It so happened historically that in Russia the main "guardians of the sky" consider ground-based anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM). There are many reasons for this, and the main one, probably in psychology - we remember how the U-2 American scout shot down the S-75 air defense system, how dozens and hundreds of our anti-aircraft missiles shot down the American Phantoms in Vietnam, like the Syrian air defense systems “Square” (early version of the Cube air defense system) shot down Israeli planes during the Arab-Israeli wars, as the Egypt-owned Dvina air defense systems showed themselves excellently in confrontation with the Israeli air force, shooting down, according to some estimates, more than 40% of all military aircraft lost by Israel.
Around the ground-based air defense systems a kind of halo of invincibility and invulnerability has developed. At least for our consciousness this is almost an axiom. And now, when we read about the fact that in Syria, Libya, or some other hot spot in the world, Russian-made air defense systems do not fully cope with the solution of the tasks assigned to them, or simply become victims of air strikes, in society instantly arise conspiracy theories of what happened - either the new owners of our air defense systems are completely ignorant, or we supply them with greatly simplified versions of our "best in the world" systems, or even worse, all the secrets have long been sold to Israel and the USA.
But reality is somewhat more severe. Alas, if you face the truth, you have to admit that modern aviation will always replay and destroy any air defense systems if it stands alone in an open field and is waiting for an attack. Why is this happening, you ask? And in that case, are air defense systems needed as such?
Immediately answer the second question - yes, we need. Really needed. There is no complete alternative to modern ground-based air defense systems, and it is unlikely that they will be replaced in the foreseeable future. But let's not get ahead of ourselves much and try to understand how modern air defense is generally arranged and how, ideally, it should work.
First of all, remember that the Earth has the shape of a ball. And the horizon, beyond which nothing is visible, exists not only for our eyes, but also for radars. It even has a special designation, “radio horizon,” and denotes an imaginary line below which it is impossible to peek with conventional radar means. So, any ground-based air defense system is hostage to this same radio horizon, while the plane may well fall below this line, get to the air defense system at a distance of missile launch, “emerge” for a few seconds, launch rockets and go down again, to an area inaccessible to antennas air defense radar post.
To at least somehow reduce the severity of the problem, modern air defense systems are equipped with telescopic boom radars. Raising it a couple of tens of meters, you can slightly push the horizon, see the enemy a little earlier and, accordingly ...
Although no, aviation and aviation weapons also do not stand still, and now the range of their destruction is sufficient to hit an air defense system due to the radio horizon, even somewhat pushed back. So, a dead end?
And again, no. A modern air defense system can be very effective. But to make sure of this, we need to get rid of the stereotype and stop thinking that air defense systems are exhausted only by anti-aircraft missile systems, which, in fair confrontation, are trying to destroy enemy aircraft alone. No, air defense is a whole set of tools that complement and reinforce each other. And only in the complex can they fully solve the tasks of covering ground objects from the air.
In addition to ground-based air defense systems, the airborne component of air defense is very important - fighters and early warning radar aircraft (DRLO and DRLOiU). The former, as the name implies, can destroy any air target, and the latter ...
And the second, if simplified, is the same radar, only raised into the air, to a height of about ten kilometers. The radar, for which there is almost no problem of the radio horizon, is moved so far away that the attacking enemy aircraft simply can’t hide under it, which means that any attack becomes doomed, if not to guaranteed failure, then at least to huge problems.
Ideally, modern air defense should look something like this: high in the air, at some distance from the border or front line, the AWACS plane is barring, within a radius of accessibility from it are several pairs of fighter jets, and on the ground, covering the most vulnerable directions or nodes, the air defense systems are on duty. Upon detection of attacking enemy aircraft, the AWACS aircraft transmits information about them to fighters and ground-based air defense systems, and then, depending on the situation, either allied aircraft attack the enemy or air defense systems fire at their targets with long-range missiles. In this case, enemy aviation is between two fires - continuing to move at very low altitudes, it is in an extremely disadvantageous position in comparison with attacking air defense fighters. She has no height, no speed, no room for maneuver, so her chances in the alleged air battle fall to almost zero. But if you go up, it turns out to be very vulnerable to powerful and long-range anti-aircraft missiles, and air defense systems, if they are not actively opposed, shoot very accurately at any available distances.
