Saturday, December 26, 2009

Brief note

Just a quick note, I was incommunicado for the past few days thanks to a feline-induced computer malfunction. Everything is fine now, so I'll get to some of the recent comments that were posted (and I just approved). Just wanted people to know that I wasn't blowing them off, or hadn't disappeared!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Upgrading the SAM Site Overview File

Want to see what the SAM Site Overview will eventually look like?

Download this: Right-click, Save As.

Notice that you can click on every single icon and the relevant info, such as I have been able to determine it, will pop up.

Eventually every single icon will work this way. Eventually. There are a buttload of them to process through.

Starting with the next update, you'll now be able to click in the Places screen where it says "SAMS by country" and get a menu titled "Fully interactive nations". There you'll see a list of all nations that are completed.

A few caveats:

-Any puffball radar sites will likely remain labeled, simply, EW site. Unless I have info definitively proving what's inside, I won't speculate.

-Some icons will eventually have another listing for Notes. This is where anything amusing or interesting that doesn't fit within the framework of the basic stuff you see in Algeria will go, such as extra components lying around, or whatnot.

-Some icons will be headed with a line called Site layout. This will be where an S-300P battery residing on a prepared S-75 site will be labeled.

-As seen in a lot of Algeria's EW sites, if I can't determine or have no information stating what specific variant of a radar or other piece of equipment is used, I'll list a generic descriptor, like P-35/37 BAR LOCK. That tells you that the radar is either a P-35 or a P-37, and the Western name for the family is BAR LOCK.

Feel free to leave any feedback here, or in the SAM Site Overview thread on the IMINT & Analysis Forums.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Foreign RCS Ranges


Radar cross section (RCS) measurement facilities are integral components in designing a modern combat aircraft. With the proliferation of advanced SAM systems capable of engaging reduced- and possibly low-RCS targets, such as the Russian S-300P series, attention to an aircraft's radar signature is becoming increasingly important to the success of a major air combat operation. This article will detail known foreign RCS measurement facilities, as well as providing an update to a previous feature on American facilities.


Many of the world's major combat aircraft are designed and built in Western Europe. It should come as no suprise that there are RCS measurement facilities located on the grounds of British Aerospace, EADS, and in France.

BAe Warton

BAe Warton is home to an RCS facility comparable to many of those seen in the United States. Supporting BAe's work on low-RCS designs, such as the Replica, and potentially aiding the Eurofighter program, the RCS range is situated on the grounds of BAe Systems' Warton airfield. A retractable hangar allows for test articles to be hidden from view, while a possible secondary measurement platform allows for objects not fitting inside the hangar to be evaluated.

BAe Warton's RCS facility can be seen in the image below:
EADS Manching

A much simpler RCS facility exists on the grounds of EADS' Manching airfield in southern Germany. This facility consists of a relocatable radar array and a pedestal or tower for mounting test objects. This facility likely supports signature reduction work for the EF-2000 and other European aircraft programs. The relatively "unhidden" facility suggests that it may be used for evaluating existing airframes, with more sensitive designs being tested elsewhere.

EADS' Manching RCS facility can be seen in the image below:

France's SOLANGE RCS facility is an expansive, fully indoor RCS measurement complex. SOLANGE is operated by CELAR, part of the French Defense Ministry, and is large enough to mount a full-scale aircraft or test article indoors. SOLANGE is significant as it was employed in 2005 to test a model of Japan's ATD-X stealth demonstrator.

France's SOLANGE RCS facility can be seen in the image below:

The Swedish Defense Agency (FOI) is believed to operate an anechoic chamber at Linkoping AB for conducting RCS evaluations. It is not known if the facility mounts full-size aircraft or reduced-size test articles, but the positioning of a facility which may be the RCS measurement complex in question suggests that an aircraft such as a Saab Gripen could be taxied into the chamber.

Sweden's Linkoping possible RCS facility can be seen in the image below:

Two large outdoor RCS measurement ranges currently exist inside of Russia. It is not currently known if individual manufacturers are affiliated with a certain facility. A former RCS measurement ranges were located at Aralsk, Kazakhstan, but is no longer believed to be active and has not yet been located.


The Tver RCS range, formerly known as the Kalinin RCS range during the Soviet era, is located northwest of Moscow. This facility is interesting as it appears to be constructed to measure the RCS of objects suspended between two large gantries. The gantires are separated by approximately 400 meters, with the attachment point for the test object roughly halfway between them. Various exapmples of land-based radar systems are located at the western end of the large clearing housing the measurement range.

The Tver RCS range can be seen in the image below:

Voronezh in southwestern Russia houses a second RCS range facility. The Voronezh facility, previously identified in an Image of the Week, is similar to the northern facility at Tver insofar as it employes a large cleared area for radar propagation and a battery of land-based radars for signal generation. However, while Tver seems to be designed for measurement of suspended test articles, Voronezh appears designed for measurement of surface or pylon-mounted articles. The circular platform where test articles would be mounted also appears to contain a rotating central area, allowing for signatures to be measured at different aspect angles without having to completely reinstall the test article.

