China could put its new Russian S-400 missile defence system – which is capable of downing US F-35 stealth fighters – through its paces before the end of the month, Moscow said on Friday, citing an unnamed military source.
The S-400 Triumph, which was delivered just last week, is a surface-to-air missile system designed to complement China’s home-grown defence capabilities. Russia’s news agency, TASS, quoted the source as saying that a first test firing was imminent and could even happen within the next few days.
“It is planned that in late July or early August the unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that underwent training in Russia will carry out a test firing against a simulated ballistic target at a Chinese firing ground,” the person said.
Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping said it was very likely the PLA would test the S-400 soon after taking delivery, as its Rocket Force was already familiar with its predecessor, the S-300.
“The PLA has been using the S-300 since the 1990s, so it will be easier for them to pick up the new S-400 than it will be for other countries, like India and Turkey, which are also planning to buy the new defence system,” he said.
Song, who works as a military commentator for Phoenix TV, said that India and Turkey would also end up paying about twice as much as China did for the system, as they would need more training and support.
The S-400 Triumph is capable of engaging all types of aerial targets, including tactical and strategic aircraft, ballistic missiles and hypersonic jets, including the United States’ fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters.
The US has had F-35s at its own and allies’ military bases in the Asia-Pacific region since October. The deployment pushed China into bringing its first stealth fighter, the J-20, into service ahead of schedule in February.
Song said that the S-400 would complement China’s existing Russian and domestically developed missile systems.
With a range of 2,400km (1,500 miles), the S-400 can engage up to 36 targets simultaneously with as many as 72 missiles at altitudes of between 5 metres (16 feet) and 30km (19 miles).
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said that the sale of the S-400 to China would help Russia to promote its air defence missile technology on the international market, which has been dominated by the United States’ patriot system.
“The S-400 missile will further consolidate Beijing and Moscow’s strategic partnership in diplomatic, political, economic and military cooperation,” he said.
Beijing signed a deal to buy the S-400 Triumph system in 2014. It also ordered 24 Su-35 fighter jets – as upgrades to the Su-27 – and took delivery of 14 of them at the end of last year.
The Su-35 can be equipped with long-range air-to-air missiles that could be used to attack American aerial refuelling tankers in the Pacific.