Simply stated, of all the surface-to-air threats being faced by coalition airpower over Syria, the Russian S-400 SAM, known as the “Triumf” at home and better known to NATO as the SA-21 “Growler,” is the most capable and lethal long-range air defense missile system on the planet.

In response to the downing of a Russian Su-24M by a Turkish F-16C on 24 November, the Russians announced a few changes to their Air Tasking Order in Syria: 1) ALL surface attack sorties would have fighter escorts and, 2) air defense batteries would be standing up the S-400, with orders to engage *all* aircraft deemed to be hostile to Russian air operations.

Developed by Almaz-Antey Central Design Bureau, the SA-21 has been in service with the Russian military since 2007. The system is capable of destroying airborne targets as far as 250 miles away, at speeds that are just….ridiculous. An excellent write-up on the system and its various components can be found here, courtesy of Airpower Australia.

The Almaz-Antey S-400 "Triumf," also known by its NATO codename of SA-21 "Growler." (Photo Courtesy of NOSINT)
The Russian S-400 “Triumf,” also known by its NATO codename of SA-21 “Growler,” produced by the Almaz-Antey Central Design Bureau. (Photo Courtesy of NOSINT)

So what does all of that mean for coalition airpower? Our good friend Tyson Wetzel, a graduate of and former instructor at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, has broken down the tactical and strategic implications for the Russian S-400 deployment in Syria. The bottom line? It’s a pretty scary prospect, considering the SA-21–from its current position around Hmeymim Air Base near Latakia, can cover all by the eastern-most points in Syria.

That also means a healthy amount of Operation Inherent Resolve air assets, both U.S. and coalition, are underneath the Growler’s coverage at their forward-deployed locations. That fact is, as one U.S. pilot said, “not even remotely” awesome for anyone flying over Syria.

While other news outlets have reported no U.S warplanes have flown since the SA-21s have been deployed, we know this simply is not the case.

“SA-21’s haven’t changed our fly rates or the areas we operate in,” says one American pilot. “We’ve been flying in SA-5 MEZs for a year now and they have known we have been there the entire time.”