The Voronezh RCS range can be seen in the image below:

China operates a large RCS measurement facility in Beijing. This facility is co-located with a test facility for numerous new radar systems, including the HT-233 guidance radar for the HQ-9 SAM system. This expertise potentially provides the RCS range with numerous qualified personnel to accurately measure test articles, as well as a facility for evaluating the performance of new radar systems. The test articles themselves may be mounted on a platform at the southern end of the radar pathway, or could theoretically be mounted underneath a crane located south of the measurement platform. An old MiG-15 airframe located near the crane platform may be employed as a calibration device for the radar range.

The Beijing RCS range can be seen in the image below:

Brazil's Aeronautics and Space Institute in Sao Jose dos Campos operates a small outdoor RCS range. The range consists of a pylon for mounting targets of up to 2000 kilograms, and an adjustable radar array capable of being adjusted in both elevation and azimuth. The range is used to measure small objects, and to evaluate the effects of radar-absorbent materials.

Brazil's RCS range can be seen in the image below:

The first feature detailing American RCS ranges and other classified test facilities was published in August of 2007. Since then, higher resolution imagery of two locations has been made available, and a new facility has been located.

New imagery of both the RATSCAT and Boardman RCS ranges can be seen below:

BoardmanThe new facility is located near Walnut Springs, Texas, and is believed to be a former Lockheed Martin RCS measurement facility. The Walnut Springs RCS range consists of a retractable hangar for mounting test articles and two radar positions. A possible secondary facility may be located southeast of the main range.

The Walnut Springs RCS range can be seen in the image below:

Feel free to discuss the content of this article at the IMINT & Analysis Forum in the discussion thread found here. You must be a forum member to view the thread.


-Overhead imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

Soviet Reactions to Stealth, SNIE 11-7/9-85/L, accessed via the CIA's FOIA site

SOLANGE and Japan
EADS Manching RCS Range
Brazilian RCS Range (.pdf file)

-All information contained in this article is sourced from the public domain, principally the World Wide Web, and is not intended to imply the dissemination of, nor does it contain, restricted or classified material.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Strategy Page Hijacks Analysis

Strategy Page, apparently some sort of news-oriented military info site, went and hijacked one of my analysis pieces back in November. The offending article can be seen here. Now, I don't mind others making full use of my work. If I cared that much, I'd be publishing books. But if you want to use anything or mention my analysis in another piece, at least give credit where credit is due.

What's really funny is that the comments page has one poster opining for the coordinates of the site to examine. Had they linked back to my posting made four days prior to their "news", the guy would've gotten what he wanted!

Sorry for the rant. I'll try and be a bit more productive now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Free Intel Career Webinar

Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Tom Hunter will lead a free “Insider’s Guide” webinar, Insider’s Guide to Careers in Intelligence Analysis, on Thursday, December 17, from 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM PST. Mr. Hunter served as a senior intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where he specialized in Homeland Security, terrorist tactics, hostage rescue, Detainee Support, and South American narcoterrorism. During the webinar, sponsored by Henley-Putnam University, he will provide an overview on careers in intelligence analysis, including a discussion of counterterrorism, human factors in terrorism, weapons systems, and counterdrug intelligence.

Anyone interested in attending can register online here.

A press release containing more information can be downloaded here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Taiwan Isn't Pleased

A Taiwanese news article posted online on November 21st had an interesting topic: an IMINT & Analysis forum member's article posted to detailing Taiwan's air defense facilities. In a roundabout way, this site was also mentioned, as the article stated that the air defense overview's author "was working with another that had previously worked on Taiwan air defense, and photos/imagery". Hey, that's me, referring to my May 2009 piece on Taiwan's Strategic SAM Network.

The news piece claims, by way of comments from ROCAF officials, that the sites detailed are public knowledge and not secret, and that the distribution of commercial satellite imagery makes it more difficult to keep such facilities concealed. That's all well and good, but they have to be privately annoyed, given the fact that a good deal of these sites are in fact censored in the most recent Google Earth imagery. If they weren't meant to remain hidden from public view, why bother censoring the sites?

Of course, that didn't stop me in the least from utilizing Google Earth's features to extract uncensored images of the sites and display the relevant imagery. Besides, if anyone thinks that the Chinese military doesn't know exactly where these facilities are located, they're deluding themselves. Taiwan may desire to hide these locations from the general public, perhaps to conceal their proximity as likely Chinese targets to major population centers, but talking about them on the internet is certainly not a serious security concern.

At the end of the day, I can take pride in one aspect of all of this apparent international annoyance: If I wasn't accurate, the ROCAF's responses would've been different.

Friday, November 20, 2009

China's LPAR Revealed


Google Earth's latest imagery update now provides a high-resolution view of the completed LPAR facility in western China. This facility was previously illustrated as an Image of the Week while in an incomplete state using then-available Google Earth imagery, and identified as an LPAR facility using Terra Server imagery. Google Earth's newly-uploaded imagery from 2009 displaying the operational radar facility can be seen below:

There is still no information regarding this facility, although its positioning and orientation suggests a BMEW function. An alternative, given the relative proximity to the Xinjiang possible HEL site, could be a space tracking role providing early warning data to the ASAT network.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Old blog reactivated

Some of you might remember that I had another blog about two years ago, dealing with the fact that I am a confessed Miami Dolphins fanatic. It's been relaunched with a sports and music theme, so check it out if you feel so inclined:

