Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The S-300P SAM System: A Site Analysis


The S-300P SAM family is one of the most advanced and capable operational SAM systems in the world today. The S-300P SAM system was conceived to replace the S-25 (SA-1 GUILD) and the S-200 (SA-5 GAMMON) as the primary long-range air defense system in the USSR. With the advent of lower-RCS targets like cruise missiles, legacy systems did not provide adequate capability to defend against attacks by such weapons. The S-300P began life as a overarching SAM system intended for use by both the Army and the air defense network. At an early stage, the project was split into two systems, the Army's S-300V (SA-12) and the S-300P.

THE S-300P

The S-300P is a long-range, mobile strategic SAM system. The system has been produced in numerous variants, and an in-depth look at the various system components and missiles employed by the system can be found here: LINK

Western designators for the S-300P variants will be provided here for clarity:


It should be noted that the S-300PM-1 was at one point designated the SA-10C GRUMBLE, before being redesignated due to the fact that a new engagement radar, the 30N6-1 (TOMB STONE) and a new missile, the 48N6, was employed. It should also be noted that the difference between the S-300PS and the S-300PM, apart from minor hardware differences and the introduction of a new missile for the S-300PM, was that the S-300PM introduced digital datalinks for connecting the TELs, radars, and command post in an effort to reduce system setup time. The S-300PT and S-300PS relied on physical cable connections between system components. The S-300PM and subsequent variants can still rely on cable connections, most often at prepared sites, to ensure a higher level of communications security.

Export variants are as follows:



There are two common battery configurations employed by the S-300P SAM system. The first relies on a typically prepared site with a tower-mounted engagement radar. The second relies on either a prepared or unprepared site with a mobile engagement radar vehicle. The number of TELs present varies from user to user, location to location, and variant to variant, and these differences will be discussed in the Deployment Strategies sections of this article.

The following annotated image of an S-300PT site near Severodvinsk depicts a battery employing tower-mounted engagement and 76N6 radars:

The following annotated image of an S-300PMU site near Sevastopol depicts a standard site layout employing a mobile engagement radar and a tower-mounted 76N6:

Some sites employing a mobile engagement radar still retain the tower assembly for mounting the radar should the need arise. The following site south of Voronezh depicts a mobile engagement radar being employed, with the 40V6 mast assembly positioned nearby in a lowered position:


There are many different iterations of S-300P site configurations. Most of them differ in the number, shape, and positioning of prepared revetments used to protect the components. However, it should be stressed that the S-300P is a mobile SAM system, and as such can be deployed almost anywhere. That being said, there are a few common site layouts that have been identified, and these layouts will be detailed here.

One of the more common S-300P site configurations is a central tower-mounted engagement radar surrounded on two sides by parralel "slanted-E" shaped divided revetments for TELs or missile reload canisters. A tower-mounted 76N6 is positioned nearby. This site layout is often featured around Moscow on the grounds of former S-25 (SA-1 GUILD) SAM sites, but is also featured elsewhere as well, such as in Belarus.

The following annotated image depicts an S-300PM-1 site near Bortnevo, north of Moscow, employing the "slanted-E" revetment style:

Another common site configuration features four launch positions arranged around a central raised berm for a mobile engagement radar. The size and shape of the launch positions, as well as the presence of protective revetments for the TELs, varies from site to site and nation to nation, but the overall layout remains relatively uniform. The site near Sevastopol depicted above is an example of such a configuration. All identifiable Chinese S-300P sites employ a variation on this layout.

Given that the S-300P SAM system is a mobile system, it is also quite common to find batteries deployed on former legacy SAM sites. As seen previously, many S-25 sites around Moscow are now home to S-300P batteries. Slovakia's S-300PMU battery resides on the grounds of a former S-125 site, and there is a Ukrainian S-300PMU battery and garrison positioned on a former S-200 complex near Sevastopol, to cite a few examples.

The following image depicts an S-300PM battery deployed on the grounds of a former S-75 site near Roschino, north of St. Petersburg. The Roschino site is slightly unusual insofar as there are S-300P-style revetments to the southwest that are apparently unused.

Despite the presence of common site configurations, there are numerous random layouts. The numerous site configurations probably stem from the fact that the S-300P is a mobile system able to be located nearly anywhere. Some sites feature numerous revetments designed for two TELs apiece, some feature larger revetments for four or more TELs, and some feature no revetments at all.

