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Name of the Roses

Russia’s “joint” S-300 air defense system turned out to be nothing of the sort.

June 1, 2006
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In the late 1960s, the highest authorities in the Soviet Union (read: the Politburo of the Communist Party) were concerned about the growing costs of armaments development programs. At that time, the Soviet Union undertook tremendous efforts to field a broad range of new weapons types, including new air defense systems, such as the S-200 Angara (SA-5), 2K11 Krug (SA-4), 2K12 Kub (SA-6), ZSU-23-4 Shilka and the 9M32 Strela-2 (SA-7). Simultaneously, there were efforts to improve deployed systems, such as the SA-75 Dvina (SA-2), S-75 Desna, S-75M Volkhov and the S-125/S-125M Neva (SA-3), which were then in mass production. Moreover, the Country Air Defense Forces (Voiska Protivovozdushnoi Oborony Strany, or PVO-Strany) issued a requirement for a new air defense system that would replace the two existing transportable systems it fielded: the S-75 and S-125. Both of these were so-called “single-channel” systems that could engage only one target at a time. The single-engagement capability was the price for being transportable, as opposed to fixed or semi-fixed systems, such as the S-25 (SA-1) and S-200 (SA-5), respectively. The new PVO-Strany system was to be transportable and have the ability to engage multiple targets. The transportability was to enable a change in fire positions, which would increase the system’s survivability and combat effectiveness by countering an enemy’s efforts to develop a carefully scripted suppression attack against it. In addition, the Soviet Army also desired a new medium- to long-range system with the ability to engage multiple targets that, by necessity, would also be mobile. The Soviet Navy also expressed some interest in such a system.

Upon hearing all of these requests and more (for example, a new infantry combat vehicle to replace the just developed BMP-1), the Politburo members became furious. The new Brezhnev administration generally supported strong military forces but, at the same time, it wanted to spend funds for military programs in a more rational way than the ill-fated Khrushchev’s team had. Therefore, the Politburo started to seek ways of consolidating defense spending, although the effort was not even close to the extent that the US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, tried in the United States during roughly the same period. One seemingly obvious method (and one also pursued by McNamara) was to combine the similar requirements of different services into common programs to avoid what appeared to be duplications of efforts.

Thus, the Soviet Council of Ministers decided that fulfilling the requirements of all the services for new air defense systems would be just such a duplication of effort and, in December 1966, it directed the Voyenno-Promyslenny Komplex (VPK, the military-industrial complex) to organize the development of a single medium- to long-range mobile air defense system with the ability to engage multiple targets that would be common for three services: the Air Defense Forces (PVO-Strany, coded “P”), the Soviet Army (Sukhoputnoye Voiska, coded “S”) and the Soviet Navy (Flot, coded “F”).

The First Cracks

This decision immediately sparked heated discussions among specialists from the military forces, industry, the Ministry of Defense and the Politburo. Most of the military and industry authorities strongly opposed a “joint” program. Only the Navy did not object vigorously, since it usually got versions of land systems anyway (there was only one pure naval air defense missile system ever developed in the Soviet Union: the M-11 Shtorm, or SA-N-3). The Army, however, was strongly against the idea. Army officers believed that a system developed for the Country Air Defense would first meet PVO-Strany’s requirements, leaving the mobile forces with a cumbersome, heavy and complicated system. PVO-Strany was usually more powerful in the Soviet military hierarchy, and the Soviet Army was definitely sensitive about combining development efforts with this service. Army officers knew that they would not be able to change a decision that originated from the highest Communist Party authorities, so they started to sabotage the program in an effort to make it appear that separate systems were needed. (Their posture was somewhat similar to the US Navy’s when it was forced to acquire the F-111B aircraft, a version of the US Air Force’s F-111A fighter-bomber.) The Soviet Army wrote its requirements in such a way that PVO-Strany would not accept them. One of the primary features of the Army system was the ability to engage short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The Army stated that it was absolutely essential to provide the land forces with effective protection against US Pershing 1A missiles with a range of 740 km. This requirement was set by Gen. Col. Pavel N. Kuleshov, then chief of Glavnoye Raketno-Artileriyske Upravleniye (GRAU, Main Missile-Artillery Directorate). Although desiring an anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) capability was rational, the firm statement that an ABM capability against medium-range missiles was absolutely essential immediately created a technological challenge. At the same time, it was clear that PVO-Strany would not demand any ABM capability, since its systems protected objects located well beyond the range of theater ballistic missile (TBM), and a strategic ABM capability was provided by a dedicated system deployed only around Moscow. (The Moscow ABM system, A-35 and A-135, requires a separate description and lies outside the scope of this article.) The other important requirement the Army laid down was the need for a lightly armored, tracked chassis. Again, it was obvious that tracked vehicles and light armor would be luxuries for PVO-Strany and that it would not want to pay for them. Both services, however, agreed that the range of the air defense system be at least 50 to 60 km (not less than the S-75M Volkhov or 2K11 Krug), that it have the ability to engage targets at altitudes from 25 to 25,000 m, that it have the capability to engage at least six targets at a time (to account for a four-ship formation in a single engagement sequence at a kill probability of 75 percent), and that the system also be able to engage small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and cruise missiles flying at extremely low altitude at high subsonic speed. The Army also wanted the capability to engage hovering helicopters, but there was a willingness to be flexible on this point. As was expected, PVO-Strany wanted to downgrade the Army version: no ABM capability, no armor and a wheeled chassis (no cross-country mobility required).

