Touted ‘Better Than Patriots’, Russia’s ‘Fully Armed’ S-350 Truck Drives Into Mines In An Embarrassing Spectacle

In a shocking video surfacing on social media, a 50P6E transporter erector launcher of the Russian S-350 Vityaz surface-to-air missile defense system could be seen accidentally driving into a row of mines somewhere in the Luhansk region.

According to claims, the Russian launcher allegedly drove over the mines laid down by its forces. However, the exact circumstances that may have led to the accident are unknown. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) was yet to publish details about the said accident at the time of writing this report. 

The accident occurred while the S-350 system was navigating an unmarked minefield that Russian troops had set up to thwart a possible Ukrainian attack, according to Ukraine-based Militarnyi news agency. The Russian launcher has allegedly stumbled on its minefield while moving through the night. 

The local Ukrainian media and military watchers claimed on social media that the launcher was significantly damaged. However, the EurAsian Times could not independently verify these claims.

The Ukrainian media also noted that it wasn’t safe for the Russian troops to retrieve the launcher as the area remains very heavily mined and could endanger the safety of other military vehicles.

The damage incurred by the launcher would prove to be very expensive for the Russian military as one of these launchers is believed to be worth US$135 million. Russia has not extensively deployed the S-350 air defense system in the ongoing war.

However, this is not the first time the Russians have lost an S-350 Vityaz launcher. Ukrainian fighters from the 11th brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine destroyed an S-350 launcher using a First Person View (FPV) drone near Kherson in December last year. 

Ukrainian volunteer Serhiy Sternenko subsequently published a video of the attack. According to reports, it was the most expensive target destroyed by FPV drones purchased by volunteers in Ukraine. It led to speculation that the Russian military would likely pull them away from the frontline to avoid more incidents. 

50P6 missile launcher of S-350E system at 2013 MAKS Airshow (Wikipedia)

As part of its efforts to thwart a Ukrainian counteroffensive and slow their advance, the Russians’ defensive minefields extended from 120 meters to 500 meters in depth, and the number of mines inside the larger fields also increased.

The mines slowed the Ukrainian advance by prolonging their mine-clearing efforts. This gave extra time to the Russian troops preparing to hit back. In the first few days of the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian troops were forced to abandon several sophisticated military vehicles, including tanks and IFVs. 

However, the presence of dense minefields along the frontline also means that Russia’s military vehicle could also be a casualty if it were to roll over the mines meant for the adversary accidentally. The latest incident involving the S-350 launcher may be a painful blow to Moscow, given that few have been produced and inducted into service.

Moreover, there are no known cases of an anti-aircraft missile system exploding because of a mine in a Russian-controlled territory, making this an extremely unusual incident. Military watchers believe that the Russian military may be the first in history to lose a missile system launch pad due to a mine explosion.

S-350 Vityaz Air Defense System

The S-350 Vityaz is a mobile anti-aircraft missile system that protects critical facilities and military installations. This system serves the anti-aircraft missile forces of the Russian Aerospace Forces and is specifically designed to counter modern and advanced air attack weapons.

According to sources, the S-350 Vityaz has a maximum range of 25 kilometers for engaging ballistic targets and a remarkable range of 120 to 150 kilometers for engaging aerodynamic air targets, such as drones, aircraft, cruise missiles, and similar devices. 

The Vityaz missiles can intercept targets moving up to two kilometers per second, providing quick and effective protection against aerial threats. With its remarkable mobility, the wheeled S-350 system may be quickly deployed into combat zones in minutes. 

It is said to have started serial manufacturing in March 2019 and went into service in February 2020. The S-350 has the launcher units 50P6, each holding 12 9M96 missiles, the multifunctional radars 50N6, and the command post 50K6. Three people make up the crew, and the deployment takes five minutes.

Russia S-350 Vityaz
Russia’s S-350 Vityaz

In 2020, the producer of this system, Almaz-Antey, secured an order for three regimental sets of S-350 Vityaz SAM systems with a deadline of 2023. The transfer of the first divisional set of this system was announced in 2019. Whether or not this deal has been completed is unknown at this time.

The S-350 is one of the very few systems of the Russian military that haven’t been deployed along the frontline, despite the threat posed by Ukrainian drones and missiles that the system can shoot down.

The system was first spotted in the Taganrog airfield in August 2022, located within a distance of fewer than 40 miles from the Ukrainian border.

It rose to prominence in May 2023 when reports suggested that it had shot down a Ukrainian aircraft in a fully automatic mode without an operator’s participation and worked simultaneously in active and passive radar modes. This marked the first instance where a system operated fully automatically using artificial intelligence in combat conditions.

Russian experts went so far as to say that the system was better in combat performance than the US Patriot missile defense.

The S-350 is deemed more accurate than the operational Patriot missile defense system in Ukraine, said a Russian expert. While comparable in functional characteristics to the US-made Patriot system, the Vityaz system’s faster missile speed and capability to strike low-flying targets give it a significant edge.

The manufacturer claims that the S-350 Vityaz outperforms its rivals in several areas. First, it has a more considerable armament of missiles, giving it more defensive and longer-range capability. The system also has an upgraded radar that is more resistant to jamming. 

Russia is also looking to export the system, as evidenced in the Aero India 2023 pitch, where the head of the Military-Political Analysis Bureau, Alexander Mikhailov, told TASS that the Vityaz was cheaper than the US Patriot and could strike targets more accurately. The loss of a launcher does not augur well for this latest Russian SAM’s reputation.