The S-300 air defence missile

11th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The S-300, which Russia said on Wednesday it was deploying in Georgia's pro-Moscow rebel region of Abkhazia, is a sophisticated and mobile air defence missile capable of destroying cruise missiles and fighter planes.

One of Russia's most prized missile assets, the S-300, known by NATO as SA-20 Gargoyles, can target aircraft and ballistic missiles at a range of 150 kilometres (93 miles) and at an altitude of up to 27 kilometres (16 miles).

The S-300 system was first designed for the air defense of large industrial and administrative facilities, military bases, and control of airspace against enemy strike aircraft.

First deployed by former Soviet Union or USSR in 1979, the S-300, nicknamed "the favorite" by Russians, is still seen as one of the most powerful anti-aircraft missiles on the market. It can simultaneously track up to 100 targets and engage 12.

Russia's air force commander, General Alexander Zelin, said Wednesday that Moscow had deployed S-300 missiles in Abkhazia to provide anti-aircraft defence for both Abkhazia and Georgia's other Moscow-backed rebel region, South Ossetia.

Georgia insists that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are an integral part of its territory but Russia in 2008 recognised the two regions as independent after a war with Tbilisi.

Tbilisi warned on Wednesday that Russia's deployment of the S-300 was of concern not only to Georgia but should also worry NATO. Georgia's ambition to join NATO has long flustered Russia.

The question of anti-missile defences has long poisoned relations between Washington and Moscow.

In September 2009 US President Barack Obama scrapped a project to install an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington has since reworked the scheme and signed a new treaty with Moscow on reducing strategic nuclear weapons, which has yet to be ratified.

In April 2010 Russia shipped China 15 advanced truck-mounted S-300 missile systems.

The system has also been the subject of a long-running controversy over the fulfillment of a contract to deliver the weapons to Iran.

Russia signed a contract to sell the systems to Iran several years ago, but has failed to deliver the weapons amid pressure from the West which fears they would be used against any aerial attack on the Islamic republic.

Apart from China, other countries such as Slovakia, Vietnam and Cyprus have already bought the S-300, of which there are several versions, including the S-300/SA-10 and S-300/SA-20.

© 2010 AFP

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