Monday, December 22, 2008

Israel vs. SAM: Iran's S-300


On Sunday it was reported that Russia has begun delivering advanced S-300 SAM systems to Iran. Iran has been after some of the advanced variants of the S-300P series for some time, and delivery of these systems would represent a significant upgrade to the Iranian air defense network.


Iran has been rumored to be a customer or recipient of S-300P variants for some time. Last year it was reported by Jane's that Iran had received S-300PT (SA-10A GRUMBLE) SAM systems from Belarus and was preparing them for service. These reports have yet to be confirmed or conclusively debunked, but Iranian persistance in attempting to order more advanced S-300PM (SA-20 GARGOYLE) variants from Russia does cast a degree of doubt on their accuracy.

Russia was quick to respond to Iran's allegation that the S-300's were being delivered. In October Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had met with Russian leaders in Moscow and was assured that Russia would not deliver advanced S-300P series SAM systems to Iran. Shortly after Iran made its announcement on Sunday, Russian officials denied the reports and stated that they were abiding by the agreement made with PM Olmert regarding the transfer of advanced air defense weapons to Iran.

If Russia is to be believed in this case, then it would seem that the Iranian government is attempting to force Russia's hand into abiding by whatever sale agreement may have been discussed in the past. Alternatively, this could be an effort to raise eyebrows on the international stage over Israel's interference in Iranian affairs. The other side of the coin is that Russia may be acting deceptively, intending on selling the system to Iran, aiding in its setup, and only announcing the sale once the system has been delivered and emplaced. This is not as likely however as the emplacement and activation of these systems would be visible through intelligence sources.


The reason for Israeli opposition to a Russian sale of S-300P series SAM systems, particularly late-model S-300PMU-1 or S-300PMU-2 variants, to Iran is clear. Israel is currently preparing for a potential military strike on Iran to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions. Regardless of whether or not Iran's nuclear intentions are truly peaceful or not, Israel's position regarding the S-300P sale or transfer is understandable. The latest S-300P variants represent some of the most advanced and capable SAM systems in the world, and would represent a significant obstacle to any Israeli air campaign against Iran. One can debate the issue of Israel objecting to a sovereign nation procuring a defensive weapon system, but the fact remains that an S-300P brigade inside of Iran would cause air planners serious problems and potentially prevent them from acting out the wishes of their leadership.


The interesting facet of this entire scenario is that Israel has claimed to have developed electronic warfare systems capable of defeating the S-300P series. Israel reportedly obtained the 5N63 (FLAP LID) guidance radar of an S-300PMU (SA-10B GRUMBLE) battery sold to Croatia in 1995. Israeli claims of being able to defeat the S-300P were widely publicised in Jane's Defense Weekly and other media outlets. Israel also exercised with Greece in May and June of this year to gain further expertise against the more modern S-300PMU-1 system and its 30N6 (TOMB STONE) guidance radar.


It would appear that Iran has not yet received any S-300P series SAM components. Russian officials would likely not make such a strong assertion were the opposite to be true, knowing that the tell-tale emissions from the system's radar systems would belie their presence to the world once activated inside of Iran. This would certainly eventually be true for two reasons: first, Iran would have to activate the systems in order to employ them in defense of key facilities or border regions, and second, the radar systems used by the S-300P series are not employed by any other SAM system, with the exception of the 36D6 (TIN SHIELD) EW radar. The presence of the guidance and battle management radars inside of Iran cannot therefor be attributed to the sale of any other SAM system. Russia also cannot claim that an advanced S-300PM series system has been supplied by an outside user, as systems missing from China and Greece, being the only other users of the advanced versions, would be missed by American intelligence sources and such an allegation could be easily disproven.

The ultimate takeaway from Israel's negotiating with Moscow in October and its August 2008 claim that if such a system was delivered to Iran that Israel would be forced to develop a counter, is that Israel's efforts to defeat the S-300P series of SAM systems may not have been as succesful as once believed. Had Israeli efforts in exploiting Croatian and Greek systems been successful in developing adequate electronic warfare systems and countertactics, Israel would likely have sat by and watched the Iranian regime spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a missile system that they knew represented a limited threat. Given Israel's work in the field of electronic warfare it is possible that reports suggesting that the S-300P could be countered by new systems were a form of deception aimed at convincing Iranian leadership that the purchase of such a ssytem was a wasted effort. In that light, the potential for an eventual S-300P SAM sale to Iran may be the catalyst that finally pushes Israel into striking Iranian nuclear facilities. The Israeli military is rightfully very concerned over the potential of advanced S-300P series SAM systems taking up residence inside of Iran, and if political pressure on Moscow is not enough to prevent a transfer than military action may be the end result.


