Thursday, July 26, 2007

Identifying Tactical SAM Systems


Identifying tactical SAM systems in overhead imagery can be a very tedious, error-filled process. The problem stems from two key issues: resolution and component size. The resolution of the imagery being examined can often preclude accurate visual identification of a tactical SAM ssytem. Oftentimes these systems are deployed in the field, and as they do not use common site configurations which are easily identifiable, their components must be identified in order to accurately determine the system type. The size of the individual system components also presents a problem for the analyst. Tactical SAM system components are, for the most part, much smaller than their strategic counterparts. Also, when missiles are not uploaded, TELs and TELARs can resemble tanks or other common vehicles, making their identification very problematic unless the imagery is of sufficient quality to discern launch rails and other features of the system components.

This article will focus on four common Russian-made tactical SAM systems. Relevant system components will be detailed, with a focus on system recognition.


The Antey 2K11 Krug (SA-4 GANEF) tactical SAM system is one of the easier systems to positively identify. This is thanks in no small part to the very large missiles employed by the system. There are two key system components, the 2P24 TEL and the 1S32 (PAT HAND) engagement radar.

The following image depicts an active, field deployed 2K11 battery in Azerbaijan. Three 2P24 TELs can be identified. Take note of the readily identifiable 3M8 missiles, two of which are fitted to each TEL, identifying this as a 2K11 battery. The presence of the three TELs enables the central vehicle to be identified as a 1S32 radar. The 2P24 TELs do not contain on-board engagement radars, necesitating a 1S32 to be located nearby in order for the battery to prosecute an engagement. In this case, the 1S32 does not need to be identified using any major distinguishing features. This is a common theme in tactical SAM system analysis: identification by proximity.

The following image depicts another 2K11 facility in Azerbaijan. In this instance, a garrison area is visible. SAM garrisons are common locations to find tactical SAM equipment which is not field deployed. This site is unusual, however, insofar as there are three TELs deployed around the facility. In a further deviation from the norm, each 2P24 is located adjacent to a separate 1S32. Normal operations dictate the use of one 1S32 to control a handful of TELs; in this case, Azerbaijan has given the erstwhile SAM site the capability to engage a total of three simultaneous targets, as each 1S32 can only prosecute a single target at a time.


The Tikhomirov Instrument Research Institute's 2K12 Kub (SA-6 GAINFUL) is one of the most widely used tactical SAM systems in the world. Identification of the 2K12 can be difficult due to the smaller, less easily identifiable 3M9 missiles. Important system components are the 2P25 TEL armed with three 3M9s, and the 1S91 (STRAIGHT FLUSH) radar.

The following image depicts an active, field deployed 2K12 battery in Syria. The 2K12 is a mobile, tactical SAM system, but many nations employ the system at prepared site locations as seen here. The 2P25 TELs are identifiable thanks to the visible loadout of 3M9 missiles. If the northernmost TEL is zoomed in on using Google Earth, separate missiles can even be discerned thanks to the resolution of the imagery. The 1S91 is identifiable thanks to a standard feature of the system: cable connections between the individual TELs and the engagement radar. In this case, a well-camoflaged 1S91 is clearly located atop the berm in the center of the site. The radar antenna can even be partially discerned through examination of the visible shadows.

The SA-11

Tikhomirov's follow on to the 2K12 is the 9K37 Buk (SA-11 GADFLY) SAM system employing the 9M38 missile. Key system components are the four-rail 9A310 TELAR fitted with the system's 9S35 (FIRE DOME) engagement radar, the 9A39 loader/launcher vehicle fitted with rails for eight missiles, and the 9S18M1 (SNOW DRIFT) EW radar.

THe following image depicts 9K37 components located in a garrison in Belarus. Take note of the three 9A310 TELARs. Note the visible fitting for the 9S35 radar at the front of the TELAR. This allows the 9A310 to be identified even if missiles are not fitted. Concurrently, it allows for differentiation between the 9A310 and the 9A39, as the 9A39 lacks the 9S35 installation.

