S-400 Firepower For Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov Frigates: Mach 14+ Missiles Give 700% as Much Engagement Area

The Russian Navy is set to receive a new 400km range surface to air missile, according to defence industry sources cited by the state media outlet TASS on February 4. The missiles will be integrated onto the Project 22350M frigates, an enlarged version of the Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov Class frigates which are currently considered among Russia’s most capable surface combatants.  The Gorshkov’s Poliment-Redut missile launchers, which are expected to be integrated on their larger successors in much greater numbers, currently deploy surface to air missiles with maximum ranges of 150km, meaning the new 400km range missiles will allow ships to control areas seven times as large. The missiles are widely speculated to be derived from the 40N6, which was developed to extend the range of S-400 air defence systems to 400km, or the closely related 9M82MD developed for the Army’s S-300V4 system. Both were designed to be able to engage even low flying fighter sized aircraft over the horizon by first climbing to extreme altitudes and then descending guided by an in-built active seeker.

The 40N6 is prized not only for its range, but also its extreme speed exceeding Mach 14 which allows it to engage most classes of ballistic missile up to and including upper intermediate range designs. Testing has shown that even missiles travelling at speeds exceeding Mach 8 can be reliably targeted. Integrating a navalised variant of the missile would allow Russian frigates to potentially significantly contribute to strategic air defence, much as U.S., Japanese and South Korean AEGIS destroyers currently do using the SM-3 and SM-6 missiles. Unlike these three AEGIS operators, Russia has generally deployed its ballistic missile defences from ground based mobile launchers rather than ships. Integration onto the Gorshkov Class could thus provide new options for deployments which could complement S-400 and S-500 systems deployed on land.

Although the Soviet Union previously deployed navalised variants of its S-300 system onto destroyers and cruisers, Russia has not built any similarly sized warships for its navy since the end of the Cold War which has limited opportunities to field new generations of long range air defences at sea. A navalised variant of the S-400 and its 40N6 missile has nevertheless reportedly been under development for over a decade, and was initially expected to be first integrated onto the Russian Navy’s Soviet-built Kirov Class cruisers after their refurbishment, rather than onto frigate-sized ships. Alongside new air defence missiles, Gorshkov Class frigates have also been prioritised for the integration of the Zicron hypersonic cruise missile, which currently has no analogues abroad and pairs high manoeuvrability with a Mach 9 speed and 1000km engagement range. Pairing a 40N6-derived missile with the Zicron will provide the Russian ships with complementary offensive and defensive capabilities that very few ship classes in the world will be able to challenge.