Iran Says Russia Delivering S-300 Air Defense Systems
Russia denies supplying Iran with missiles capable of repelling Israeli air strike
Israel develops countermeasures to S-300 system
'We'll neutralize S-300 if they're sold to Iran'
Greece assists Israel as war with Iran looms

Blackbirds In Imagery


One of the few aircraft to capture the attention of serious aviation buffs, casual fans, historians, and everyone else who has held it in their vision if only for a second is the Lockheed Blackbird, alternatively known to its pilots as the Sled. Born out of a requirement for a faster, higher-flying, more survivable replacement for the CIA's U-2, the Blackbird has become an aviation legend. In the spirit of the holidays, this article will detail the locations of Blackbird survivors and depict the locations of those visible in Google Earth. It's Sledding, Google Earth style!


The Blackbird, also known as the Sled, the Habu, the Beast, and the Titanium Goose in its various incarnations, was created to fulfill a CIA requirement for a successor to the U-2. As the U-2 flew deep into the USSR on intelligence gathering sorties, advances in Soviet air defenses were threatening to make the CIA's original high flyer obsolete. Something more survivable was needed, and the result was the Lockheed A-12, designed for high speed and high altitude overflight of denied teritory. As it would turn out, the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers on the first day of May, 1960, ended manned overflight of the USSR. Seemingly an aircraft without a mission, the A-12 evolved into one of the mainstays of USAF Cold War intelligence gathering, the SR-71A, and had a productive intelligence gathering career in its own right.


Out of 13 A-12s built for the CIA, only 8 remain. Two of these airframes, Articles 128 and 132, are currently on display indoors at the Central Intelligence Agency and Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama, respectively. The rest of the surviving OXCARTs are on display outdoors and can be seen clearly in Google Earth imagery.

The first prototype of the A-12 family, Article 121, can be seen on display at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, California, in company with SR-71A Article 2024 and a D-21 drone:

The second A-12, also employed as a flight test airframe and the A-12 used for pole tests of the aircraft's radar cross section, is now on display at the USS Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space museum in New York City. This is the only Blackbird to be displayed on a carrier deck, and doubled as a tee box for Will Smith in the movie I Am Legend.

An image of the USS Intrepid in 2002 can be seen below, followed by an image from 2007 while the carrier was docked at Staten Island undergoing refitting and refurbishment.

A photograph of Article 122 on the deck of the USS Intrepid can be seen below:

Article 124, the fourth A-12 airframe and the only two-seat trainer, is on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. This aircraft, designated AT-12, was nicknamed Titanium Goose and never received the overall black paint scheme found on most other A-12s later in their flying careers.

Article 127 is on display at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Hutsville, Alabama. This aircraft is one of three OXCARTs to perform operational reconnaissance sorties out of Kadena AB, Japan. Amusingly, at one point Article 127 featured the characteristic yellow NASA fin stripe on its vertical tail surfaces. Suffice it to say that NASA never operated an A-12, the existance of which remained classified into the 1980's!

Article 128 was previously displayed at the Minnesota ANG Museum in Minneapolis before being removed for display at the CIA. An image of the aircraft on display outdoors in Minnesota is provided below.

Article 130 is on display in San Diego at the San Diego Aerospace Museum.

Article 131, the other surviving A-12 to have performed operational reconnaissance sorties (06932, the third aircraft, was lost during a training flight), is currently on display at the Birmingham Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama. With three A-12s on display, Alabama currently possesses more than a third of the surviving OXCART fleet!


While the A-12 program was progressing, Lockheed realized that the airframe might be suitable for tasks other than reconnaissance. Project KEDLOCK produced an interceptor variant for the USAF, with three prototypes being constructed. The YF-12A prototypes were arguably the most advanced interceptors of their era, featuring long-range pulse-doppler AN/ASG-18 radar sets, and carrying three XAIM-47A air to air missiles.

Three YF-12As were constructed by modifying three A-12 airframes on the production line. These were aircraft 60-6934, 60-6935, and 60-6936, referred to as Articles 1001, 1002, and 1003 respectively. The first and third prototypes were written off in accidents, leaving Article 1002 as the sole survivor of the type. After a career as a flight test aircraft with NASA following the cancellation of the USAF F-12 program, Article 1002 was retired to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, where it resides to this day. The aircraft is currently situated in the R&D Hangar at the museum's annex facility.