Fins and Riffs

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sary Shagan Update

Last week I mentioned that I am working on an expanded and updated look at Russia's ABM programs, including the Sary Shagan test range. Well, this project might take a little bit longer than expected. To understand why I have decided to make this a far more time-consuming project than originally anticipated, take a look at the work in progress in the image below:

I'm pretty sure we can all agree that the end result will be worth the wait, right? My intention is to model the major facilities, including operational radars like the Don-2NP (HORSE LEG) seen above, and launch components like the 53T6 silos. I've found this to be ridiculously easier than when I tried modeling the S-300PS (SA-10B GRUMBLE), albeit still time consuming. The level of detail in the structures will depend on how long it takes to generate the basic structures. The HORSE LEG seen above is pretty basic; at the very least it still requires the two array faces and a few more odds and ends atop the radar housing. I'll probably build the basic buildings and structures (i.e. something like the HORSE LEG only with the array faces and a paint job) and then see where I'm at before deciding whether or not to go back and make them ridiculously detailed with windows and whatnot.

Anyway, since it is in fact now Monday, why don't I go see about a new Image of the Week.

Oh, an for those of you who might be curious, this is what my S-300PS ended up looking like:

Yeah, oops.

-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth; 3D model created using Google Sketchup

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Polish Strategic Air Defense: A Cold War Case Study


Poland's countryside is dotted with numerous abandoned SAM sites, a lasting legacy of its Cold War role as part of the Warsaw Pact's air defense network. Numerous strategic SAM batteries played key roles in the Cold War, securing the Warsaw Pact's northern border and defending Polish and Soviet military units.


The Polish strategic SAM network operated five different SAM types during the Cold War: the SA-75 Dvina and S-75 Volkhov (SA-2 GUIDELINE), S-125 Neva and S-125M Neva-M (SA-3 GOA), and S-200VE Vega (SA-5 GAMMON). The network was arranged in accordance with both barrier and area air defense concepts, with a contiguous SAM network along the northern coastline and clustered sites inland protecting key areas such as the capital. At first the strategic SAM forces were under the control of the Polish Army, but in 1962 they transitioned to the control of a new service branch, the Air Defense Army. The Polish Army would, however, operate the 2K11 Krug (SA-4 GANEF) and 2K12 Kub (SA-6 GAINFUL) tactical SAM systems.

Engagement ranges of the strategic SAM systems employed by Poland are as follows:

SA-75 Dvina: 34 km
S-75 Volkhov: 43 km
S-125 Neva: 15 km
S-125M Neva-M: 25 km
S-200VE Vega: 240 km

In the imagery contained within this article, SAM systems will be identified as follows: SA-75 sites are marked with yellow triangles and range rings, S-75 series sites are marked with red triangles and range rings, S-125 series sites are marked with blue triangles and light blue range rings, and S-200 series sites are marked with purple triangles and range rings. Soviet SAM sites are identified using the same color scheme but are marked with stars in place of triangles.


Poland's strategic SAM network was born in a 1959 government decree determining that air defense units would be equipped with SAM systems. Crew training on the SA-75 Dvina began in 1960, with 26 batteries available by the end of 1963. The decision to obtain the S-75 Volkhov was also made in 1963, with training beginning in 1964. Nine SA-75 units would reequip with the S-75 and twelve new units would form by the end of 1971. In 1968 the S-125 was acquired and crew training initiated, progressing to the S-125M in 1978. Ultimately, 17 S-125 batteries would form, as well as nine S-125M batteries. 8 S-125M batteries would replace older SAM systems, in some cases even the shorter-ranged S-125. Poland's last Cold War strategic SAM acquisition was the S-200VE. Work towards that end began in 1985, with the battery becoming operational in 1987.

The following image depicts the layout of SAM facilities around Poland. It should be noted that not all of these sites were operational at any given time, this image merely illustrates the overall deployment strategies. Note the coastal barrier extending east from the DDR border to Gdansk, and the clustered arrangement of SAM batteries around major cities. Scattered around the nation are red icons denoting Soviet SAM sites, primarily S-125Ms tasked to defend Soviet airfields. Also of note is Bemowo Piskie, in the northeastern sector. This was the facility responsible for training Polish SAM operators and units.

Due to the constant upgrades and expansion present within the Polish strategic SAM network, chronological analysis provides the most convenient method for viewing the network's status and capability at a given point in time. The following images will depict the SAM network as it existed for a given time period, accompanied by a brief analysis where appropriate. Soviet SAM batteries will not be included here as there is no documentation regarding their deployment timelines.

1966: SA-75 deployment had completed, providing the nation's first SAM network. At this point the sites were positioned to defend key locations, being deployed in a quasi-circular pattern around their areas of interest.
1970: S-75 deployment was nearly complete. By this time, the framework for the coastal SAM barrier was in place, and select SA-75 batteries near Gdansk and Warsaw had been upgraded with the newer S-75.
1976: By this time S-75 deployment was completed, and S-125 deployment had begun. The coastal SAM barrier was complete. S-125 batteries were used to supplement the SA-75 and S-125 batteries, providing enhanced low-altitude coverage.
1977: By 1977 a solitary S-75 battery near Skwierzyna had been deactivated. This battery, the sole strategic SAM battery operated by the Polish Army, was reequipped with the 2K11.
1978: By the end of 1978, S-125 deployment was expanded around Katowice, and the first S-125M batteries had entered service. Warsaw S-125 batteries were reequipped with the newer, longer-ranged S-125M.
1984: By this time, S-125 deployments had taken place around Poznan, supplementing the SA-75 batteries already in place.
1986: S-125M deployment had been completed by 1986, with the system replacing select SA-75 and S-75 batteries near Mrzezyno along the northern coastline, Poznan, and Katowice.
1987: The Polish SAM network saw its last Cold War alteration by 1987, with the deployment of the S-200VE near Mrzezyno.

