• Russia deployed its only S-500 air defense system in Crimea amid Ukrainian strikes.
  • The system is "experimental," Ukraine's spy chief said, and has never been used before in combat.
  • Ukraine has upped its attacks in Crimea, likely hoping to destroy Russia's air defenses in the area.

Russia has deployed its only S-500 air defense system in Crimea as Ukraine ups its attacks on the occupied peninsula, Ukraine's spy chief said this week.

The S-500, an advanced system described by Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate as "experimental," has never been used in combat before.

Russia moved the S-500 to protect the Kerch Bridge, as well as strengthen Russia's air defense network in occupied Crimea, Budanov said Wednesday. The 12-mile-long bridge, which connects mainland Russia to occupied Crimea, is both a streamlined way for Russian forces to reach the area, as well as a symbol of Russia's control of the peninsula.

It's repeatedly been a target for Ukraine's drone boats, bombs, and strikes. Russian air defense assets have also been targets, especially in recent weeks.

Explosion causes fire at the Kerch bridge in the Kerch Strait, Crimea on October 08, 2022. A fire broke out early Saturday morning on the Kerch Bridge — preceded by an explosion — causing suspension of traffic and bringing bus and train services to a halt. Foto: Vera Katkova/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The S-500, called the Prometheus, is a mobile, surface-to-air defense system designed to intercept ballistic missiles and other ranged weapons. The system is "essentially a modernized version of the S-300," the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington DC-based think tank, said Thursday.

The S-500 has been tested multiple times but has never been in combat before. Russia has claimed it's able to intercept all weapons, including hypersonic missiles, which are extremely fast and fly unpredictable paths at low altitudes, but that capability remains unclear.

Russia has previously claimed missiles were hypersonic that weren't and that weapons were unbeatable that also were not.

The S-500's problematic development and production, from the project's start in 2010 to severe delays over the following decade, raised questions about its viability as a system. It was delivered to the armed forces in 2021, though in a limited state unable to meet the requirements for the system.

In April 2024, then-Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that it would enter battle in one of two variations: missile defense and an anti-aircraft role.

Russian troops with new S-400 surface-to-air missile systems after their deployment at a military base outside the town of Gvardeysk in Kaliningrad on March 11, 2019. Foto: REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar

The S-500's new role protecting the Kerch Bridge and bolstering Russian air defense capabilities in Crimea comes as Ukraine conducts strikes on the peninsula aimed at making the area untenable for the Russian military.

Since late May, attacks in the area, particularly targeting Russia's air defenses, have intensified. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have reported major strikes, including one this week, hitting S-300 and S-400 systems.

Ukraine is suspected of using US-supplied Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, for these strikes, among other capabilities.

As Ukraine continues to target air defenses on the peninsula, Russia may deploy more of its air defense assets there, ISW said, "making them vulnerable to further Ukrainian strikes." A fight of this nature could strain and deplete Russia's air defense arsenal.

An Army Tactical Missile System during live-fire testing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on December 14, 2021 Foto: White Sands Missile Range/John Hamilton

"ISW previously assessed that Ukrainian forces may be conducting an organized effort to degrade Russian air defenses, which could enable Ukraine to more effectively leverage manned fixed-wing airpower (namely using F-16 fighter jets) in the long term," the think tank wrote.

Ukraine's strikes into Crimea have long been supported by the US and Western allies but come on the heels of US President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders agreeing — in some cases, reluctantly — to let Ukraine use long-range weapons to strike Russian targets in occupied territory.

Per ISW, Ukraine could "in principle" replicate the success of their Crimea strikes in other occupied areas should Western allies approve such strikes, creating opportunities for Ukraine and degrading Russia's capabilities.

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