The following photograph depicts the USAF Museum's YF-12A on display:


With the cancellation of manned overflights over Soviet territory, Lockheed began developing ideas for continuing a reconnaissance mission over these territories. The result was the M-21, a two-seat version of the A-12 specially configured to carry and launch a D-21 drone mounted above the rear fuselage. Despite being able to claim status as the world's fastest biplane, the M-21/D-21 combination ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, with the D-21 being modified for launch from two specially outfitted B-52H carriers under the SENIOR BOWL program. The two A-12s modified into M-21 standard were Articles 134 and 135.

06941 was lost during the fourth launch attempt of a D-21 drone, an accident which can be seen here. This video is very interesting from a historical standpoint. Apart from depicting a Mach 3 collision between two formerly classified intelligence gathering platforms, the video tears down one of the assumptions made about the D-21. It had been believed due to photographic evidence available that the leading edge probes seen on operational D-21Bs carried by the B-52H launch platforms had been added as part of the D-21B program. This can be seen to be completely untrue, as the D-21 launched from the back of 06941 possesses these same leading edge probes.

The surviving M-21 resides indoors at the Seattle Museum of Flight, complete with a mounted D-21.

A photograph of a D-21 on display at the USAF Museum can be seen below:


The SR-71A evolved out of the CIA's A-12 to provide the USAF with a twin-seat strategic reconnaissance aircraft capable of carrying multiple sensor fits to gather complex photographic and electronic intelligence. Operational SR-71As were based at Beale AFB in California. Not only did the SR-71A replace the CIA's A-12 at the Kadena AB operating location, but it served at RAF Mildenhall in England, gathering intelligence on Soviet and Warsaw Pact activity in Europe. Mildenhall-based Blackbirds also conducted reconnaissance over Libya in support of Operation ELDORADO CANYON, to cite a specific example of non-Communist directed operations.

19 SR-71s remain out of a total of 31 built, not including the technologically amusing SR-71C. This includes the remaining SR-71B, one of two built for pilot training. 11 SR-71s are displayed indoors, including the surviving SR-71B and SR-71C examples. These include Articles 2002, 2007 (SR-71B), 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2022, 2023, 2027, and 2000 (SR-71C). Article 2013 is unique in that it is the only Blackbird on display outside the United States, residing at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England. The other aircraft displayed indoors reside at the following locations:

Article 2002: Pima Air Museum, Tuscon, Arizona
Article 2007: Kalamazoo Air Zoo, Battle Creek Airport, Michigan
Article 2009: Warner Robins Museum of Aviation, Warner Robins AFB, Georgia
Article 2012: Kansas Cosmosphere, Hutchinson, Kansas
Article 2015: Strategic Air Command Museum, Ashland, Nebraska
Article 2022: Evergreen Aviation Museum, McMinnville, Oregon
Article 2023: National Air & Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy annex, Washington, DC
Article 2027: USAF Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Article 2000: Hill Aerospace Museum, Hill AFB, Utah

The following photograph depicts Article 2023 on display in the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy annex:

The following photograph depicts Article 2027 on display in the USAF Museum's Cold War hangar:

Article 2006 was employed almost exclusively by Lockheed for flight test work supporting USAF SR-71 operations. It operated out of Palmdale, California and is currently on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards AFB, California, and can be seen in the image below:

Article 2010 was used between 1975 and 1976 to test the Big Tail modification, featuring an extended tail assembly housing various sensor fits. The aircraft was retired from service following the Big Tail test program and can currently be seen on display at the USAF Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida, complete with Big Tail assembly. An image of the aircraft on display is provided below. Note that the extended tail fitting can clearly be seen.

Article 2011 is on display at the Castle Air Museum at Castle AFB, California.

Article 2014 is on display at Beale AFB, California, in company with a D-21 drone. The aircraft is mounted on a replica of one of the patches worn by SR-71 crewmembers.

Article 2018 is on display at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana but is not currently visible in Google Earth imagery. It is, however, visible in Microsoft Virtual Earth, as seen below:

Article 2019 is on display at the Virginia Aviation Museum, Richmond, Virginia.

A photograph of Article 2019 on display can be seen below:

Article 2024 can be seen on display at Blackbird Airpark as mentioned previously.

Article 2026 is on display at the March Field Air Museum, March AFB, California.

Article 2030 is on display at Heritage Field, Lackland AFB, Texas.

Article 2031 is on display at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, California.