Soviet SAM units deployed to Poland during the Cold War were established primarily to provide air defense for Soviet troop locations. Most commonly, S-125M batteries were emplaced on or near military airfields occupied by the Soviet military. Identified Soviet air defense deployments included two S-75M batteries and four S-125M batteries.

Soviet air defense deployments and coverage in Poland can be seen in the image below:
Soviet air defense deployments in Poland were apparently far less robust than they were to the west in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The reason behind this is likely due to the fact that high-performance Su-27 (FLANKER-B) air superiority fighters were based at Soviet-occupied airfields, providing a far more capable air defense asset than any S-75 or S-125 variant. Also, it was likely believed that any attacking force having penetrated through the GDR and Polish SAM and interceptor nets would be more readily dispatched by available air assets.

An apparent S-300PS (SA-10B GRUMBLE) emplacement near Warsaw provides the only indication that the system was considered for deployment to Poland. Given that there is no evidence to suggest that the Polish government has attempted to purchase the system in the past, the likely operator would have been the Soviet military. The site was in use as recently as 2002 by the Polish military, most likely to support EW assets which would be able to take advantage of the raised berms initially constructed to enhance the fields of view of the S-300PS's 5N63S (FLAP LID B) engagement and 36D6 (TIN SHIELD) or 64N6 (BIG BIRD) EW/battle management radar systems.

The Warsaw S-300PS site can be seen in the image below:

As designed, the Polish strategic SAM network was fairly robust and during later years did provide relatively layered coverage zones where systems were deployed. Consider the following image, depicting SAM deployments and coverage zones circa 1989 of both Polish and Soviet strategic SAM units:
While the network appears at first glance to contain a significant number of open areas, particularly in the southwestern, central, and eastern portions of the nation, the network must be analyzed in the context of the entire Warsaw Pact air defense network. The GDR was likely to serve as the front line of any conflict with NATO, and as such enjoyed a much more contiguous SAM network.

The following image depicts the strategic SAM deployments in the western Warsaw Pact circa 1989:
The majority of the Warsaw Pact's SAM defenses were consolidated in the GDR, and in western Czechoslovakian territories closest to the West German border. Polish airspace was therefore protected by these networks, their presence acting as an external SAM buffer zone. This may in part explain why Poland continued to rely on the older SA-75 Dvina in greater numbers throughout the Cold War; Czechoslovakia and Hungary, for example, had phased the system out by 1989.

The limitations inherent in the Polish strategic SAM network were ultimately the same shared by its allied states: reliance on outdated Soviet weapon systems. The SA-75, S-75, and S-125 were all single-target command-guided systems, able to engage one target per engagement radar and vulnerable to ECM interference with either the engagement radar or missile guidance command link. However, even these limitations should be taken in context; the Warsaw Pact did not see itself fighting a defensive battle for an extended period and as such the limitations of Polish systems deployed well behind the predicted front lines would have been mitigated by Soviet Army advances into the heart of NATO.

Ultimately, Poland's strategic SAM network was well designed to serve its purposes, even if the systems themselves became more susceptible to Western electronic combat systems as the Cold War continued.


Following the end of the Cold War, the Polish strategic SAM network began to see a number of changes. In 1990, the SA-75 was finally removed from service, with the S-75 following in 2001. Poland has relied almost solely on the S-125 family since 2001, developing a mobile variant dubbed the Neva-SC featuring truck mounted engagement radars and tank mounted launch rails. The only other holdover from the Cold War period is the S-200VE.


Poland's strategic SAM network played a critical role for the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. The coastal SAM barrier guarded against NATO incursion into one of the Warsaw Pact's main resupply and logistical areas, and would have aided in protecting naval units transiting from the Baltic Sea. Although its strength waned following the Cold War, at strength it was a critical component in the Warsaw Pact's overall air defense strategy.


Feel free to discuss the content of this article at the IMINT & Analysis Forum in the discussion thread found here.


A Google Earth file containing the placemarks and range rings used in the generation of this article can be downloaded here.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

SAM range data taken from various editions of Jane's Land-based Air Defence, and from Fakel's Missiles, an unclassified Fakel publication detailing the bureau's missile development.

I have chosen to pretty much ignore unit subordination for this piece, not because the data is unavailable, but because it can be read in much more depth at the following link:

Polish Air Defense, 1959-1985

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Sidebar Items, Updates

With my increase in productivity the past couple of days, I've added a few new menus over on the right of the page. Underneath "Latest Updates" and "Forthcoming Articles" you'll now find the following options:

-Strategic Forces: anything relevant to strategic warfare, nuclear submarines, ballistic missile forces, etc

-SAM Site Overviews: site overviews for various SAM systems

-Strategic SAM Networks: present-day SAM network architecture

-Cold War SAM Networks: historical SAM network architecture

The links presented in each section are, of course, to articles here on this site. This just provides an easier way for people to go back and find some of the old pieces that they might have missed. Each menu will be updated whenever a new piece is added that fits in one of those categories.

