The Russian S-300 and S-400 Missile Systems, Steven J Zaloga

The Russian S-300 and S-400 Missile Systems, Steven J Zaloga

The S-300 missile system was the last Soviet era strategic air defence system, developed slowly during the 1970s in three distinct versions. After entering service the main air defence and army versions went through a series of upgrades.

We quickly learn that the Soviet military was just as troubled by inter-service rivalries as their US equivalents. Anyone familiar with the frequent failures to produce common USAF and US Navy aircraft will not be surprised by the fate of the initial attempt to produce a single air defence missile system for the Soviet air defence service, army and navy. The three services did have different requirements, and ended up producing very different systems – in the case of the Navy the physical installation was the main difference, wit the same missile as the air defence version. The Army had a different target in mind, so used different missiles. 

The initial development process was very slow – work started on the system in the late 1960s, the first tests came in the mid 1970s and serial production didn’t begin until 1980. As a result an interesting aspect of this story is the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This saw government funding for the arms industry collapse, forcing the impoverished bureaus to turn to the export market. However at the same time the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe meant that several deals with Warsaw Pact countries also collapsed. After ten years the Russian arms industry began to revive and we see more modern versions of the systems appear.

One unavoidable limit with this book is that it was clearly written before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, a conflict which has seen the S-300 used by both sides. As a result there is very little on the combat performance of the systems covered here, as before that war they had seen very little active service (and that was in Syria, where it reportedly performed poorly, but it isn’t clear if the flaws were with the system or the training of the operators). This is very different to many earlier Soviet SAM systems, which have seen extensive service in proxy wars during the Cold War. As a result the bulk of the book is taken up with the technical development of the many variations of these systems.

This is a useful reference work on this Soviet/ Russian missile system, but for me the main interest was tracing the impact of the fall of the Soviet Union, the hard years of the 1990s and the military revival since then.


Author: Steven J Zaloga
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 48
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2023

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