Defending Mother Russia
Bluffer’s Guide to Fortress Russia (Part 1): Integrated Air Defence of Russia 2010
See KMZ file attached for placemarks. My blog http://planeman-bluffersguide.blogspot.com/
- Fighter aircraft
- Anti-ballistic missile shield
- Strategic SAMs
Strictly amateur and unbiased, and not intended as authoritative or exhaustive. Constructive feedback and corrections welcome. All artworks by me, Planeman. I’ve learned a lot researching this and am indebted to countless people. For acknowledgements please see appendix.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was rapidly followed by years of underfunding and downsizing of Russian air defences of all types. New equipment procurement was limited and readiness reduced. Despite this, because the least capable aircraft and SAMs were the first to be retired (for the most part) the average air defence equipment became more capable. Soviet military technology was undoubtedly behind the West in many respects, but air defence was less unequal when the latest equipment was considered; The Su-27 Flanker was a formidable adversary closing the gap on the F-15, and the S-300 SAM system is at least equal, maybe better, than the Patriot system.
Despite this, in 1987 a West German teenager famously flew a light aircraft across the Russo-Finnish border and landed it in Red Square, Moscow. He was not challenged or shot down, despite flying through the engagement envelopes of countless fighters and SAM systems. It is perhaps an unfair test of the systems as he was in a civilian light aircraft flying from a ‘neutral’ country and not resembling a WW3 igniting NATO strike package. But it did a lot to undermine the impenetrable image of the Soviet Integrated Air Defences and certainly raised questions as to their effectiveness. It was not the first time Russian supplied or influenced integrated air defences (IAD) had been found wanting; the year before USAF, USN and USMC carrier aircraft had successfully struck Libyan targets with just one loss. Although Libya did not deploy the then latest Soviet systems, Soviet advisors who inspected the Libyan defences shortly after were incredulous that the US could so easily penetrate the IAD. What did this mean for Russia’s own IAD?
However, the general consensus is that the Flankers, Foxhounds and S-300 systems employed today are extremely potent against conventional strike packages. Today Russia’s air defence is among the most formidable in the world, at least on paper. Russia’s economy, generally speaking, is recovering from the 1990s and reinvestment in air defences is taking place with the first few Sukhois, MiGs and S-400 missiles being deployed.
Contention still presides over the relative effectiveness of these systems against stealth aircraft. In 1999 a USAF F-117 stealth fighter was shot down over Kosovo by the Serbian army using a modified though generally obsolete SA-3 SAM system (no longer used by Russia). The exact events surrounding this combat loss are widely debated but it is commonly agreed that use of long-wavelength radars assisted the detection. Until one of the second-generation Stealths (F-22/B-2) is employed over an IAD with S-300s and Flankers, it is pointless debating this scenario IMO. No doubt however the Russian defence industry has focused some time and scant resources to the problem of engaging stealth aircraft.
Today, Russia is somewhat smaller than the Soviet Union was:
Even after the unplanned territorial downsizing Russia is still the largest country on earth. Population and infrastructure is concentrated on the Western side of the country, with a few scattered militarily strategic areas along the Southern borders and Pacific coast. The North and East, Siberia, is largely an uninhabited wasteland.
For most of the 1990s and 2000’s the Russian Air Force’s primary Air-Defence fighters were the Sukhoi Su-27 and MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’, with lesser numbers of MiG-31 Foxhounds also deployed. Although the MiG-25 Foxbat remains in service its numbers have been immaterial for years. The MiG-31s suffered from poor maintenance but a significant portion have been brought back to operational status and many upgraded. Estimate of operational air-defence assets as of 2010:
Su-27 Flanker - 322
Su-30 Flanker – 12
Su-35BM Flanker – 4
MiG-31 Foxhound - 286
MiG-29 Fulcrum – 194
MiG-25 Foxbat (fighter versions) - 0
Total - 818
Note: Estimate as intended as indicative. My estimate is somewhat higher than some others, particularly for MiG-31s returned to operational service, but lower than others for example Su-35BM induction to service.
Generally speaking the Russian Air Force remains very large and potent by world standards, though relative to American/ NATO, air-defence assets, the Russian Air force is small. In part this is because, relative to NATO militaries, a far greater emphasis is placed on long ranged SAMs in Russian military (see below), allowing fewer air defence aircraft. A bigger factor perhaps is that following the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia scaled back its military and the fleet that remained suffered years of underfunding and consequently poor readiness and air worthiness.