Of course, this ideal scheme is not an axiom. For example, instead of a DRLOiU aircraft, there may be a modern interceptor with a powerful radar, such as the MiG-31B, and long-range ground-based air defense systems, such as the S-300 or S-400, for greater reliability, can be covered by small air defense systems or air defense systems like Tor-M2 or “Shell” C1 ". But the main thing is always invariable - for high combat stability of the entire air defense system it is necessary that its ground and air components insure and complement each other.
Unfortunately, Russia inherited from the USSR a big problem - the insufficiency of one of the components of air defense, namely, early warning radar aircraft. We always had excellent air defense systems. Our fighters also showed themselves quite well. But here on flying radars there has always been a serious lag - both quantitative and qualitative.
It is difficult to say with what exactly this was connected. Probably, various military doctrines affected, which in our case presupposed, first of all, military operations close to one’s own borders, and in the US - a global presence in all accessible points of the globe. The Americans could not rely on ground-based air defense systems - for them they were not mobile enough, the world gendarme needed "eyes" that could be transferred anywhere in the world after their aircraft literally in a matter of hours.
In addition, the United States traditionally relied on the fleet and needed radar patrol equipment that could protect it from sudden aircraft attacks. To do this, the US developed and put into service the DRLO deck aircraft, for example, the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, capable of detecting a fighter target at a distance of more than 400 kilometers, and using passive detection means to detect an enemy radar at a distance twice as long. Nothing of the kind could have been created in the USSR, in principle, simply because of the absence of classical aircraft carriers as such.
If we add to this the traditional lag of the USSR in electronics, the picture will turn out to be rather sad. Nevertheless, realizing the importance of this type of aviation, the Soviet leadership tried to rectify the situation. So, in 1958, it was decided to create the first in the USSR carrier aircraft of the AWACS facilities. The task was entrusted to the Tupolev Design Bureau, and I must say that it was completed in a fairly short time.
The aircraft received the designation Tu-126. Initially, they planned to make it on the basis of the latest, at that time, Tu-95 strategic bomber, but during the design it turned out that the civilian Tu-114 was optimal for this purpose. The Liana complex, developed at the Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Engineering (now the Vega concern), was installed on the carrier. The dimensions and carrying capacity of the Tu-114 made it possible to place additional radio equipment for reconnaissance and communications on the Tu-126. And in general, the plane turned out to be quite good for its time, except for the usual problems for the Soviet engineering school, such as a disregard for the operators of the complex, who almost stalled in flight from engines running nearby, and sometimes received strong electric shocks from working panels, on which static electricity accumulated.
In 1985, the Tu-126 was replaced by the A-50, the new AWACS aircraft built on the basis of the Il-76 military transport aircraft. Instead of the Liana complex, the Bumblebee complex was installed on it. And as a replacement for the previous model, it was very good ... But in comparison with the American competitor, the Boeing E-3 Sentry, weaknesses immediately appeared, mainly related to the emerging strong gap in the electronics. Thus, the A-50’s fighter target detection range was approximately 300 kilometers, while the E-3 Sentry saw a much less noticeable cruise missile from a distance of 400 km. The last A-50 had problems in general - the low radar targets flying against the background of the earth, the new radar saw poorly. If we add to this that the A-50 appeared about 10 years later than the American, the gap becomes completely catastrophic ...
We add that quantitatively we are behind the Americans too. Now our "potential ally" operates more than forty Boeing E-3 Sentry of the most modern modifications. We have only 9 vehicles in service, four of which are a modernized version of the A-50U. The latter, by the way, should not mislead us - modernization is based on the Bumblebee-2 complex, which, although better than its predecessor, outperforms it by only 15–20 percent in terms of aggregate characteristics.
