USAF U-2 Avionics Technician explains why S-300 and S-400 missile systems would not be able to shoot down the SR-71 Blackbird

USAF U-2 Avionics Technician explains why S-300 and S-400 missile systems would not be able to shoot down the SR-71 Blackbird

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Nov 20 2022
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Could the SR-71 Blackbird be shot down by missile systems such as Russia’s S-300 or S-400?

The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” is a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft. The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., in January 1966.

The US Air Force (USAF) retired its fleet of SR-71s on Jan. 26, 1990, because of a decreasing defense budget and high costs of operation.

During its 24 years of service, the SR-71 Blackbird gathered intelligence in some of the world’s most hostile environments. The Blackbird evaded all 4,000 missiles fired at it and, to this day, remains the only USAF aircraft to never lose a crewmember associated with it; whether in the air or on the ground.

But could the SR-71 be shot down by missile systems such as Russia’s S-300 or S-400?

‘Looks like I’m going to give the only “no” answer so far,’ Damien Leimbach, former USAF Avionics Technician on U-2 aircraft, says on Quora.

‘The S-200, S-300 and S-400 are amazing platforms, and given their stated performance, the 300 and 400 could probably hit a target at the Sr-71’s speed and altitude. But that is not the same as hitting an SR-71.

‘Now, could those missiles shoot down the version of the SR-71 that existed in the 70’s or 80’s? Sure.

S-400 SAM
S-400 SAM

‘But the question was could it shoot down the SR-71 if it were still in service, and if it were still in service, it would have received the same jamming and Electronic Warfare upgrades as other planes have.

‘Would these EW jammer upgrades make the plane immune from those missiles? Yes it would.

‘How do I know? Well, because I spent 6 years, recently, working on the sibling of the SR-71, the U-2 and as an electronics specialist I was directly responsible for installing and maintaining the AN-ALQ 221 jammer that made our high flying (but slow moving) plane immune to those missiles as well.

‘The U-2 and the SR-71 don’t just take pictures. They listen to cell phones. They monitor radios. And they also listen to, record and analyze the frequencies, pulse rates, variable modes and power outputs of enemy SAM systems like the S-200, 300 and 400.’

He continues;

‘We know everything about them. We know how they work, so it’s very easy to design systems to defeat them. The -300 is 1970’s Russian technology, which makes it about as sophisticated from an electronics standpoint as 1950’s American tech. The 400 is just an upgraded version of that. But we’ve had a long time to study them and build electronic countermeasures.

‘When the Berlin wall fell in 1989, and East and West Germany reunified, the very first thing NATO did was go in and scoop up all the Russian military tech it could find. We got T-80’s, We got Fulcrums and we got entire missile battalions worth of S-300 missiles.

SR-71 print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

‘When other very poor nations like Belarus and Moldova split away from the USSR, we bought other stuff, like Flankers, Hinds, and more missile systems.

‘Only Russia, China and India operate the -400, but as much as they want access to American markets, I’m more than sure we’ve been allowed to peek at the equipment, and a missile or two may have fallen off a truck somewhere.

‘Maybe its cheating a little, but buying out the competition is the American way. The point is, we know exactly what their missile systems can do and we’ve known for a long time. We build those upgrades into the U-2 and if we still flew the SR-71, we would build them into it as well.’

Leimbach concludes;

‘So, no, if modern weapons can’t even take down the U-2, they could not shoot down the SR-71.’

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Pages Habubrats and Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: Judson Brohmer / U.S. Air Force, Vitaly V. Kuzmin via Wikipedia and Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird model
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Linda Sheffield Miller

Linda Sheffield Miller

Grew up at Beale Air Force Base, California. I am a Habubrat. Graduated from North Dakota State University. Former Public School Substitute Teacher, (all subjects all grades). Member of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolutionary War). I am interested in History, especially the history of SR-71. Married, Mother of three wonderful daughters and four extremely handsome grandsons. I live near Washington, DC.
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