The lost years of the 1990s also means that the Russian Air Force is behind the curve with operational deployment of truly multi-role and swing-role types. Russian MiG-29s and Su-27s are primarily air defence aircraft, with multirole models mostly confined to export brochures. Even with the advent of the Su-35BM aircraft will not shift this paradigm significantly. Russia’s strike aircraft assets, whilst formidable in their own right, have little material air-defence value. Therefore, relative to Western air forces where truly multirole F-16s, F-18s, F-4s and Mirages make up the backbone of strike assets, Russia has a much less ‘emergency’ re-tasking potential at times of crisis to boost air defence fighter assets.
Background: Russia’s economic woes delayed progression of Russia’s 5th Generation fighter aircraft until the late 2000’s, with the first prototype of the next generation PAK-FA fighter not flying until January 2010. PAK-FA is the program name and stands for “Perspektivny Aviatsionny Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsii” (Future aviation complex - frontline aircraft) and the actual aircraft will likely get a regular Su- designation and NATO reporting name. Contrary to many speculations, the T-50 prototype designation does not automatically make it the Su-50 in service. Sukhoi normally reserves even numbered designations for strike aircraft. If I was a betting person I’d wager the in-service designation will be Su-41. The NATO reporting name is also subject to much speculation, with “Firefox” being a popular choice. Firefox was of course the name attributed to the fictional Soviet “MiG-31 Firefox” super-fighter of the 1982 box-office blooper of the same name.
If air combat was won on looks, the sleek Sukhoi PAK-FA would be the undeniable king of the modern battlefield. Aesthetically often compared to the universally popular Northrop YF-23 Black Widow (which lost to the YF-22 to become USAF’s 5th generation stealth fighter), the Sukhoi is both elegant and menacing at the same time. The PAK-FA has been hyped for several years and the recently unveiled the prototype has exceeded expectations in many corners and increased speculative comparisons to F-22 and F-35.
The T-50 has a generally conventional layout with tailplanes, but additionally moving LERX above the engine intakes. The tail fins are unusually small, and all-moving. The engines are mounted far apart, optimizing the impact of the 3D thrust vectoring control, and allowing for two large weapons bays mounted in tandem between them.
Unknowns: At the time of writing, speculation is rampant regarding obvious features such as the size, stealth, weapons and avionics. In some dark corners of the internet this debate extends to the exact manner of main undercarriage stowage, and the manner of hiding the engine turbines from radar waves entering the engine inlets. To my amateur eye, the popular size estimate of 22m in length is somewhat too long; I suspect that overall dimensions are approximately as per F-22.
From certain angles the T-50 looks considerably smaller than the Flanker, although the internal volume is probably closer than it may first appear as T-50 has a more compact layout.
My artist’s impression of an in-service PAK-FA. The only noticeable differences to the T-50 prototype are the lack of external framing in the canopy, and the covering of the T-50’s exposed metal engine shroud to allow RAM paint over this part. The above illustration is generally compatible with Saturn’s artist’s concept.
At this time it seems likely that here are three airframes, one being a static test unit. It is not clear if both of the others are flying, but at least one has received a RuAF style splinter camouflage scheme and non-standard Russian Star emblem on the tail (note that it is not the now-standard and generally unpopular tri-color star of the RuAF).
Comparison: Raptor killer?
It has been suggested that for the PAK-FA to be successful it does not need to exceed the F-22, merely come close enough to shift popular perception of the F-22’s unrivaled dominance of the 5th Generation stage. There will always be die-hard proponents of both planes and any definitive analysis is certainly premature. The following observations should be taken within the context of amateur analysis based on scant reliable information. I think it makes little sense to dive into details, any meaningful comparison must remain high-level.
Stealth: There can be no serious doubt that the PAK-FA is a stealth aircraft; stealth shaping is a compromise and the T-50 clearly shows design decisions which make no sense if stealth was not the aim. Frontal aspect stealth is likely very good. The rear of the engine nacelles has more questionable stealth however and suggests a focus on frontal aspect stealth with rear aspect-stealth clearly being a feature but less-so than F-22. Alternatively the engine nacelles may be remodeled when the production standard engine is introduced (the prototype likely flew with interim Saturn 117S engines to reduce risk). PAK-FA clearly uses shaping to deflect radar waves, and presumably will be painted in a RAM paint. It may also employ ‘Plasma stealth’, particularly within radomes. Although the cockpit canopy is sloped as per the F-22s (ie not ‘bubble’), it is not clear if it is radar reflecting like the F-22’s, and does not have the brown tinge of gold-lined cockpits. Radomes and cockpit canopies are said to be amongst the most difficult parts of an aircraft to make stealthy and it may be that this technology is proving more difficult to develop.