The lack of consistency on a large scale in the configuration of S-300P sites belies the importance of being able to identify the system based on the visible components. The S-300PT is relatively easy to identify given the unique appearance of the 5P85-1 launchers. Differentiating between an S-300PM and an S-300PM-1 seems more difficult from the outset, but is in fact not all that hard. The 5P85S/D TELs measure around 43 feet in length, while the 5P85T TELs measure around 47 feet in length, based on visible imagery. As the S-300PS had a service life of 20 years and was introduced in 1982, and many of them were modified to S-300PM standard, any sites with 43 meter TELs can be identified relatively accurately as S-300PM sites. Of course, export systems would be the S-300PMU, and export sites featuring the 47-foot semi trailer TELs would be S-300PMU-1s.


Russian S-300P sites display a number of identifiable deployment strategies. S-300P SAM systems are employed in defense of key industrial and military areas, as well as large population centers.

S-300PM and S-300PM-1 sites around Moscow typically employ the "slanted-E" site configuration, and most of them are based on the grounds of former S-25 SAM sites. Moscow defense sites all employ tower mounted engagement radars in conjunction with tower-mounted 76N6 radars. This provides a robust low-altitude target detection envelope around the capital city. Eight to twelve TELs are typically present at each site, with at least six TELs at each site being loaded with missiles and positioned in a launch revetment.

S-300P sites located along the periphery of Russia's Far East Military District, particularly near Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk, tend to feature mobile engagement radars and tower-mounted 76N6 radars. This is likely due to the fact that sites located along the periphery are typically positioned very near the water and therefore do not have substantial terrain for the engagement radar to contend with along potential threat ingress routes. A raised berm for the engagement radar is often more than sufficient to ensure the radar has a sufficient field of view with respect to any vegetation in the area. The single exception is the S-300PM site positioned to defend the Rybachiy SSBN base, featuring a tower-mounted engagement radar, likely due to the terrain constraints potentially interfering with the engagement radar being able to see out over the open ocean from where it is positioned. The Yelizovo and Petropavlovsk sites are positioned at a higher elevation than the Rybachiy site, providing them with a better field of view than the Rybachiy site.

S-300P sites on the Kola peninsula and around St. Petersburg feature tower-mounted engagement radars, likely due to the varied terrain in the areas where the SAM sites are positioned. Kola sites feature eight active TELs, with St. Petersburg sites featuring four active TELs, likely due to the greater strategic importance of the Kola peninsula and associated military facilities.

Interestingly, the Kaliningrad S-300P sites feature tower-mounted engagement radars at four sites and a mobile engagement radar at the fifth site. There are no major terrain constraints requiring use of the towers for the engagement radars. However, the Kaliningrad region is geographically separated from the rest of Russia, and is is possible that tower-mounted engagement radars are employed to provide an increased probability of low-altitude detection. Kaliningrad is also home to a Russian naval contingent, so perhaps the engagement radars are tower mounted at four of the sites to remove the potential of low-altitude clutter generated by the incoming and outgoing naval vessels. This doesn't seem to make complete sense, however, as the Baltiysk site nearest the harbor entrance features the mobile engagement radar.

The lack of S-300PM-1 batteries in areas identified as being of strategic importance, such as Petropavlovsk, Vladivostok and Kaliningrad, is likely due to the fact that the more sensitive systems are kept in areas where the presence of foreign ELINT assets is far less likely. There is, however, an S-300PM-1 battery deployed near Novorossiysk, The presence of an S-300PM-1 site in this area is likely due to the fact that it represents the sole identifiable active strategic SAM site in the area. It should also be noted that the S-300PM-1 systems are at most nearly a decade newer than the S-300PM systems. Ergo, it is likely that the areas considered to be the most strategically important were the first to receive the S-300PM-1. This would explain the high concentration around Moscow, and the presence on the Kola Peninsula. S-300PM-1s not being present on the Kamchatka Peninsula can be explained away by the fact that the Northern Fleet is the main combat arm of the Russian Navy. Petropavlovsk and Rybachiy also enjoy protection by a MiG-31 regiment, so the area is not necessarily at a loss.


There are five visible active S-300P sites inside of China at this moment. China apaprently has chosen to employ the S-300P systems to defend key population centers, relying on older HQ-2 SAM systems to defend smaller population centers and military facilities. Four of China's S-300P locations are S-300PMU-1 sites, with the fifth being home to an S-300PMU battery. China employs a relatively standard deployment strategy throughout its S-300P batteries. Four TELs are deployed around a central, mobile engagement radar vehicle positioned on a raised berm. There are four separate pads for the TELs, with two TELs positioned on each of two launch pads. Tower-mounted engagement radars are not employed, allowing the core system components to be rapidly repositioned. A 36D6 or 64N6 EW radar is colocated with each SAM battery, with at least one 64N6 being present in each deployment area either in a colocated or nearby position to provide long-range target detection.