Three aircraft formerly involved with the Blackbird program in some capacity still exist today, and one can be seen in overhead imagery. The two B-52Hs modified to support D-21B drone launches, 60-0036 and 61-0021, are still in use. The former aircraft serves at the USAF flight test facility at Edwards AFB, while the latter is in operational service at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. A B-58 Hustler was modified to serve as a test aircraft for the AN/ASG-18 and AIM-47 combination used by the YF-12A. This aircraft was originally supporting the F-108 program, the aircraft for which the weapon systems originated before it was cancelled. This B-58, 55-665, was nicknamed Snoopy due to its long, drooping radome fitted for the AN/ASG-18. It currently resides on the range at Edwards AFB as a photographic target and can be seen in the image below:


I hope everyone has enjoyed this "holiday-themed" aviation topic. The Blackbird is one of the most interesting aircraft to ever exist, and more information on CIA A-12 operations is declassified each year, ensuring that the complete story has yet to be written. In the meantime, take note of the locations of these high performance aircraft, and take the time to go see one close to you if possible. You won't be disappointed!


A placemark file containing the locations of Blackbirds both indoors and outdoors can be downloaded here. This placemark also containst the locations of Snoopy and various D-21s visible at various locations not mentioned in this article.


-Satellite imagery provided by Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth

-Digital photographs taken by the author and may not be re-used without permission

Lockheed's SR-71 'Blackbird' Family, James Goodall and Jay Miller, Aerofax, 2002.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Avenue To Peace Runs Through...Piracy?


Right, I know I don't go off into the political side of things that often, but bear with me on this one.

Russia. The Ukraine. China. America. Iran.

What do all of these nations have in common?

The answer: as of today, all of them have dispatched warships to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. Some to interdict pirates, some merely to protect their own interests. The interesting issue in all of this is that most of these nations are not exceptionally fond of each other. Russia and the Ukraine are having problems. America and Iran have not had a friendly relationship since 1979. And China? The US political machine wants everyone to believe that they are the new Red Menace. Makes for good military sales figures, but not much else from a logical standpoint. But I digress.

Normally, when potentially belligerent nations are operating military hardware in close proximity to one another, bad things can happen. There is the potential for misidentification of intentions and an outbreak of hostilities. Which, plainly, is not really good for anyone.

That's why the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia represents a very interesting political avenue that should be exploited by the US government. This is an opportunity to reach out to all parties involved and establish a joint working group for combating the piracy issue. This may in turn help to break down some barriers in dealing with nations like Iran or Russia. A common goal can often be a good stepping stone to further cooperation and potentially improved relations down the line.

Sending a few warships into the Indian Ocean to eradicate pirate vessels is not going to result in the establishment of an American embassy in Tehran or the elimination of Russian opposition to all things NATO or missile defense. But in the long term establishing a good working relationship in this issue with the nations involved could at the very least break the ice and open doors previously locked should the need arise for further military or diplomatic dealings in the future. And if taking out a few pirate ships attacking Iranian cargo vessels or harassing Russian freighters means we are on the road to better relations with those nations, it would be in the best interests of the US government to open its arms to those nations in the spirit of joint cooperation.

Besides, five nations working together to obliterate pirate boats and shore positions would surely be far more effective than each nation plowing across the sea lanes looking for trouble on their own.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nuclear Iran: Exposed In Imagery

Below is a link to a video, showing a presentation given by Dr. Frank Pabian at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The concept behind Dr. Pabian's presentation was to depict the effect of open source imagery as an analysis tool in nonproliferation and the response of potentially hostile nations in the form of improved denial and deception. Dr. Pabian uses the ongoing nuclear issue with Iran to illustrate this issue, also briefly touching on the Syrian reactor complex struck by Israel, showing a number of commercial images from sources such as Digital Globe and Google Earth to depict various nuclear-related facilities and the efforts that Iran and Syria have gone to in order to hide the activities at a number of these locations. Great concept, and great presentation, but where this really scores is in the amount of historical and background data taken from various sources to spell out the scope of Iran's covert nuclear program. The video runs about an hour, but it's well worth a watch and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the nuclear issue, nuclear proliferation, and the Iranian nuclear program.