Both aircraft are credited with super-cruise, the ability to fly at supersonic speeds without using afterburner, and thus increasing range and reducing heat signatures compared to other fighters at equivalent speeds.
Air-Air Weapons: Russia has unveiled the RVV-SD missile, an updated version of the AA-12 Adder missile with folding fins, as the main missile of the aircraft. Although the PAK-FA’s weapons bays can likely carry larger missiles, they are probably not large enough for the massive KS-172 (RVV-L) weapon which has an expected range of about 400km. Reports indicate that this missile, or one with similar performamce, can be carried externally. The ramjet powered version of the AA-12 Adder promoted in the 1990s seems to have been dropped. The RVV-SD is likely a good match for the latest AMRAAM variants, though both may be eclipsed by the ramjet powered long range Meteor missile which will be fielded on ‘Eurocanards’ like the Gripen and Typhoon by the time PAK-FA enters service.
The above comparison with the F-22 shows the larger main weapons bays of the PAK-FA (red). The F-22 can carry 6 AMRAAM missiles in the main bay. Reports indicate that the PAK-FA can carry 8 equivalent AA-12 (RVV-SD) missiles, giving it a 2 missile advantage. The side bays (orange) are of similar capacity with both aircraft carrying just one short-range missile per bay. For the PAK-FA the two smaller weapons bays are probably for the RVV-MD version of the AA-11 Archer short range missile. The RVV-MD is probably capable of rear-firing, a unique feature whereby the missile flips immediately after launch and flies at a target behind the plane. AA-12s with this feature have been tested and are possibly operational within the Flanker community.
The F-22 is currently equipped with relatively outdated AIM-9 variants, and lacking a helmet mounted sight for off-boresight targeting. This is likely to be rectified before the PAK-FA enters full scale service and so F-22 and PAK-FA will likely be closely match in this technology.
Both aircraft are equipped with a single cannon; 20mm Vulcan for the F-22 and probably a Gsh-30-1 (as per the Flanker) for the PAK-FA. Many reports suggest that PAK-FA will have two cannons but this seems unlikely and the T-50 prototype appears to only have one gun port, situated on the starboard forward fuselage.
Air-Ground role: The F-22 started life as a straightforward air superiority fighter (later rebranded “Air Dominance”) but has been evolved to carry a potent strike capability. Part of the drive towards the multirole capability was the conspicuous absence of a credible “5th Generation” air threat from the Russian side. The F-22 was conceived in the 1980s against the background of the cold war, facing off to a generation of Soviet fighters which never came. For a while the F-22 looked somewhat spare and a strike capability was added, made possible by US advances in GPS weaponry. The F-22’s internal weapons bays were not large enough for substantial loads so special smaller-diameter bombs have been developed. The F-22’s air-ground weapons load is modest to say the least, but its ability to deliver them to the target seems unrivalled and more than makes up for this deficiency.
The PAK-FA too is reportedly a multi-role design. The internal weapons bays appear larger than on F-22, but are of unconfirmed depth and may not be capable of carrying many of the weapons speculated. Various Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton) family supersonic missiles seem plausible albeit on the large side, as do satellite guided bombs and KAB-500 series bombs. The weapons bays are about 5m long.
A folding fin version of the Kh-58 ‘Kilter’ anti-radiation missile has been shown and this seems a reasonable fit, though may be more relevant to the MiG SKAT UCAV program rather than the PAK-FA.
Avionics: The PAK-FA has several features of particular interest here. In the nose there is likely to be active electronically scanned array radar (AESA) as per F-22. This may actually have additional mechanical steering, although that would add weight. What’s virtually unique to the PAK-FA however is rear-facing radar in the tail. This too may be AESA and could simply be an additional array for the nose-mounted radar, or possibly a completely separate set. The PAK-FA therefore has true 360 degree coverage. Additionally the PAK-FA is thought to have L-Band radars mounted in the wing leading edges. These would have both passive and active emitting roles and may be the key to ‘seeing’ stealth aircraft such as the F-22. Alternatively these may be located in the wing LERX sides – the exact location is subject to some speculation. The F-22’s stealth is generally optimized against X-band radars as that is what fighters generally use – L-Band is a much longer wavelength and can more easily detect stealth aircraft but is also less accurate -hence X-band radars are still used for routine intercept and virtually all fighters use X-Band.