The one major inconsistency in Chinese S-300P deployments is the presence of a tower-mounted 76N6 radar. The 76N6 is present at the Yutian S-300PMU site, along with both Shanghai S-300PMU-1 sites. The reasoning behind this strategy likely relates to potential threat ingress routes. The Shanghai S-300PMU-1 sites are positioned near the coastline and as such would be able to monitor the airspace offshore, potentially detecting inbound strike aircraft and missiles from Kadena AB, Okinawa, and southern Japan. Given the low-altitude detection function of the 76N6, it is plausible that the Shanghai sites are positioned to detect inbound, low-altitude missiles launched from naval vessels or submarines.

Why, then, would there be a disparity in the 76N6 deployment to the north? Beijing is much farther inland, and is also protected by the defenses of the Bo Hai gulf. Any potential threat ingressing from the east or south would have to penetrate a dense air defense network which also included interceptor aircraft and other SAM systems. Beijing is also borered to the north and west by mountainous terrain, making low-altitude detection less important as any inbound target from those directions would pop up into the coverage of the 64N6 EW radar sites positioned in the area.

The inconsistency, therefore, is the presence of the 76N6 at the Yutian S-300PMU site. The 120 kilometer range of the 76N6 does not give it enough range to reach offshore from the Yutian site. It is possible that the 76N6 was only purchased for use with the S-300PMU and therefore would not be found at any of the S-300PMU-1 sites, whose 30N6E1 radar does offer improved performance over the 30N6E employed by the S-300PMU. The answer may also lie in the condition of the Yutian 76N6. It is visible in a lowered position, potentially being prepared for transport.

However, the Yutian 76N6 may simply be lowered for maintenance, or may be a new arrival. In the latter case, it may be indicative of future 76N6 deployments at the northern S-300P sites to augment the already robust radar coverage of the systems. The Yutian site may also be a training unit, allowing crews to train on all of the system components. Lastly, the Yutian 76N6 may be positioned to aid in the detection of cruise missiles fired towards Beijing-area targets from submerged submarines that manage to penetrate the Bo Hai gulf's waters.


S-300P sites in the Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are primarily deployed to defend population centers, capitals, and in the case of the Ukraine military facilities. Most S-300PT facilities feature a standard twelve TEL complement, although there are some minor variations, as there are with the S-300PMU deployments.

Slovakia was not analyzed due to the presence of only a single identifiable S-300P battery. Likewise, Greece was not analyzed as S-300PMU-1 components are visible at two locations on Crete but they are not deployed.


The S-300P is a very capable strategic SAM system, and as such can provide very robust air defense over a large region of airspace. By employing a number of batteries positioned to provide overlapping areas of coverage, a nation can effectively create what amounts to an area of denied airspace. While the S-300P does feature multiple-target engagement capability, it is also wise to overlap coverage areas in order to reduce the effect of saturation by actual or false targets.

The following image depicts S-300P coverage provided by identified, active sites positioned around Moscow. The blue rings represent the associated 64N6 EW radars. Large red rings represent S-300PM-1 batteries, with small red rings representing S-300PM batteries. The S-300PM-1 has a 150 kilometer range, the S-300PM a 90 kilometer range, and the 64N6 a 300 kilometer range. The overlapping coverage areas and the number of batteries in place have effectively transformed the skies over Moscow into the most heavily defended airspace in the world.


Information regarding user nations and the types and numbers of identified sites can be found here: LINK


-Jane's Land Based Air Defense 2002-03
-Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, a definitive text edited by Pavel Podvig
-All satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth


Anonymous said...

The 5P85S/D TELs measure around 43 meters in length, while the 5P85T TELs measure around 47 meters in length, based on visible imagery.

Could the lenght be in feet in stead of meters???

Excellent articles by the way

Sean O'Connor said...

Good catch, I fixed it. I measure almost everything in meters so I put it down out of habit probably.

Lego said...

In the image showing the SLANTED-E configuration, is the tower-mounted engagement radar described as a 30N6-1. According to other sources the 30N6-1 is a TOMB STONE. But can a TOMBSTONE radar be deployed on a 40V6 mast?

Sean O'Connor said...

TOMB STONE can be mast mounted, yes. What they do for TOMB STONE or the mobile FLAP LID B is just take the radar cab off of the MAZ-543 and send it up the mast. Regarding the component names, this is an old article (one of the first), and a lot of the S-300P component designators are a bit off. Look in the S-300P: A Detailed Analysis article for the correct info.