Dr. Pabian on Iran

Remembering Pearl Harbor

THE USS ARIZONA MEMORIALThe image above depicts the USS Arizona memorial. The museum sits atop the resting place of the USS Arizona underneath the still waters of Pearl Harbor, and is a somber reminder of the events that transpired in December 1941 that led to America's official entry into World War II. Inside the memorial visitors can look into the waters and see the remains of the battleship as it rests on the bottom of the harbor. It's a moving experience, and one that every serious military historian should experience in person.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hungarian Strategic Air Defense: A Cold War Case Study


The Hungarian strategic SAM network provided an important piece of the Warsaw Pact's air defense picture during the Cold War. Modernization efforts in the early 1980s expanded the coverage of the network ensuring the defense of both the capital and the most significant industrial area in the nation. As a regionally structured air defense organization, the Hungarian strategic SAM network provides an interesting study of air defense deployment during the Cold War.


The Hungarian strategic SAM network operated four SAM systems at various points in its history, the SA-75 Dvina and S-75M Volkhov (SA-2 GUIDELINE), S-125 Neva (SA-3 GOA), and S-200VE Vega (SA-5 GAMMON). Tactical air defense was likely provided by 2K12 Kub (SA-6 GAINFUL) units, but garrison locations for these units have yet to be discerned. Strategic SAM assets were initially assigned to three different anti-aircraft regiments, or PLRPs. Engagement ranges of the strategic SAM systems are as follows:

SA-75 Dvina: 34 km
S-75M Volkhov: 43 km
S-125 Neva: 25 km
S-200VE Vega: 240 km

In the imagery contained within this article, SAM systems will be identified as follows: SA-75 and S-75 series sites are marked with triangles and red range rings, S-125 series sites are marked with stars and light blue range rings, and S-200 series sites are marked with hexagons and purple range rings.


The deployment of strategic SAM assets in Hungary began in 1959 with the introduction of the first SA-75 Dvina SAM batteries. Between 1959 and 1983, the Dvina system provided the bulk of Hungarian strategic air defense, with a maximum of 14 sites being operational through 1976. The Dvina batteries were subordinate to three PLRPs, the 11th, 104th, and 105th.


The Hungarian capital of Budapest was initially defended by SA-75 Dvina batteries of the 11th and 104th PLRPs. Each PLRP controlled five Dvina sites. The 11th PLRP's Dvina sites were organized along the western side of the capital, with the 104th PLRP's sites being located along the eastern side. Taken in total, the 11th and 104th PLRP's sites formed an ellipse, with Budapest being situated as the northern focus.

The following image depicts the Dvina site locations and engagement zones around Budapest. 11th PLRP sites are blue, 104th PLRP sites are orange.

The 105th PLRP controlled four SA-75 Dvina sites situated around Miskolc. Miskolc is Hungary's second largest city and has been the nation's center of industry since the end of the Second World War. It is therefore logical that a third PLRP would be tasked to provide strategic air defense of the area.

The following image depicts the Dvina site locations and engagement zones around Miskolc:

Between 1977 and 1986 the Hungarian strategic SAM network underwent a significant modernization. The SA-75 Dvina was replaced with the longer-range S-75M Volkhov from 1977 to 1983. 6 Dvina sites were retained and re-equipped with the new system, while 7 new sites were constructed to house the remainder of the Volkhov batteries. By 1983 the Dvina had been completely phased out in Hungarian service, and the Volkhov system would serve until 1995. 1978 saw the introduction of the S-125M Neva SAM system, which would take residence at seven locations, serving until 1995. In 1986 the S-200VE Vega long-range SAM system was introduced at a single location. The Vega would outlast its shorter-range counterparts, serving until 1997. All of these new systems were subordinate to the same regiments that had operated the Dvina system under the old air defense architecture, the 11th, 104th, and 105th PLRPs.


The 11th PLRP assumed responsibility for defense of the Hungarian capital under the reorganized air defense network. The 11th PLRP saw the number of batteries under its control swell under the reorganization, with seven Volkhov and six Neva sites being subordinate to the regiment. All batteries were operational until 1995 with the exception of a single Neva battery located near Piliscsaba, which left the inventory in 1994.

The following image depicts the sites and engagement zones of batteries subordinate to the 11th PLRP after the reorganization, circa 1981:

Following the reorganization, the area of responsibility for the 104th PLRP moved southwest of Budapest to the area surrounding the city of Dunaujvaros. By 1986 the 104th PLRP contained three Volkhov batteries and Hungary's sole Vega site. The 104th PLRP's Volkhov batteries were among the first to be deactivated, leaving the inventory in 1990, at which time a Neva battery was emplaced on the grounds of the Vega site to provide close-in air defense for the system.

The following image depicts the sites and engagement zones of batteries subordinate to the 104th PLRP after the reorganization, circa 1986. The engagement zone for the Vega is omitted in this graphic.