There is serious doubt of Russia’s ability to mass produce key computer components such as micro processors. This may prove a deployment bottleneck, or Western off-the-shelf processors may be used. Russia has proven capability to produce Phased array radars, datalinks etc and may attempt to sidestep technological deficiencies.
Unlike the F-22 the PAK-FA will feature an IRST optical/IR search and tracking system. The decision not to fit an IRST to the F-22 may be reconsidered to rectify this gap. IRST promises to be the best way to target stealth aircraft since regardless of the IR stealth claims made of the F-22, jet engines are fundamentally not conducive to IR invisibility. The trail of hot air behind the F-22 is likely the first thing the PAK-FA may see, perhaps as far as 25km.
Sukhoi’s recent demonstration cockpit mock-ups, which may relate to both Su-35 or PAK-FA, suggest two very large multi-function-displays (MFDs) and a very wide Head-up-display (HUD). The T-50-1’s cockpit clearly has the massive HUD. If this mock-up cockpit is essentially similar to PAK-FA’s, then compared to the F-22 the PAK-FA’s will take advantage of advancing technologies of past decade and be relatively more advanced than F-22s. The F-22 has 4 large and two small MFDs and a large HUD, but PAK-FA’s two displays are much larger still and the HUD even bigger:
Dogfighting: The F-22 is exceptionally maneuverable, but comparatively less dogfight optimized compared to the PAK-FA which has 3D thrust vectoring and moving LERX. This seems in line with Russian doctrine still influenced by the Syrian experiences over the Baka Valley in 1981 where Soviet supplied fighters were decimated by the Israeli air force in close combat. It seems probable that the PAK-FA is more maneuverable, but the F-22 may have speed-bleed/regain advantages.
The F-22 has larger wing leading-edge flaps and larger tail planes. The PAK-FA’s tail fins are smaller but all-moving and the 3D TVC allows the engines to be used both laterally and horizontally unlike the F-22 which relies on massive tail fins for lateral stability and yaw control.
Export market and proliferation: This in my eyes is by far the most impactful difference. PAK-FA is intended to be exported, both via the related Indo-Russian FGFA program (a two seat Su-30MKI replacement) and in the general export market. Within the latter, the most probable customers in my eyes (as of 2010 geo-politics) are Brazil, Venezuela, Belarus, Libya, Angola, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. Syria is never likely able to afford it and Iran is likely to fall from favor.
Therefore the most probable actual air-air adversary, and sales competitor, is the F-35 not the F-22; production of the F-22 is scheduled to stop with just 187 operational airframes and no exports. PAK-FA is also likely to be operated in relatively small numbers, but by many more air forces.
Generally analogous to the F-15A/C Eagle, the Flanker is a heavyweight air-superiority fighter. First introduced in the 1980s the Flanker was only in service in rather modest numbers at the fall of the USSR, and many of them ended up in former USSR air forces, particularly Ukraine. Despite this, the Flanker became the backbone of the Russian Air Force and is seen by many as something of a design marvel.
Sukhoi developed a number of versions, now separated as Su-27, Su-30 and Su-35. The Su-27 is essentially an air-combat only version and the mainstay of the Russian Air Force’s Flanker fleet. The Su-30 an improved longer ranged air defence version with additionally improved strike capabilities, and lastly the Su-35 with generally upgraded capabilities across the board.
Although Russia operates a small number of Su-30s, it has left the long-ranged air defence niche to the MiG-31. The Su-30 is an evolution of the Su-27 family principally with greater endurance and a two-man crew to help cope with long range air defence missions. The aircraft’s air-ground capabilities were also improved although this is less of a factor for Russian Air Force.
The Flanker family has been a significant export success and for the first time since WW2, export variants are of equal or superior combat capability than those in operation with Russia’s own air force. Whilst Sukhoi was wowing air show crowds and foreign defence officials with its canard equipped 3-D thrust vectoring versions, the Russian Air Force did not purchase these enhanced versions. Consequently, although upgraded, the backbone of the Flanker fleet remains basic Su-27 versions.
