Currently in the blueprint stage, the S-500 is a Russian surface-to-air missile system that, if developed, will be able to track and destroy ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 3,500 kilometers. At present, however, reports indicate that Russia has not yet started building the S-500, apparently due to a lack of funds.
In June 2000, Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s Military Research and Development Subcommittee, led a U.S. delegation to Moscow to meet with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov and several top-ranking Russian generals. In a series of discussions, two new Russian surface-to-air missile systems were mentioned: the S-400 (NATO: SA-20 “Triumf”), then still under development, and the S-500, which existed solely on paper.
According to Mikhailov, Russia had completed theoretical calculations on the S-500 and, if deployed, the system would outperform the S-400 as well as the U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system. Mikhailov acknowledged, however, that Moscow lacked the financial resources to complete the project. Seizing the opportunity, Weldon suggested to Mikhailov that the U.S. and Russia create a joint missile defense system, one that would incorporate S-500 technology, U.S. funding, and the strategic expertise of both nations.Mikhailov seemed intrigued by the idea, but refused to offer any more specifics about the S-500.
After the U.S. delegation returned to Washington and Rep. Weldon reported his findings to the House Armed Services Committee, naysayers immediately argued that Moscow would use U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund its military experiments, which were in direct violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty (still in existence at the time). If indeed the S-500 had been developed and it had lived up to Russians expectations, as described, it would have violated the ABM Treaty’s 1997 demarcation agreements, which allowed for only short range or “tactical” anti-ballistic missile systems.At the time, the S-400 and its upgraded version, the Antey-2500, were barely below the demarcation threshold. The Russians claimed that the S-500 would outperform S-400 by a wide margin.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon began examining options for a joint missile defense system, one that would strengthen political, military, and economic ties between the two nations. Jacques Gansler, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, attempted to quell dissent by stating that such a collaborative system would not replace U.S. efforts to build its own national missile defense system. As Gansler put it, the S-500 would be a “compliment to our systems, rather than a replacement.” Many missile defense proponents in the U.S. understood that such a collaboration would encourage both nations to move away from the archaic 1972 ABM Treaty.
Moscow ended the debate in early 2001 by rejecting the U.S. proposal for cooperation. In April 2001, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the future exportation of the S-500 to Europe and elsewhere in order to counter U.S. efforts to build a NATO-wide missile defense network.
Addressing the House Armed Services Committee in July 2001, Rep. Weldon expressed his dissatisfaction with the Russian Defense Ministry. According to Weldon, the Russians had attempted to cover up the fact that its S-500 plans were in open violation of the ABM Treaty: “Nobody is involved with Russia as much as I am, but I can tell you, there are people in the Russian Defense Ministry I don’t trust. . . . There’s a pattern here of deliberate attempts to mislead America and the allies on what Russia’s ultimate plans are.” Weldon stressed that the U.S. needed to stick to President Ronald Reagan’s theory of “trust, but verify.”
Nevertheless, Weldon and others continued to push for a joint U.S.-Russian system incorporating the S-500 design. In May 2004, two years after the U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty, the Congressman traveled to Moscow and reiterated his offer: “You designed the S-500 system but lack money. We can build it together.” Weldon emphasized that such a system would protect both the U.S. and Russia from the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction from Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. At present, however, there is no evidence that Russia plans to collaborate with the U.S. on the S-500.
Although sharing a similar designation, the relationship between this new S-500 and the S-500U project of the 1960s is unclear. The S-500U multichannel antiaircraft system was a 1968 initiative by the National Air Defense Troops, Navy, Ministry of the Radio Industry and Ministry of the Shipbuilding Industry to create a unified complex for the National Air Defense Troops, Navy and Ground Troops. Missiles of the S-500U complex were supposed to engage enemy aircraft at a range up to 100 km. The S-500U SAM complex project was rejected by the Ground Troops, which had a requirement to engage not only enemy aircraft, but also short range ballistic missiles. Consequently the S-300 family [SA-10 and SA-12] was developed instead.