The 105th PLRP survived the reorganization largely unscathed. The area of responsibility remained the same, the territory surrounding Miskolc, and only the northeastern site did not receive the Volkhov as it had been deactivated in 1965. The remaining three locations were reequipped with the S-75M in 1983 and served until 1990.

The following image depicts the sites and engagement zones of batteries subordinate to the 105th PLRP after the reorganization, circa 1983:

Soviet forces stationed in Hungary during the Cold War included eight air defense units manning S-125M Neva batteries. These Neva batteries were located at airfields around the nation to provide air defense for deployed Soviet Air Force units. One advantage to having the Soviet Neva batteries in-country was that they were often situated in areas not covered by any other air defense assets.

The following image depicts the Soviet Neva sites in Hungary and their corresponding engagement zones:

Given the extreme fluidity of the Hungarian strategic SAM network, the overall coverage should be examined chronologically. The following images will depict the SAM network for a given point in time. Each image will be preceded by a brief line of text denoting the time period depicted and the number and type of systems operational for that time period. Soviet S-125M Neva batteries will not be included as there is no historical documentation of their deployment dates.

1959 to 1960: 1 Dvina

1961: 9 Dvina

1962 to 1965: 14 Dvina

1966 to 1976: 12 Dvina

1977: 9 Dvina, 3 Volkhov

1978: 3 Neva, 8 Dvina, 4 Volkhov

1979: 6 Neva, 7 Dvina, 5 Volkhov

1980: 6 Neva, 6 Dvina, 6 Volkhov

1981 to 1982: 6 Neva, 5 Dvina, 7 Volkhov

1983 to 1985: 6 Neva, 13 Volkhov

1986 to 1989: 1 Vega, 6 Neva, 13 Volkhov

1990: 1 Vega, 7 Neva, 12 Volkhov

1991 to 1994: 1 Vega, 7 Neva, 7 Volkhov

1995: 1 Vega, 6 Neva, 7 Volkhov

1996 to 1997: 1 Vega


The primary limitation of the Hungarian strategic SAM network during the Cold War was one of coverage. Portions of the central and northeastern parts of the nation were typically well covered by Dvina, Volkhov, and Neva batteries, but no attention was paid to the remainder of the nation. In particular, the western border with Austria was ignored. The southern border was less significant as Yugoslavian air defense units would have been initially responsible for targets ingressing from that direction during a conflict with NATO. Yugoslavia was not a Warsaw Pact member state but would likely have not been allied with NATO during a conflict, providing a degree of security. Hungary's position in Central Europe also likely aided its security as NATO's primary focus would have been Soviet Army units located in East Germany and support facilities located in Poland. Hungary was a significant location of Soviet tactical air power during the Cold War, but fortunately for the Hungarians the majority of the fighting would likely have been elsewhere.

It should be noted that unlike East Germany and Czechoslovakia, Hungary relied upon older strategic SAM systems. The S-300PMU, supplied to both of the aforementioned nations, was not delivered to Hungary. As a result, Hungarian strategic SAM units were limited by the characteristics of their weapon systems. Each strategic SAM battery of the Dvina, Volkhov, and Neva variety was only capable of engaging a single target at a time due to the command guidance methods employed. Only the single Vega battery enjoyed something of a multiple target capability, thanks to the presence of two firing positions, each controlled by a separate engagement radar. Even with this added capability introduced with the Vega in 1986, the Hungarian strategic SAM network was still vulnerable to saturation with very little effort. From 1986 to 1989 when the network was at its maximum strength with 20 operational SAM sites, the overall network still only provided the ability to engage 21 simultaneous targets.


Despite being located away from most of the significant military facilities and units with which the Warsaw Pact would have employed to wage war against NATO, the Hungarian strategic SAM network provided an important piece of Warsaw Pact air defense during the Cold War. While the network was initially relatively pedestrian, modernization efforts would transform the overall network into a much more robust and layered organization. Despite these efforts, however, the strategic SAM network was ultimately incapable of repelling am assed air attack by the air forces of NATO.


Feel free to discuss this feature at the IMINT & Analysis Forum discussion thread found here.


The range rings used to create this article can be downloaded as a Google Earth placemark file here.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

Hungarian SAM sites by Google Earth user LeX2
Hungarian air defense units
Hungarian air defense units
Jane's Land-based Air Defence, various editions

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Czechoslovakian Strategic Air Defense: A Cold War Case Study


The Czechoslovakian strategic air defense network provided air defense for a critical portion of territory in the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. Various SAM sites provided air defense for the Warsaw Pact's southwestern region, theoretically preventing NATO air strikes from being mounted into Czechoslovakia or onward into East Germany or Poland.