Russia has ordered a relatively small number (48) of Su-35BM fighters to enter service over the next few years. In terms of combat capability, this is essentially an avionics improvement, with the Su-35BM, like the regular Su-27s in service, lacking the canards and thrust-vectoring many spectators expected.
The Flankers are deployed to offer the primary means of air-superiority covering the whole Western border adjacent to NATO-dominated Europe, and also in the Far East supplementing the Foxhounds covering technologically advanced and well equipped Japan and South Korea. No Flankers are normally deployed within range of Alaskan air space, which is guarded by USAF F-22s.
Although based on the famous MiG-25 Foxbat interceptor, the Foxhound is closer in role to the older subsonic Tu-28 Fiddler and Yak-28 Firebar heavy fighters it replaced in the long-range intercept and patrol role. Like those aircraft, it is massive, and although suited to long endurance and high speed stand-off intercept, it is correspondingly weak at close range combat. In Western parlance it could be seen as the land-based equivalent to the Gruman F-14 Tomcat, or a much larger Tornado F3.
The original weapons fit for the Foxhound was 4 AA-9 AMOS active radar homing missiles (similar to US Phoenix, maximum range an impressive 160km) under the fuselage and two IR guided AA-6 Acrid missiles inherited from the Foxbat (maximum range 50km) on the inner wing stations. The Foxhound can also carry twin AA-8 Aphid short ranged missiles on the inner wing pylons in place of the Acrid. Because the Acrid and Aphid are generally obsolete, some of the Foxhound fleet have been modernized to carry AA-11 Archer IR guided missile and AA-12 Adder medium range radar guided missiles, greatly increasing potency. Acrid is still deployed operationally on the Foxhound fleet however. The Foxhound can also carry outer wing pylons but these are rarely seen.
In current Russian Air Force service Foxhounds are concentrated at just six air bases.
The outer rings are 1200km from the bases an represent to typical combat radius without in-flight refueling. The inner rings represent the approximate combat radius for a quick-reaction supersonic intercept at around Mach 2.3.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the MiG-29 Fulcrum fleet has been the most neglected of the three fighter types retained in service, clearly not favored by the Russian Air Force compared to the Flanker. The Foxhound too received funds for modernization and maintenance before the ailing Fulcrum fleet which consequently suffered a series of accidents and was grounded for part of the last few years. Finally funds for some degree of modernization materialized and some MiG-29s have been upgraded, and a limited number of more capable MiG-29SMTs have been inducted into service. The MiG-29SMT deal is actually controversial as 28 of Russia’s SMTs were originally destined for the Algerian Air Force who rejected the airframes on quality issues and rescinded the contract. Total upgrades to SMT standard in Russian Air Force are estimated at between 150 and 178 depending on whether the Algerian aircraft add to the original planned number or not. As of early 2010 about 40 SMTs seems realistic.
The Fulcrum is deployed principle in the Central-eastern and Southern-European areas, with just one base in the Far East facing China. The relatively short operational radius of the jet is a key factor in its usefulness following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with a war in Central Europe now unlikely. The SMT model has significantly better range but still no comparison to the Flanker and Foxhound. Fulcrum is not deployed to the key strategic areas of the Kola Peninsula (extreme north-west of Russia adjacent to Norway/Finland and a key naval area) or Vladivostok in the Far East. In both cases Flankers and Foxhounds are based there.
Strategic SAM Network
Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) network
Russia’s current primary ABM system is equipped with 68 silo-launched Gazelle (53T6) missiles located at 5 sites around Moscow.
The Gazelle is the only operational ABM system in the world generally considered capable of shooting down inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Although there have been similar systems developed by both USA and USSR in the past, the Gazelle is the only system remaining. The proliferation of ABM systems in recent years has focused on intercepting short range and medium range missiles – ICBMs are an order of magnitude faster than even MRBMs and more commonly employ multiple re-entry vehicles.
When considered against the number of ICBMs in American service the 68 missiles seems inadequate to offer complete defence, but rather defence against a ‘rogue’ launch. The number of ABMs deployed was actually limited in the 1972 ABM treaty, but the US’s retraction from the treaty has not been met by Russia deploying more Gazelle sites – instead Russia retired the complementary 51T6 Gorgon system (together with Gazelle these formed the A-135 ABM system) and replaced the Gazelle’s original 1Megaton nuclear warhead with a conventional one. The now redundant Gorgon sites, which have silos compatible with the Gazelle missile, do not appear to have been reused to deploy Gazelle.