In May 1969, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Council of Ministers, during a joint session, issued a decision regarding the development of a unified S-300 system. The document directed that a unified system, adapted to the needs of the three services, was to be developed cooperatively by the following organizations: MKB “Strela” would develop the S-300P version for PVO-Strany; VNII RE MSP would develop the S-300F version for the Navy; and NIEMI would develop the S-300V version for the Army. This decision was meaningful. Theoretically, it demanded that all three versions be unified, but at the same time, separate organizations were responsible for their development, so the commonality was doubtful at best. Soviet authorities thought that a joint system would be developed. They were wrong.

The S-300P project for the air defense Forces was to be based on the earlier MKB “Strela” concept program. It was decided that the core of the system would consist of a dozen launchers that would carry single-stage solid-fuel missiles (SA-10 Grumble), a target-tracking and illumination radar, and a command post. The radar was to be based on modular solid-state electronics. The command post was to automatically control the radar and would be equipped with a digital computer. All of the system’s electronics were to be digital and solid state. It is worth mentioning that the S-300F’s core remained very similar, with the use of the same missile in a “navalized” form (5V55RM and later 48N6M — “M” for morskiy, or naval) and a similar radar with a slightly different, stabilized antenna, adapted for naval operations; some different radar electronics; and much different software.

As it might be expected, the Army version developed by NIEMI was based on the earlier S-500U conceptual model, and although called the S-300V, it did not develop into simply another version of the S-300 family. The S-300V became a very complicated and cumbersome system, with a few different types of complex radars, two types of missiles (SA-12a Gladiator and SA-12b Giant) and four types of launchers, all placed on tracked, lightly armored vehicles. The Army shot an “own goal” in setting such a wide range of challenging requirements. The resulting S-300V met all of these requirements as a system of impressive cost and complexity.

Rose One: S-300P

During the development of the S-300P, it was assumed that the system would be fully automated, from the collection of information about a target to engagement. The system was divided into the fire unit: the fire-control radar, the battery command post, a dozen launchers and auxiliary equipment; and the command-and-control unit with an interface to the regiment’s automated command-and-control system (the 5S99M Senezh). Rounding out the system was an acquisition radar (later it got two acquisition radars) and a battalion command post that controlled up to six fire batteries. Given that a battalion of S-300P (see Figure 1) would be able to engage up to 36 targets a time, this represented a rather dramatic increase in capabilities over previous systems such as the S-75 and S-125, which had only a single fire battery in a battalion with the ability to engage just one target at a time.

The digital computer for the S-300P, called 5E26, was developed by the Moscow Institute for Precise Mechanics and Computing Technologies. The biggest problem in its development was a lack of software specialists, but MKB Strela solved the problem by undertaking cooperation with the Moscow Physical and Mathematical Institute (MFTI), drafting the best graduates and even students for the effort. Such specialists were relatively rare in the early 1970s.

From the very beginning, it was assumed that the whole system would be mobile. But the main designer of the Minsk Automobile Factory (MAZ) in Belarus said that the chassis based on the MAZ-543 would not be ready within the timetable specified for the initial system production. Therefore, it was decided that the system would be built in two basic versions: S-300PT (“T” for transportiruyemiy, or transportable) and S-300PS (“S” for samokhodniy, or self-propelled).