The Czechoslovakian strategic SAM network operated five SAM systems at various points in its history, the SA-75 Dvina and S-75M Volkhov (SA-2 GUIDELINE), S-125 Neva (SA-3 GOA), S-200VE Vega (SA-5 GAMMON), and S-300PMU (SA-10B GRUMBLE). Tactical air defense was provided primarily by 2K12 Kub (SA-6 GAINFUL) units. Strategic SAM assets were assigned to five different anti-aircraft brigades, or PLRBs. Engagement ranges of the strategic SAM systems are as follows:

SA-75 Dvina: 34 km
S-75M Volkhov: 43 km
S-125 Neva: 25 km
S-200VE Vega: 240 km
S-300PMU: 90 km

In the imagery contained within this article, SAM systems will be identified as follows: 2K12 sites are marked with green circles, SA-75 and S-75 series sites are marked with triangles and red range rings, S-125 series sites are marked with stars and light blue range rings, and S-200 series sites are marked with hexagons and purple range rings.


The 71st PLRB provided air defense for the Czechoslovakian capital of Prague. Initial air defense units were equipped with the SA-75 Dvina. In 1965, these units were reequipped with S-75M Volkhov batteries, with the Dvina batteries being relocated to stand up the 77th PLRB. In 1973 the 71st PLRB began to receive the S-125 Neva, and in 1985 the S-200VE Vega arrived. By the end of 1989, eight S-75M and eight S-125 sites were active, alongside the S-200VE site. The S-300PMU arrived in 1990, displacing one of the S-75M batteries near Lisek. Czech air defense units were reorganized in 1994, with the 72st PLRB becoming the 41st PLRB. The 41st PLRB's S-200VE battery disbanded in 1994, and the entire unit was disestablished in 1999.

The following image depicts the coverage of the 71st PLRB in 1989. S-200VE coverage is not depicted.

The following image depicts the coverage of the 41st PLRB in 1994:


The 76th PLRB provided air defense for the city of Brno and the surrounding areas. Stood up with the SA-75 Dvina at four locations in 1965, the 76th PLRB added four S-125 batteries in the mid 1970's. In 1985 two Dvina batteries reequipped with the S-75M Volkhov, the two remaining Dvina batteries being retired by 1989. 1989 also saw the addition of the second Czechoslovakian S-200VE site. Unlike the 71st PLRB, when the 76th PLRB underwent reorganization the S-200VE was retained. The 76th PLRB became the 42nd PLRB under the reorganization, and was disestablished in 1999.

The following image depicts the coverage of the 76th PLRB in 1985. Note the larger engagement zones of the two S-75M batteries.

The following image depicts the coverage of the 42nd PLRB in 1994:


The 77th PLRB was established in 1965 to defend the region surrounding Ostrava. As previously mentioned, the initial equipment came from the 71st PLRB in the form of surplus SA-75 Dvina systems which were deployed at five locations. Between 1985 and 1990, the 77th PLRB was reequipped with S-75M Volkhov batteries. The 77th PLRB survived the 1994 reorganization unscathed, retaining all five operational batteries until the unit was disbanded in 1999.

The following image depicts the coverage of the 77th PLRB in 1990. 43rd PLRB coverage was identical.

185 PLRB

The 185th PLRB was established in 1962 to defend the western border of Czechoslovakia and the approaches to Prague. Given that the western border was shared with the southeastern border of West Germany, a layered air defense posture such as this would provide greater defense against a NATO aerial attack. The first S-75M Volkhov batteries stood up in 1964, eventually equipping five locations. The northern two locations were disbanded between 1985 and 1990. The 185th PLRB did not survive the reorganization, having been disestablished sometime between 1990 and 1994.

The following image depicts the coverage of the 185th PLRB at full strength in 1984:

186 PLRB

The 186th PLRB was established in the early 1960's to provide defense of the area surrounding Bratislava. After reception of the S-125 in the mid 1970s, the 186th PLRB consisted of four S-75M sites and four S-125 sites. The 186th PLRB was renamed the 37th PLRB following the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, becoming part of the new Slovakian air defense network. The 37th PLRB was inactive by 2002.