Although the Gazelle is transported on a Maz truck similar to the SA-10, it is not a mobile system. The large overhang at the rear is designed to drop into the top of the silo for the missile tube to be lowered into place vertically.
Photos of the Gazelle missile itself are extremely rare in the public domain but some details are known. The overall shape of the missile is tapered a lot like the US Sprint ABM. It is optimized for rapid launch and extreme speed. The missile is hot launched and has at least two phases with the first phase burning for about 6 seconds, and the second phase igniting about 1 second later. It does not appear that the first phase detaches after burn-out.
The Gazelle system uses the 5N20 ‘Pill Box’ radar for guidance. A single site for this radar is located north of Moscow adjacent to the north-most Gazelle launch site. The Pill Box radar is outwardly somewhat similar to the US Pave Paw system, with massive circular phased array radars mounted on each side of a large square building with tapered sides.
The Pill Box radar is supported by a network of Daryal (5N79) radars which are also massive phased arrays. Although 3 of the original 9 Daryal sites have been dismantled, the system remains a key part of Russia’s early warning network. Daryal consists of an approximately square tower-block size building mounting a high-power transmitter, and an even larger receiver array. The system has a detection range of about 6,000km and a design transmitting power is 350 megawatts making it about 88 times more powerful than an AN/SPY-1 AEGIS radar.
The latest Russian early warning radars are two of the Voronezh type, though each very different from one another. Voronezh -M (M = meter wavelength) is a large framework array angled as per the Daryal but lacking the building, and situated near St Petersberg facing West.
Voronezh –DM (DM = Decimeter wavelength) is located at Armavir and features a large array built into a building as per the Daryal, but seemingly mounted vertically rather than sloping. It is possible that the antenna itself is sloping, but hidden behind a vertical covering. The Voronezh-DM site has two radars, one facing approximately SW and one SE, built onto the runway of a disused military airfield.
The two Voronezh complexes replace Daryal radars which were incomplete or subsequently dismantled following the breakup of the Soviet Union. When the Daryal and Voronezh sites are considered together, they offer Russia significant missile detection coverage.
Combined radar coverage view:
The above illustration is useful, but not intuitive because these are not ‘over the horizon’ radars as such. The further away from the radar you get, the higher the ‘radar horizon’ is above sea level. Therefore the practical maximum range to detect an incoming ICBM is about 3,500km regardless of the radar used. The longer range of these radars is more useful for other tasks, such as space observation where they track satellites.
Air Force SAM network
The Soviet Legacy
Modern Russia inherited the USSR’s vast SAM network, including most of the current S-300 series sites, many of which are located on former SA-2 sites. At its height the Soviet SA-2 network had approximately 1,000 SAM Sites, many of which can now be seen on Google Earth. The main SAM network in Russia is operated by the Air Force, with the Army generally operating different systems. A brief chronology of the Air Force SAM systems:
SA-1 Guide (S-25). Anti-Ballistic missile system deployed around Moscow. Replaced by SA-10 by 1982.
SA-2 Guideline (S-75). Medium ranged high-altitude SAM widely deployed. Many variants and widely exported. Phased out of Russian service in 1990s.
SA-3 Goa (S-75). Short-medium range system more commonly deployed to defend specific high-value targets.
SA-5 Gammon (S-200). Ultra-long ranged SAM system, with correspondingly poor mobility. Phased out by 2001 but still employed by other nations.
SA-10 Grumble (S-300P). Replacement for SA-2, generally analogous to Patriot. Main SAM from late 1980s through to present. Several variants in service, and generally considered more mobile than previous systems, but deployed in static sites in peace time. Later versions designated SA-20 Gargoyle.
SA-21 Growler (S-400). Development of S-300 series. Introduced to service 2007 and slowly replacing older S-300s.
Whilst the SA-1 network was only deployed around Moscow, with the advent of the SA-2 the Soviets began a widespread deployments with rings of sites surrounding major cities and strategic sites, and vast belts of sites along the borders. In many respects this was simply the Soviet equivalent of the US’ Nike-Ajax/Hercules and BOMARC SAM networks. The SA-2 was augmented by the shorter ranged but more advanced SA-3 system, which was deployed both tactically, and at fixed sites by the air force.