Plus, seeing all of this stuff laid out in an organized, accessible fashion has already made me start work on updating some of the older features linked in those sections.

Other than that, the next two pieces to be finished (they are really just about done) will be the Polish Cold War SAM Network and the Chinese Laser ASAT Facilities pieces. Then its back to picking around from lists of topics, updating old articles, etc. There may also be a new fun item coming along soon: PDF downloads. These will be significantly expanded versions of existing pieces, or in some cases new features entirely, available for receipt through the mailing list. Free of charge, of course, at least for the time being. Some of the things I'm working on are several hundred pages long. Why through the mailing list? Because then I won't run into the old problems with the SAM Site Overview file again.

All for now. Don't forget, if there are any suggestions for site improvement or ideas for future articles, let me know!

And yes, despite my apparent productivity, the Image of the Week hasn't been posted yet today. I know. I've got a few to consider, it'll be posted this afternoon or early evening.

SFRY Strategic Air Defense: A Cold War Case Study


The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) existed throughout the Cold War, before succumbing to internal fractions and secessions. While not a Warsaw Pact member state, being a founding member of the Non-aligned Movement, the SFRY did rely on the USSR for the majority of its air defense weaponry. Strategic SAM defenses were no exception, but a lack of serious cooperation with the Soviets may ultimately have led to the creation of a less capable air defense network.

THE S-75

The first strategic SAM deployed in the SFRY was the S-75 (SA-2 GUIDELINE). Two air defense missile regiments (ADMRs), the 250th and 155th, were formed in 1962 and 1965 respectively. Each regiment defended the airspace around a key city, Belgrade for the 250th and Zagreb for the 155th, and consisted of four S-75 batteries. Heading into the 1970s the SFRY could count on a total of eight S-75 batteries for strategic air defense.

The 250th ADMR was equipped with the SA-75 Dvina. The missile system had a range of approximately 34 kilometers. The 250th ADMR's four sites were deployed in a roughly semicircular pattern south of Belgrade. The 155th ADMR, being established three years later, was equipped with a more capable, longer-range S-75 variant, the S-75M Volkhov. This system had an effective range of approximately 43 kilometers. Both systems were constrained, however, by their single-target engagement capability and simple command guidance methodology. In the mid-1960's, however, they were state of the art. The 155th ADMR's four batteries were arranged in a rectangular pattern, with Zagreb aligned along the right "side".

The following image depicts the layout and coverage zones of the 250th ADMR's SA-75 batteries:
The following image depicts the layout and coverage zones of the 155th ADMR's S-75M batteries:
The following image depicts the layout and coverage zones of SFRY strategic SAM assets, circa 1970. Note the larger engagement zones of the S-75M batteries.
THE S-125

In the 1970s, a new weapon system was added to the SFRY's strategic air defense network: the S-125M Neva-M (SA-3 GOA). The S-125M was a command-guided SAM system with a range of 25 kilometers. Like the S-75, it possessed a single-target engagement capability. It did enjoy better low-altitude capability than the S-75 variants, however, and was initially conveived in part to augment the S-75 for this very reason. The SFRY, however, initially chose to deploy the S-125M in a similar manner to the S-75: four-battery ADMRs would be established around important cities.

Two ADMRs were established to operate the S-125M, the 350th and 450th. The 350th ADMR was established in 1974 around Ljubljana in the northwest, with the 450th ADMR following in 1977 around Skopje in the south. The 155th and 250th ADMRs retained their earlier S-75 variants, the SFRY choosing, initially, to deploy the S-125s in undefended regions.

The following image depicts the layout and coverage zones of the 350th ADMR's S-125M batteries:
The following image depicts the layout and coverage zones of the 450th ADMR's S-125M batteries:
In 1978, a further four S-125M batteries were assigned to the 250th ADMR, which was redesignated the 250th air defense missile brigade (ADMB) to reflect its increased strength. These S-125M batteries were deployed around Belgrade and provided an increased coverage area as well as overlapping coverage zones with extant SA-75 batteries.

The following image depicts the layout and coverage zones of the 250th ADMB following S-125M deployment:
The following image depicts the layout and coverage zones of SFRY strategic SAM assets during the 1980s:

Being a non-aligned nation, neither part of NATO nor the Warsaw Pact, the SFRY was not committed to the air defense networks of either bloc. The SFRY was also a nation which contained a significant amount of varied terrain. These factors helped shape the general layout of strategic SAM deployments.

Given that the SFRY was not permanently joined to one side of the Iron Curtain, its strategic SAM network allows for interesting comparisons to be made between "aligned" and "neutral" nations. Unlike the DDR, for example, the SFRY's strategic SAM network was relatively sparse, designed only to defend key areas rather than provide true nationwide or border area air defense. Nationwide or border deployment strategies would have been hampered by the aforementioned terrain constraints, particularly in the areas of present-day Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Non-Warsaw Pact member status may have also prevented the SFRY from obtaining long-range systems such as the S-200 (SA-5 GAMMON), or hosting similarly-equipped Soviet units. Alternatively, as a non-aligned nation, the SFRY may have seen the deployment of such a network or the purchase of more advanced assets as unnecessary.

