Following expanded deployments of Russian S-400 surface to air missile systems to Belarus, and the announcement the these systems would also be acquired in greater numbers by the Belarusian Military, combat readiness drills for S-400 units in Belarus were announced on July 15 by the Belarusian Defence Ministry. Belarus remains Russia’s only military ally in Europe, with the two having more closely integrated their armed forces after perceived Western efforts to overthrow the Belarusian government in 2020 and the imposition of economic sanctions on Minsk by Western powers. “In compliance with the 2021/2022 training plan of the Air Force and Air Defense Troops, an exercise of alert air defence forces was held under the direction of the commander of the Air Force and Air Defense Troops… The commander of the Air Force and Air Defense Troops highly commended the operations of the teams of S-400 air defence systems that participated in the exercise… the military personnel of the joint [Belarus-Russia] combat training centre participated for the first time,” the ministry’s press office reported. “During the inspection, all the training targets were timely detected and notionally destroyed,” it added.
The S-400 is widely considered the world’s most capable multirole land based air defence system, alongside the newer and more mobile S-300V4 and the longer ranged S-500 systems. Its expanded deployment to Belarus in January 2022 came in parallel to a redeployment of Su-35S fighter units from the Russian Far East to the territory, which has bolstered Russian forces on the country’s western flank with NATO while also allowing both kinds of assets to support the war effort against Ukraine. Su-35s have gained multiple air to air kills against Ukrainian targets, while also participating in strike missions, while the S-400 saw its first combat use in the conflict. The missile system notably demonstrated its very long engagement range by shooting down a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter from Belarusian territory, and can engage targets at Mach 14 speeds up to 400km away. It remains uncertain whether Belarusian S-400 units have participated in the war in Ukraine, or whether those fired from Belarus were under the Russian Military. Belarusian sources have repeatedly indicated that acquisitions of the S-500 system could be considered in future, which the gradual merging of the two countries’ armed forces could do much to facilitate. The S-400 is particularly prized for it very low operational costs compared to an equivalent defensive capability provided by combat aircraft, which has resulted in very large acquisitions by the Russian Military to compensate for the small size of the country’s fighter and interceptor fleets relative to those of NATO.