The following image depicts the coverage of the 186th PLRB in 1989:

2K12 KUB

Tactical air defense for armored units was provided by nine 2K12 Kub units. These units were stood up between 1975 and 1985. Each unit was based at a garrison and was provided with a fixed launch site for field deployment to allow the Kub batteries to perform as part of the overall air defense network. Two Kub units became part of the Slovakian air defense network following the split in 1993. The western unit at Nitra became part of the 36th PLRB, with the eastern unit becoming part of the 35th PLRB.

The following image depicts the locations of the 2K12 batteries. Where known, the placemarks depict the locations of the firing locations.


Taken as a whole the Czechoslovakian Cold War SAM network was arranged geographically, with each brigade being responsible for defending a set piece of territory usually surrounding a major population center. The only exception to this rule would be the 185th PLRB, which was emplaced to provide an additional barrier of defense for Prague.

The following image depicts the locations of the various strategic SAM units based in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War up through 1989. 71st PLRB sites are orange, 76th PLRB sites are red, 77th PLRB sites are yellow, 185th PLRB sites are purple, and 186th PLRB sites are blue.

The following image depicts the overall coverage of the Czechoslovakian air defense network as it existed in 1989:

The following image depicts the coverage of the SAM network following the 1994 reorganization of the Czech Republic's air defense assets:


The main drawback to the Czechoslovakian SAM deployment strategy was that a large swath of territory between Prague and Brno was largely undefended, only falling under the umbrella of the S-200VE batteries of the 71st and 76th PLRBs. As the S-200VE did not perform well at low altitudes or against maneuvering targets at long ranges, the potential for a NATO strike package to ingress through the area was high. It is likely that this are would have been monitored and defended by Soviet and Czechoslovakian interceptors during a time of war, minimizing this potential. In fact, this area may have been set aside for use as an egress corridor for Soviet and Warsaw Pact strike packages, the lack of SAM coverage preventing any friendly fire incidents during the opening stages of a critical air campaign against NATO.

Apart from the deployment strategy, the primary weakness of the Czechoslovakian air defense network, especially during the latter stages of the Cold War, was an overreliance on older SAM systems. NATO members had experience against all of the SAM systems deployed in Czechoslovakia, and the potential for a debilitating electronic warfare campaign was very high. Also, each SAM battery could only engage a single target per engagement radar, with only the S-200VE sites featuring multiple engagement radars. This made the Czechoslovakian strategic SAM network vulnerable to saturation. This was a primary drawback of any nation relying on Soviet-era SAM systems for strategic air defense: until the arrival of the S-300P series SAM systems, a prohibitive number of SAM batteries would be required for any strategic SAM network to be regarded as a truly reliable means of defense.


The S-300PMU was delivered to Czechoslovakia in 1990, becoming part of the 71st PLRB. The S-300PMU was intended to replace most of the extant S-75M Volkhov units inside of Czechoslovakia, but the cessation of the Cold War brought to a halt any future plans for reequipment. In the end only a single S-300PMU battery was activated in Czechoslovakia, replacing an S-75M battery at a site near Prague. The Czechoslovakian S-300PMU battery was positioned at 49°58'07.64"N 14°00'42.37"E. Following the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the S-300PMU battery was transferred to Slovakia, where it became part of the Slovakian 36th PLRB.

The following image depicts the Slovakian S-300PMU battery near Nitra:

The Slovakian S-300PMU site was active as of August 30, 2005, as evidenced by Digital Globe imagery contained in Google Earth. Recently, however, Google has provided coverage of the majority of Slovakia from Geodis Slovakia, imagery which was gathered in 2004. The 2004 imagery does not depict the S-300PMU battery, suggesting that it was not active at Nitra before that date.

The following image from Digital Globe, dated 30 August 2005, clearly shows the Nitra S-300PMU location, circled in red:


Czechoslovakian strategic air defense assets would have played a critical role in any Warsaw Pact confrontation with NATO. Aside from providing air defense of critical areas of the nation, the S-200VE batteries combined with those of East Germany and Hungary to provide a significant air defense umbrella for the majority of the Warsaw Pact's western front. Interestingly, there does not appear to have been any significant Soviet contribution to the strategic air defense network in Czechoslovakia. This was likely due to the relatively small number of Soviet military units located in-coutry when compared to other Warsaw Pact states like East Germany or Poland.


Feel free to discuss this feature at the IMINT & Analysis Forum discussion thread found here.


The range rings used to create this article can be downloaded as a Google Earth placemark file here.


-Imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth and Digital Globe

Czech Air Defense Units
Jane's Land-based Air Defence, various editions