Ultimately, the SFRY's strategic SAM network was fairly porous, and in later years suffered from reliance on 1960s-era technological assets. While the network fulfilled the requirement for air defense of key locations, it would not have provided a significant impediment to a modern, equipped air force, especially during the 1980s when the effectiveness of the S-75 and S-125 had been reduced to a significant degree by Western electronic warfare systems and system exploitation.


In the 1990s the SFRY began its gradual disintegration into the various nation-states and autonomous provinces which exist today. As the nation degraded, so did the air defense network once emplaced to defend it. The 155th and 350th ADMRs were relocated to Bosnia in 1992, with the S-125M batteries being used to replace the SA-75 batteries in the 250th ADMR. The 155th ADMR was deactivated in accordance with the 1995 Dayton Accords, leaving the S-125M the only remaining strategic SAM asset operational in any former Yugoslavian state. At some point between 1990 and 1999, the 450th ADMR was relocated to Bosnia and emplaced near Kraljevo. Only one prepared site has been located in the area, seen in the image below, suggesting that the remaining batteries may have been kept in reserve and subsequently field deployed during the 1999 conflict with NATO.
Due to reliance on largely outdated systems and operating only twelve S-125M batteries, it is no suprise that the 250th ADMB and 450th ADMR failed to achieve great success in repelling NATO air attacks in 1995 and 1999. Many of the same nations, flying the same warplanes, had enjoyed great success over Iraq in 1991, which operated significantly more S-75 and S-125 batteries. The only NATO warplane shot down in 1995 was a French Mirage 2000, and this was downed not by an S-125M but by a shoulder-fired SAM system. 1999 saw marginally more success statistically, likely related to the increased number of sorties which were mounted by NATO.

F-117 DOWN

The 250th ADMB would reach the end of the 1999 conflict with a significant victory for any air defense unit, regardless of strength or sophistication: the shootdown of an F-117A. On the 27th of March, 1999, an F-117A was shot down by an S-125M unit commanded by Colonel Zoltan Dani. Col. Dani has stated that the missile system was modified, although he has not provided any details which could compromise such systems still in service in Serbia, and has discussed communications intercepts which provided insights into flight routes. The most likely explanation is that a long wavelength radar system was incorporated allowing the F-117A to be tracked at greater-than-normal range for the system, allowing ingress and egress routes to be studied. An S-125M battery deployed underneath a known ingress/egress corridor would have an excellent chance of tracking an F-117A, as the aircraft is not, after all, invisible. By masking such a deployment from NATO reconnaissance assets, the S-125M battery would be able to engage and shoot down an F-117A.

Given that there were no other LO aircraft shot down, despite persistent propaganda claims of B-2 shootdowns to the contrary, this would appear to be a credible scenario, as the likely NATO response of altering future flight routings would alleviate the possibility of a SAM battery being purposely deployed underneath a known route. Again, while Serbian air defense units did not ultimately prevent NATO aircraft from conducting their bombing raids, and therefore failed to achieve their strategic purpose, on a single night in 1999 the 250th ADMB demonstrated to the world that with proper support, competent tactics, and effective training, a less technologically advanced system can still be an effective part of a strategic air defense network.

As a side note, the F-117A shootdown likely resulted in the second most famous event of the 1999 conflict-the bombing of the Chinese embassy on 7 May. While various sources have claimed that the building was bombed due to signals intelligence information, alleging that China was studying cruise missile systems to develop effective countermeasures, this story makes as much sense as the official response that the site was hit due to an error caused by outdated maps. By 1999 China was well into developing the HQ-9, and had imported various iterations of the S-300P (SA-10 GRUMBLE/SA-20 GARGOYLE) and Tor (SA-15 GAUNTLET) SAM systems, providing viable cruise missile defense. It is more likely that the site was deliberately bombed to prevent the transfer of F-117A airframe and RAM components to the Chinese.


The SFRY did not take an consistently belligerent stance on one side of the Iron Curtain or the other, and as a result was not ultimately under a constant and serious threat from either NATO or the Warsaw Pact. Given the political considerations, it is not suprising that a more robust and capable strategic SAM network failed to materialize. The SFRY simply deployed what it felt was necessary to achieve its goals, and the failings of the network's remnants in the 1990s were simply a result of oversaturation and undermodernization of the remaining weapon systems themselves.


Feel free to discuss the content of this article at the IMINT & Analysis Forum in the discussion thread found here.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

Jane's Land-based Air Defence, various editions

Zoltan Dani on the F-117A shootdown

Special thanks to IMINT & Analysis forum member Hpasp for providing SFRY order of battle information and historical data.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chinese Military Airfields


Latest update: 12 October 2009

A Google Earth placemark file detailing Chinese military-affiliated airfields can be downloaded here. There are five folders available, one each for PLAAF bases, PLANAF bases, PLA bases, manufacturer & test facilities, and bases whose affiliation is currently unidentified. The locations are color coded, with PLAAF bases being green, PLANAF bases being blue, PLA bases being orange, manufacturer & test locations being red, and unidentified bases being yellow. Each folder is also divided where appropriate into subfolders based on military region. This file will be updated as more current information becomes available.

If anyone has any information regarding the locations in the "Unidentified Affiliation" folder, please let me know!