The situation was supposed to be corrected by the A-100 Premier complex, the development of which began back in 2004. They planned to launch it into mass production in 2015, but, as usual, “something went wrong,” and endless “right shifts” began on the deadlines for the delivery of the new aircraft. In 2017, Sergei Shoigu, the Minister of Defense, announced that the Premier would be ready in 2020. But this term was not the end - this year it turned out that the deadlines were again shifted, this time, to 2024.
The reasons for the transfers are called different each time, but with a high degree of certainty it can be argued that the matter is the sanctions imposed against Russia by some foreign powers. First of all, these sanctions affected electronics, with which, as you know, things are still very bad with us. Alas, our designers before the start of the Ukrainian crisis very famously put advanced Western components into their projects, which affected a wide variety of projects, including defense ones. As practice shows, import substitution in high-tech industries is the most difficult, if at all. Against this background, delays in the delivery of such a serious defense project as the Aircraft Drone and A-100 Premier aircraft look very logical.
At the same time, it should be noted that the well-known characteristics of the new aircraft, or rather, its radar system, look very impressive. From what the sources have at their disposal, the following should be especially noted: the range of target detection of the “fighter” type will reach (or slightly surpass) 700 kilometers. The complex will be equipped with a radar with an active phased antenna array (the long-awaited AFAR), and will be able to simultaneously track up to 300 air, ground and sea targets.
Also, control functions (air command post) and target designation will be implemented. Together, this will give the Russian army a very necessary combat unit, capable of literally cementing air defense in any threatened area. Just imagine a radar capable, being above Moscow, at the same time controlling the airspace in the sky over Minsk, Kiev, St. Petersburg and Saratov. It is clear that this is in ideal conditions, and yet ... And not just to see what is happening there, but also to coordinate the actions of their aircraft, to issue target designations, to aim long-range air-to-air missiles at the target ...
According to some estimates, if the Premier project can be brought to mass production with the declared characteristics, we will finally be able to overcome more than half a century behind the Americans in this critical air defense segment. And that means that both our fighter aircraft and our best in the world (without quotes) air defense systems will get literally a second wind ...
If ... Everything rests against this word. Unfortunately, we cannot judge how complicated it is with the replacement of imported components — the highest level of secrecy. It is only known that with the introduction of international sanctions, the Wassenaar Agreement, which replaced the notorious Cold War Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom) , was very seriously tightened precisely in the field of control over the export of microelectronics to Russia. If earlier, before the sanctions, manufacturers only notified the appropriate authority about the planned delivery of various electronic components to Russia, now they are required to obtain permission for each batch of such products shipped to the Russian Federation. Of course, everything that can be connected in any way with the defense industry, navigation, aircraft manufacturing, nuclear industry, and so on, is under the most severe ban and cannot receive such a license. Possible ways to circumvent restrictions, in particular, re-export through third countries, are also monitored.
The new rules were tightened even more recently, on June 20 of this year. Then the new rules of the Bureau of Industry and Security of the US Department of Commerce came into force, tightening the export of "sensitive" technologies to a number of states, including Russia, China and Iran. The simplified customs regime of “civilian” microelectronics was also abolished, and our special services also used this loophole to transport some important components.
And if this problem can still be solved, the problem of quantity will still remain. The base aircraft of the A-100 Premier complex, IL-76MD-90A, is manufactured by the Ulyanovsk Aircraft Plant. The plane is excellent, but it’s both a blessing and a problem at the same time - it is simultaneously in demand by military transport aviation and “strategists” as the basis for creating a flying tanker tanker, and now also for creating an AWACS aircraft. But there is a small problem - in the year we now produce three pieces of IL-76MD-90A.
Well, how "small"... Colossal, actually. It can be solved, but at the expense of the same, that is, colossal, effort. And not right away.
Therefore, we will believe. Believe in import substitution and that the stars converge. And then, perhaps to our common satisfaction...
But this, as the youth now says, is "not accurate"...