The S-300P’s 5N63S (Flap Lid A) fire-control radar was developed by MKB “Strela” and consists of the F20 chassis based on the MAZ-543M vehicle, the F1S module behind the truck’s cabin that houses the 30N6 fire-control radar set with its phased array antenna, the F2K module with its 5E26 computer, communication equipment, the operators station and a 5S17 gas-turbine electrical power unit. The radar has a range of 250 km and can observe a 60° sector with the antenna fixed. The antenna can be quickly turned to change the observation sector towards any direction. The radar works at X-band, and its initial production version had 16,000 phased-array elements. The early radar can be recognized by the squarer shape of the antenna, which is wider than the later 30N6-1 version associated with the S-300PM. It could be easily recognized by the hydraulic telescopic servomotors that are attached to the bottom part of the antenna. In the S-300PM (Flap Lid B) version, the servomotors are attached to the sides of the antenna, which has a more rounded shape. The radar has the capability of electronic beam shaping and can engage up to six targets at a time with up to 12 missiles (two per target). The 5N63S and later 30N6-1 sets were produced by AOOT Moskovskiy Radiotekhnicheskiy Zavod (Moscow Radio-Technical Factory).

The 5N63S radar and battery command post with six launchers (two main and four auxiliary) formed a S-300PT battery, together with a crane and three 5T99 missile-transport vehicles. Technically, it was possible to associate as many as six main and six auxiliary launchers with a given fire-control radar, but this possibility was never pursued in front-line units. Three such batteries formed a battalion. Again, technically it was possible to attach six batteries to a battalion’s command system, but this possibility also was not pursued in Soviet and Russian front-line units. The battalion command post was formed around the 83M6 command-and-control (C2) system, which consisted of the 54K6 C2 post and the 64N6 observation and target-acquisition radar. The latter was not developed on time, and early S-300PT and S-300PS (see Figure 2) systems were issued with the “off-the-shelf” ST-68M (19Zh6; NATO: Tin Shield) radar. The radar was renamed 36D6 for the S-300PT/PS system. It works at S-band and has 3-D capability. It uses electronic scanning in elevation and mechanical scanning in azimuth. The detection range for a fighter-sized target is 147 to 175 km, flying between 2000 and 18000 m, 80 km for targets around 1000 m and 38 to 42 km against targets flying at 100 m. The radar could track up to 100 targets at a time. The ST-68M and 36D6 were accepted for service in 1981, together with the first fielded S-300PT. It was developed and produced by Zaporozhskiy Kazenniy Electromashinostroitelniy Zavod “Iskra” from Zaporozhe, in Ukraine.

The other radar usually attached to the battalion’s command post was initially the 5N66M (NATO: Clam Shell) radar for the detection of low flying targets (see Figure 3). It was developed by KB “Lira” from Lianozovo (a part of NPO Uties from Moscow). The system was later produced by Lianozovo Electro-Mechanical Plant (LEMZ) in Lianozovo. This radar had a vertical parabolic antenna, similar to the antennas of altitude-finder radars. The range of the radar was 300 km, and it had the ability to detect targets flying at 100 m at a distance of 48 km. The antenna was placed on a special 24.4 m 40V6 mast.

The 54K6 command system is a fully automated system, with the ability to track up to 100 targets in the vicinity of 500 km. The system controls the associated radars (initially, the 36D6 and 5N66M) and has interfaces to the Senezh (or Senezh-M) SAM brigade/regiment command system. The target tracks are a combination of the plots of targets detected by the battalion’s organic radars and plots of targets tracked by the Senezh system, which are passed to 54K6 in real time. The latter system merges data from all sources into a single air-situation picture and sends information about targets tracked by the battalion’s radar to the Senezh. Interestingly, the tracking data can be originated by passive detection systems and then fed through an automated C2 system to the 54K6 and further down to the S-300P batteries. With later systems (S-300PM/S-300PMU-1/2/S-400) (see Figure 4), it is possible to launch a missile against a target tracked by passive systems with all the battalion’s radars silent, just turning on the 30N6-1 radar for the final part of the engagement, a few seconds before a hit. Such a test with the use of Kolchuga-M stations (it is not known, however, whether it was Ukrainian Kolchuga-M or the much less known Russian Kolchuga-M) was conducted at the Sary-Shagan shooting range in September 2003.