The SA-2 Network, now defunct:
Note: SAM Sites sourced from Sean O’Connor, who maintains an excellent Google Earth placemarks file for SAM sites worldwide at http://geimint.blogspot.com/ . White placemarks are former sites, red are active SA-2 sites (none in modern Russia) and blue are active SA-3 sites (again none in modern Russia). Site that were subsequently re-used for SA-10 are not shown.
Key to border deployment. Note that these are my groupings and do not reflect the Soviet organization of these assets:
A. Kola peninsula and Severodvinsk area. Major naval bases including ballistic missile submarine bases.
b. Baltic coast. Baltic states now independent.
c. Belarus and Ukrainian border with Warsaw Pact.
d. Ukrainian coast. Covering NATO ingress routes from Greece and Turkey.
e. Crimea. Major naval and aviation bases. Strategic location.
F. Eastern Black Sea coast. Covering NATO ingress routes from and Turkey.
G. Caucasus states. Covering NATO ingress routes from Turkey, and US Ally (until 1978) Iran.
H. The Great wall of USSR.
The arctic north was generally not covered by SA-2 sites. The border with Finland also appears to be sparsely covered.
SA-10A Grumble (S-300PT)
The original SA-10 system was designed as a straight replacement for the SA-2, and was deployed rapidly in the early 1980s, mostly to former SA-2 sites. This represented a quantum leap in lethality, and the system is still credible today. It is however almost completely replaced by more modern iterations of the SA-10 family.
Compared to the SA-2 the SA-10 was designed from the outset as a more mobile system, able to redeploy more easily. Whereas a single SA-2 battery had six launchers with 6 missiles ready to fire (equating to 3 engagements assuming standard ripple fire), a typical SA-10 battery had 4 or more launchers each with four missiles ready to fire. Despite the enhanced mobility the system is deployed to fixed sites in peacetime as per virtually all other area-defence SAMs. Because many SA-2 sites were reused the deployment pattern was somewhat constrained by the previous system.
Unlike more recent versions of the SA-10, the SA-10A used a semi-trailer with an unusual split-front arrangement whereby the missiles hinged towards the front of the trailer. The trailer did not have integral generator . More recent versions use either an eight wheel Maz off-road truck (‘TEL’ – Transporter, Erector, Launcher) or a towed trailer with generator where the missiles hinge to the rear.
A handful of SA-10A sites remain operational and it seems reasonable to assume that significant stocks and equipments remain in reserve. There are 3 active sites around Severodvinsk in NW Russia, and 2 around Novosibirsk in central-southern Russia.
A more recent 2009 imagery update of the above site confirms continued S-300PT deployment.
SA-10B Grumble (S-300PS)
The successor of the S-300PT is the S-300PS (SA-10B). As well as a general upgrade in missiles, radars and other equipment, this system features the now synonymous Maz 8x8 TEL:
The S-300PS uses the 36D6 ‘Tin Shield’ surveillance radar which can be mounted on top of a mast for better coverage:
SA-20 Gargoyle (S-300PM)
The Russian service equivalent to the infamous S-300PMU export series, the S-300PM is an incremental update of the SA-300PS. In Russian service the S-300PM can be differentiated from the S-300PS by use of a towed TEL rather than the Maz 8x8 truck.
The site layout for Russian S-300PM depends on the previous SAM system deployed to that location. The sites around Moscow are laid out as per the SA-1 SAM system, whereas elsewhere they are in variations of SA-2 and SA-10 layouts:
S-300PMs are concentrated around Moscow, in a ring. The density of advanced air defences here is unparalleled in the entire world.
The S-300PM also uses the more advanced Big-Bird radar rather than Tin Shield.
Around Moscow, the Big Bird radars are often mounted on tall towers to greatly increase radar coverage, particularly against low flying targets. The radar sites are often close to, but separate from, the launch sites. A single Big Bird radar can serve multiple batteries, and/or all of the Big Bird radars are consolidated into a single air picture.
The towers are 30m in height, and are also employed with the Tin Shield radar and other, older radars.
SA-21 Growler (S-400)
The latest and most potent SAM system in RuAF service, the S-400 Triumf is an incremental improvement on the previous S-300P series (see below). Externally the main difference
The only operational Growler site confirmed as of early 2010 is on the West side of Moscow within the Gargoyle SAM belt, near the town of Elektrostal. The site is not covered by sufficiently recent imagery in Google Earth but has been identified as a former SA-1 site.