Sunday, August 23, 2009


The Image of the Week will now be done on Monday instead of Friday. Ergo, the one you expected to see last week will be posted...tomorrow! This change is due to a rearranging of my schedule.

Comments...some of the comments I've been getting have been asking questions, or asking for a bit of analysis. These will always be posted to the site, but I won't approve them for publishing until I have the answer or an appropriate reply to post as well. So, if you've posted a comment with some inquiries, and haven't seen it appear yet, that's why. Most other comments are approved for posting right away, unless I reject them as spam.

I'm also working on a piece detailing Chinese laser ASAT facilities, expect that to be the next significant article posted. There will also be a SAM Site Overview posted this week, perhaps today or tomorrow. Much of the credit for this update goes to Tim Brewer for sending along a whole mess of new sites over the past few weeks.

Life seems to be settling down a bit for me here of late, so expect to finally begin to see a return to regularity and a greater deal of articles posted beyond the standard SAM Site Overview and Image of the Week. That's all for now, and as always, feel free to send me any comments or ideas!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Burmese Nukes?

A few days ago, some news outlets began reporting on Burma's potential nuclear weapons program. I was contacted by Dr. Lewis over at ArmsControlWonk and asked to do some image interpretation of one of the potential sites. Check out what I came up with here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Non-Google Earth Imagery Finds


Sometimes, Google Earth, useful as it is, is just not enough. In many cases it is necessary to refer to another imagery source to locate current imagery of a given location, or perhaps imagery of a location not covered in Google Earth. There are many other online browsers which can be consulted, such as Microsoft's Bing Maps (formerly known as Windows Live Local), but many of these sources only focus on the most popular (usually meaning populated) areas. This can leave an analyst quite irritated, especially given the fact that procuring imagery from an external supplier can be a tedious and restrictive process. Not to mention expensive. Fortunately, there is an answer.


Terra Server is an imagery provider, a relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated source of imagery from suppliers such as Digital Globe. And for those of you who have been browsing online imagery for quite some time now, no, Terra Server is not related to the former Microsoft endeavor bearing the same name. By far the best feature of Terra Server is the ability to browse imagery online. This allows any potential purchaser to preview exactly what is being offered, even to the point where images of a given target captured on different dates can be browsed.

Terra Server is not meant to be a free imagery viewing service, and as such the imagery is watermarked and the preview window is not that large (although for a monthly fee you can get a larger, non-watermarked viewer). Even with the aforementioned restrictions to viewing, the "service" provided is bascally free of charge for unlimited use. This makes it very valuable to analysts, especially those on a budget! The value is further emphasized when the volume of imagery available for viewing is examined. Many areas not covered by high-resolution imagery in Google Earth are clearly visible, and many other areas feature very recent imagery captured at various points in 2009. In short, any analyst who has not yet browsed through Terra Server's holdings is missing out on a fantastic resource.


The following placemark file for use in Google Earth depicts the locations of a number of interesting facilities identified through Terra Server's imagery browser: Right click, save as.

There are three folders in the file, as well as three other placemark files. The folders include updates for the Chinese 2nd Artillery file, the SAM Site Overview, and interesting sights at Kapustin Yar.

The other three placemarks depict a Tu-144D on display in Germany, the 53T6 testing grounds at Sary Shagan, and the Voronezh-DM BMEW radar at Armavir.

By clicking on each placemark, a window will open containing a link to the Terra Server imagery depicting these locations. Hopefully this will demonstrate the usefulness of Terra Server's service, as well as providing analysts with insight into some of the facilities identifiable using the Terra Server viewer.


-Placemark locations compiled by browsing Terra Server imagery, or Google Earth historical imagery

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just a quick note...

I went back tonight and recounted (yes, seriously) all of the sites in the SAM Site Overview file. Some of the numbers in the folders for the various inventories were a little off, but they are all now 100% accurate insofar as the number of placemarks are concerned. I reuploaded the new file (nothing new added yet as far as content is concerned), so if you download it you should notice the changes in some places. I also edited the SAM Site Overview post, the total figure is now well over 4,000 as I also account for low-resolution sites in that number. I figured why not, I already included the historical sites in the total, and this would push it over 4,000!

Basically, I wanted to clean up the SAM Site Overview file before I went through adding all of the SHORAD data, that'll be done and uploaded within the next week. I'll also be editing a few more inventory figures for accuracy; the Baltic states, for example, show active S-200 (SA-5 GAMMON) batteries, when we know they are not used anymore. They show as active because they aren't yet visible in high-resolution coverage, and that's the way I was handling S-200 batteries when I started this a while back, but there's no sense to leaving them wrong. So, that'll be repaired by the time the next update is posted. I'm also contemplating shifting a lot more data into the Historical Sites folder, but that may or may not happen to any significant degree. Basically I'm trying to decide what nation's out-of-service types should potentially have their sites relocated inside the file. The problem is that a lot of FSU states re-use SAM sites for newer systems, so they might actually become active in the future. I'll figure it out.

If anybody has any comments, or wants to throw an idea out there to make the SAM Site Overview file easier or more interesting, drop on by the forum and let me know here.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nuclear Korea


On the 25th of May, 2009, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its second nuclear weapons test. Once again, the DPRK has become an area of focus for intelligence analysts and politicians as the next course of action for the West is determined. While it remains to be seen whether or not tensions between the DPRK, its southern neighbor, and the rest of the world will be mitigated, one fact remains: the DPRK is developing a nuclear arsenal.