Despite being accepted into service, the S-300PT and PS did not meet the main requirement for a 140 km range. Therefore, in January 1983 Soviet authorities mandated that a new upgraded system called the S-300PM would be developed. Work started immediately, and soon the new upgraded 30N6-1 radar (see Figure 5) was developed. It had a range of 300 km and could work in several modes: sector observation of 64° horizontally and 14° vertically (range: 160–240 km) as its primary mode, sector observation of 64° by 5° for long-range search (maximum range: 300 km), and 90° in azimuth and 1° in elevation for low level search (range of around 80–130 km below 1000 m of target altitude). The 30N6-1 radar received a new, narrower, rounder antenna (recognizable by a side attachment of hydraulic servo-mechanisms for antenna deployment and folding). The radar received the new 40U6 digital computer developed by the Moscow Institute for Precise Mechanics and Computing Technologies. The new digital computer enabled the introduction of new powerful software, which greatly increased the jamming resistance of the system. The modernized S-300PM system also received the 64N6 (NATO: Big Bird) observation radar and 5N66M (NATO: Clam Shell) low level observation radar (known better under its export designation of 76N6) and the new 48N6 missile.

The 64N6 observation radar was intended for the S-300P from the very beginning, but its prolonged development time forced the use of the 36D6 as a temporary solution. The 76N6 was a further developed version of the 5N66M used in earlier systems. The 64N6 radar was developed by Novosibirskiy NII Izmeritelnikh Priborov (Novosibirsk Research and Development Institute of Measurement Instruments) in Novosibirsk, which is presently also a part of the “Almaz” consortium. Production of the radar got underway at Novosibirskiy Zavod Imieni Kominterna (Novosibirsk Factory of Komintern) approximately in 1985. The radar has a large, double-sided, phased-array antenna and can work in a 360° observation mode (with revolutions) or in sector mode, observing a 75° sector. In elevation, the observation sector is 13.4° in detection mode and 55° when the target is tracked. The radar’s range is 260 km against fighter-sized targets at medium altitude. The radar can track up to 200 targets at a time, with an accuracy of 30° in azimuth, 35° in elevation and 200 m in distance. In the closer zone of observation (out to 64 km), the radar is protected against jamming by frequent power-output adjustment. At greater ranges, it uses a special algorithm that stabilizes false signal levels. In addition, the radar employs frequency hopping and electronic beam shaping. It has been assessed that its jamming resistance is relatively high.

The 5N66M radar, developed by KB “Lira” in Lianozovohas, has an antenna similar to its 5N66 predecessor. This is one of the most mysterious radars in the S-300P system, and not many of its technical parameters are known. The radar has a range of 300 km, and the antenna rotates very quickly — 20 revolutions per minute. The antenna is usually placed on the improved 39 m 40V6M mast, but doing so takes two hours.

The key for achieving the 150 km range was to develop a new missile with better energy characteristics, and such a missile — the 48N6 — was developed by MKB Fakel. The 48N6 missile is slightly bigger to accommodate a larger rocket engine. The missile’s length was increased to 7.5 m and the diameter to 519 mm. The missile’s weight was increased to 1850 kg, including a 143 kg warhead (slightly heavier than in previous missiles). The 48N6 missile’s rocket engine burns for about 12 seconds, which enables the missile to reach a maximum speed of 2000 m/sec. The missile has a track-via-missile guidance mode and can maneuver at up to 20 G. The maximum range of the missile was increased to 150 km, and the minimum engagement altitude was lowered from 25 m to just 10 m. The maximum engagement altitude is probably around 30,000 m.

The first elements of the S-300PM system were tested at the shooting range in 1984. Factory trials ended in mid-1987, and the system was submitted to state trials, which were conducted in 1988. The S-300PM system was accepted into service in the autumn of that year.

Rose Two (and Three): S-300V

The S-300V system has four types of launchers and two types of missiles. The 9M82 (SA-12b Giant) missile is primarily designed to engage TBMs, although it has an anti-aircraft capability), while the 9M83 (SA-12a Gladiator) is designed to engage short-range TBMs and highly maneuvering aircraft. Both missiles can maneuver at up to 20 G.

A S-300V brigade typically consists of three battalions, the basic fire unit. A battalion consists of a headquarters company and four launch batteries. The headquarters has a 9S457 command post (CP) and two radar sets: a 9S15M Obzor-3 (Bill Board) and a 9S19M2 (High Screen). Each of the launch batteries consists of a 9S32 (Grill Pan) fire-control radar station; two 9A82 transporter-erector-launcher and radar (TELAR) vehicles for anti-TBM-capable 9M82 missiles (two missiles per launcher); one 9A84 reload/transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle for 9M82 missiles; four 9A83 TELARs for 9M83 missiles (four missiles per launcher); and two 9A85 reload/ TELs for 9M83 missiles. All of the aforementioned equipment is fully mobile, mounted on a tracked chassis. The 9A82 and 9A83 launchers have an illumination radar for semi-active radar missile guidance. The 9A84 and 9A85 reloader/TELs have cranes to reload the other missiles on the TELARs as their primary function, but they could be also used as launchers in an emergency.

