air cover in this direction is carried out mainly by MiG-31 interceptors. Yes, this is a great car, one of a kind. But even she is not capable of combing the vast northern expanses of Russia around the clock and closing all possible gaps there.
In the east, we also have someone to look after. These are Japan and South Korea, and our ubiquitous American partners, and China, which is growing by leaps and bounds. A threat from this direction can come both for Russia itself and for its neighbors. And if we take into account the sparsely populated Russian Far East, the sparseness of the location field and the airfield network, then it is simply impossible to overestimate the importance of such a radar complex.
In general, at first glance it seems that from which side you look, there are only pluses everywhere. And this is true, with one exception. Money…
Alas, the deployment of another powerful defense program requires no less powerful financial investments. No, the author is far from calling to forge swords into plowshares, and to distribute all the proceeds to pensioners. The point is different, namely, that such an ambitious task can draw off part of the funds needed for related and even more important programs. For example, even more important for Russia's defense capability is the creation of new long-range radar patrol aircraft, and, in the future, drones of this type. This is also a way to create a continuous radar field over the entire country, and an even more important method, since it will literally increase the effectiveness of the national air defense by an order of magnitude.
As you know, some ambitious army rearmament programs were thwarted by our defense industry. We will not go into the reasons, among which there are enough objective ones. We just draw your attention to the fact that after all the failures, decision-makers may be tempted to say that with the advent of several Container radars, the defense capability of our country has reached unprecedented heights, which means investing in necessary but very complex programs mentioned above, no longer make sense.
And then it turns out that we learned to see the enemy long before his appearance at our borders. But we will shoot down with difficulty. If at all we will...