There are probably two other active SA-21 sites, one being around Moscow and one in Far East but exact locations have yet to be confirmed (source: Sean O’Connor).
Operational SA-21 sites only appear to have the legacy S-20 48N6DM missile, but a longer ranged (400km) is in testing and the active-radar homing 9M96 missiles can also be used.
The S-200 (SA-5 Gammon) missile system was introduced in the 1960s to complement the already old SA-2. The Gammon is most notable for its extreme range of 250km, although that is against high-flying non-maneuvering targets. The Gammon was thus seen as an “AWACS killer” especially when deployed by countries like Syria and Libya. In defence of Russia it was more useful against the expected streams of B-52s. It was in part because of missile systems that NATO heavy bombers started the low-level doctrine (B-1B, Vulcan). Operationally Gammon had some limitations inherent in building a missile with such range in the 1960s – it was massive and immobile. Like the older SA-2 the Gammon was deployed in fixed sites with rings of 6 launchers, although two rings were generally employed thus 12 ready to fire missiles per site.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the SA-5 was generally withdrawn from service and many sources suggest it has been retired from Russian service altogether. There remains at least one SA-5 site in Russia, clearly visible on Google Earth near Kaliningrad:
The Kaliningrad SA-5 site covers much NATO territory including NE Poland, and most of Latvia. Kaliningrad Oblast is an exclave of Russia with no direct border with the rest of Russia. It is heavily defended with SAMs and air bases.
Another site in the far north of Russia which is now deactivated:
Distribution of SAM network
Today Russian Air Force SAMs are positioned to defend strategic targets and major cities, and not in the ‘great ring’ of Soviet times. Although there are some 64 SA-10/SA-21 sites, plus one or two SA-5 and possibly some SA-2 sites, this is nowhere near the quantity of SA-2, SA-3 and SA-5 sites simultaneously deployed during the height of the cold war. There is clear open source imagery evidence of substantial open storage of SA-10 vehicles and components in several locations and serge deployment could see many more batteries deployed, but still nowhere near enough to cover every inch of territory. The 400km SA-21 system will greatly increase the footprint but it seems unlikely these will be deployed much different to the current SA-10s.
Moscow is an interesting model for air defence. No less than 19 SA-10 sites ring the city giving it unrivalled air defence. A confirmed SA-21 site is also present on the eastern side of the city, further improving the situation. As more SA-21 sites are bought up to action, the air defence and anti-ballistic-missile defence will increase dramatically. I cannot think of any city on earth that can possibly rival Moscow for air defences, although Pyongyang in North Korea is more ‘heavily’ defended and Natanz nuclear facility in Iran is by far the world’s most densely defended location. Neither of these locations rival 20 SA-10/SA-21 sites for potency. The actual layout of Moscow’s air defence ring is based on previous SA-1 Guide SAM sites and SA-2 sites.
Army SAM Systems – SA-12
Certain Russian Army SAM systems complement the RuAF S-300 series in peacetime, notably the related but quite different S-300V (SA-12) system. The SA-12 is relatively more mobile, designed to advance with the other Army units, providing long range area air defence. Relative to the SA-10 the SA-12 is anti-ballistic missile optimized, although recent SA-10 and SA-21 developments close this gap. The SA-12 system is very interesting but I am not going to cover it here as it should be saved for a subsequent Bluffer’s Guide on Russian Army.
Air Defence black hole?
When the practical engagement envelopes of all operational SAM and Fighter bases are plotted together, there remains a massive portion of Siberia with no viable coverage:
There are some hardened airstrips in Siberia which fighters could be forward deployed to eliminate this gap but there does not appear to be any history of routine deployment in this manner and the air strips/air ports in question have limited military infrastructure.
The situation remains similar when known long-range air surveillance radars are plotted:
In part this is a factor of the sheer size of Russia – even the smallest circles in the above image are 200km in radius! The radar coverage varies greatly depending on target altitude and radar cross-section.
The massive ‘black hole’ in Siberia is also target-less, it can be argued with some credence, that defending the Siberian wastelands is pointless as there is nothing to defend. At any rate only the USAF has aircraft which could conceivably take advantage of the black hole.
AttributionJim Lee, ClimateViewer News
Map: Fortress Russia - Air Defence Radar and Surface to Air Missile (SAM) Sites by Jim Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at climateviewer.org/. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at climateviewer.com/terms.
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