The mobile 9S457 CP receives information from the 9S15M and 9S19M2 radar sets, and from external sources via the Polyana-D4 C3 I system. The 9S457 command post is able to process information on approximately 200 targets and continuously track 70 of them. It can issue information on 24 targets to the batteries (six targets per battery). The command post also processes information uploaded from batteries about targets detected by their sensors, as well as combat and logistics status information, which is passed upwards to the brigade command center.

The 9S15M Obzor-3 is a 3-D phased-array radar, providing all-around surveillance, warning and target acquisition. It has three main modes of operation: long-range, 360° (12-second antenna rotation) surveillance; medium-range, 360° (six-second antenna rotation) surveillance; and anti-TBM surveillance in a 120° sector (four-seconds full-sector scan). In the first mode, the radar has a range of 330 km (large target) or 240 km (fighter or TBM), and it works with a 40° scan in elevation. In the second mode, the radar has a 150 km range (all targets), with 20° scan in elevation. In the third mode, the radar employs a 55° elevation scan, and the TBM-detection probability is greatly increased. It can detect a Scud-type TBM at 115 km and a Lance-type TBM at 95 km. The radar scans electro-mechanically in azimuth and electronically in elevation. It can track up to 200 targets.

The 9S19M2 Imbir radar set is designed for sector scan, with its main function being TBM warning. It has a fully phased-array antenna with an electronically scanned sector of ±45° in azimuth and +26° to +75° in elevation. The range is from 75 to 175 km (depending on TBM type). It is able to track up to 16 TBMs at a time. When tracking two or more TBMs simultaneously, the radar employs track-while-scan, with the whole sector scanned in 12.5 to 14 seconds. When small targets like SRAM missiles are to be tracked, the radar scans a sector of ±30° in azimuth and +9° to +50° in elevation. The range is up to 175 km, although ranges for a SRAM or similar missiles are much shorter. In a third mode, the radar searches for air-breathing targets in a sector ±30° in azimuth and 0° to +50° in elevation to a range of up to 150 km.

The 9S32 radar set in each launch battery can work together with the battalion command post or autonomously. It has a phased array, electronically scanned antenna in both azimuth and elevation. The observation sector is 5° in azimuth and 6° in elevation when working with the battalion command post, or ±30° in azimuth and 0° to 18° in elevation in autonomous mode. It can automatically track up to 12 targets and provide information on approximately six of them to all six launchers. It could also radio-command 12 missiles toward six targets at a time, out to the point when they reach illumination signals from the TELARs’ radars, thus allowing lock-on after launch mode.


In practice, the joint concept of a multi-service S-300 air defense system was a complete failure, and both systems ended up having only one thing in common: the S-300 designation. This is not to say that the individual projects did not succeed on their own. However, a lot of wasted time, talent, resources and money were spent pursuing a dead-end joint system. Although some commonality of parts was achieved (well below 50 percent), the SA-10 (S-300P) and SA-12 (S-300V) were totally different systems, the former optimized for engaging cruise missile and low radar-cross-section targets, while the latter was optimized to engage TBMs. The S-300V was from the very beginning a self-propelled system on a tracked chassis, while the S-300P was developed as a re-deployable towed system on a wheeled chassis. Finally, in 1986, both programs were again separated and everything came back to the pre-1980 status. Only one serious development came out of the ill-fated merger: the S-300P adopted the semi-active guidance method developed from the outset for the S-300V. This was further developed into the track-via-missile (TVM) method. Although TVM was designed in the Soviet Union separately from the TVM capability of the US Patriot system, the general idea was copied.

Michal Fiszer is a former fighter-bomber pilot and intelligence officer with the Polish Air Force. Retired with the rank of major, he teaches in the International Relations Department of Collegium Civitas, Warsaw, Poland. He is also studying for his doctorate at the National Defense Academy, Warsaw. Through June 2006, he was the European editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense and eDefense Online. He is currently writing a book on Soviet and Russian air defense systems.

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