The components depicted above are located at a large garrison in Baranovichi, Belarus. Other SAM system components are visible nearby, such as S-300P TELs. The following image depicts a dedicated 9K37 garrison located in Russia:

Many of the previous garrison's 9K37 components are field deployed nearby, possibly as part of a routine air defense exercise, and are visible in the image depicted below:


Antey's S-300V (SA-12A/B GLADIATOR/GIANT)is the most advanced tactical SAM system in the world, conceived to provide Soviet and Russian army units and facilities with umbrella air defense against airborne and missile threats. Many of the system components are easily identifiable thanks to their unique configurations. Key system components are the 9A83 TELAR with four launch tubes for 9M83 anti-aircraft missiles, the 9A82 TELAR with two launch tubes for 9M82 ATBMs, the 9S32 (GRILL PAN) engagement radar, the 9S19 (HIGH SCREEN) sector scanning radar used for ATBM functions, and the 9S15 (BILL BOARD) EW radar.

The following image depicts an S-300V garrison in Birobidzhan, Russia. First, take note of the 9A83 TELAR in the probable system checkout area. Note the large mast antenna fitted to the front of the TELAR. This mast antenna, when elevated, allows the TELAR to be positively identified as a 9A83 and not a 9A82, regardless of whether missile canisters are fitted or not. The 9A82 by comparison features an antenna fairing that extends forward of the operator's cabin but does not elevate. 9S19 and 9S32 radars are also visible in their stowed for storage or transportation configuration. The radar arrays themselves are visible as white fixtures, with the 9S19 having a much larger, rectangular array compared to the 9S32's smaller, more circular array.

Another S-300V garrison is visible at Orenberg, Russia. Many system components can be seen field deployed to the north of the main garrison facility.

S-300V components are also visible at a possible 9K37 garrison in Smolensk, Russia:

Adjacent to the Birobidzhan S-300V garrison is what would appear to be a dedicated ATBM site. Note the dual missile canisters on the three visible TELARs, identifying them as 9A82 ATBM TELARs. The 9S32 engagement radar is located in close proximity to the TELARs, and is shown in deployed mode with the radar array raised for operation. An antenna mast is visible at the rear of the vehicle, identifying it as a 9S32 and not a 9S19. 9S15 and 9S19 radars round out the battery.


All satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth.


Unknown said...

Nice work on your new blog Sean ! Great info and I know if it has to do with stuff like this, you are talking from some professional experience. Keep up the great work. -Eric

Planeman said...

awesome as always! Don't know how I missed this one before.

Trdat Tiritadian said...

The two Sa-4 sites in the above piece in Azerbaijan, in particular the second one. You sure it is on Azerbaijan or Nagorno Karabagh...?

Anonymous said...

Thank's a lot for your special work you r doing regarding,many countries but i would like to get some informations on Morocco's Air defense systems and it's balllistic and tactical misiles.

It would be fruitifull to persevere like that, it helps us to do good anlysis over military powers of many countries.
My conratulations.

Anonymous said...

I thank u so much for your military work you r doing , regarding many strategic and military issues respecting many countries.
I woul like only if it'is possible to get somme information concerning Morocco's Air Defense Systems and its ballistic missiles , notably Aster 30 and 15.

My congratulations to you crew and i hope to see you to make more efforts to achieve other miltary objects.

burjuin said...

N 39° 29' 11.5"
E 46° 19' 24.7"
Here, the SA-11?

Sean O'Connor said...

That's an SA-4.

burjuin said...

This imagery of the same places in terraserver:
The first was made in 04/02/2004.
The second was made in 06.27.2010

Thomas said...

These images show just how painstaking the identification of modern SAM sites is. It's a long way from the "Star of David" pattern to distinguish SA-2 sites to the distinction between 9A82 / 9A83 TELAR and other military vehicles like tanks or SPG
How many of the missile canisters really have missiles in them? If I were to discourqage an aerial attack, my plan would involve as many empty missile containers as possible!