The DPRK has detonated two nuclear devices in the past three years. The first test took place in October of 2006, with the second taking place in May of 2009. Seismic monitoring has provided analysts with a general location of both test events, along with a rough determination of the yield of both tests. The first test seems to have been a sub-kiloton event, with the second test falling in the 1-3 kiloton range. The test location is roughly 65 kilometers northwest of the Musudan-Ri missile test complex, in the isolated northeastern sector of the DPRK.


The DPRK's nuclear test site consists of multiple areas. The isolated location is ideal for this type of testing; there is no civillian presence to speak of, and the terrain allows for UGFs to be employed at will to protect and mask sensitive activity. The bulk of the test area consists of three likely test locations, five unidentified locations, and a rail transfer point located south of Sumunnae, representing the only significant source of transportation into the area.

The locations of the identified facilities and areas in the DPRK's nuclear test area can be seen in the image below. Unidentified facilities are marked as red buildings.
Two of the possible test locations are similar, with the third site being of a wholly different configuration. Of the two similar sites, the northern site is commonly associated with the DPRK's nuclear testing. Whether this is due to intelligence sources leaking information or due to imagery interpretation, it is interesting to note that the southern site has escaped mention, as has the central site. Moreover, Globalsecurity offers before and after imagery of the northern site captured at the time of the 2006 nuclear test. While the imagery is not the highest quality, it should be pointed out that there does not appear to be any significant difference or change in activity at the northern site in either image. This begs the question: was this the actual site of the October 2006 test?

After the 2009 test event, the CTBTO provided coordinate data for the presumed test events of 2006 and 2009, along with probability ellipses indicating the area around the theorized detonation sites where the event was likely located. All three of the identified facilities in the test area fall within the boundaries of both the 2006 and 2009 probability ellipses.

While there is no firm evidence to suggest which site was the "host" to which event, some conclusions may be drawn. It is likely that at least one event took place at the northern site, given that all of the coordinates released by various agencies such as the USGS and the CTBTO for the epicenters of the 2006 and 2009 events are arrayed roughly in an east-west line just north of the northern site. This suggests that at least one, and perhaps both, of the test events took place at the northern site. The central site is not as expansive as the other facilities, and features an antenna farm of some sort, suggesting that it may represent a monitoring station for the two other facilities. The devices seen mounted atop the masts to the north of the facility may be atmospheric sampling devices meant to track the unintended release of radiation from the underground tests.

Details of the northern, central, and southern sites can be seen in the images below. The first image depicts the north site. A possible security checkpoint for entry into the test area can be seen, as well as the likely location of the test shaft itself.
Next, the central site can be seen. This site contains fewer structures than the north or south sites. In fact, the facilities on the western edge of the main area appear to possibly be in disrepair, suggesting that this may have been an existing facility partially converted to use for monitoring the nuclear testing grounds. To the north, the possible sensor masts can clearly be seen.
Finally, the southern site is depicted. Notice the similar layout to the northern site, with the buildings in the main area of the facility organized in a general "U" shape. There is also a possible security checkpoint, and a facility which may be housing the opening to the vertical test shaft. More likely, however, would be positioning the entrance to a vertical or horizontal shaft inside the main facility itself, given that it is situated in a valley between two ridges.
The remaining four unidentified facilities in the area likely perform administrative and support functions for the test range. One such facility, seen in the image below, contains a helipad and apparent housing structures.
The three remaining facilities may be abandoned or unoccupied military garrisons (the site was imaged in February of 2005), or further housing and support areas for nuclear technicians manning the site during a test cycle. The lack of activity at these locations in the available imagery suggests that the site may only be manned during a test period, and also raises a significant question: where did the bomb come from?

There are numerous UGFs in the area, a helipad, and a rail transfer point to the south. This suggests that range security and transport may be supported by helicopter, and that significant amounts of material and personnel arrive by rail, perhaps after arriving in the region by air. The UGFs and various unidentified facilities are the dark horses of the facility. It is possible that the components were delivered individually and then assembled on-site for a test. It is also possible that there is a nuclear weapons plant buried within one of the UGFs producing the weapons after nuclear material is delivered. A final option, one which has no real supporting evidence but which should nevertheless be considered, is that there is a facility in the region, likely inside of an UGF, that produces both the fissile material and the weapons. Enrichment facilities at Yongbyon would seem to refute this idea, but it does make for an interesting theory: while the world is distracted by the goings-on at Yongbyon, the DPRK quietly produces and tests nuclear weapons at a much more remote and lesser-known facility.


Many analysts have assumed that the DPRK is working towards a nuclear capability and has not as of yet fielded a weaponized bomb. There are two holes in this logic which should be pointed out immediately. Bear in mind that this is speculation, and should not necessarily be taken as pure fact, but rather a logical line of thought given the information at hand.

Firstly, a small detonation is a small detonation, not necessarily a fizzle or test failure. Current estimates indicate that the 2009 event was the result of a device no larger than three kilotons detonating underground. Rather than assuming that this is a step towards a multi-kiloton, or even megaton class nuclear or thermonuclear device, the possibility that the test was a complete success and the weapon performed as designed should not be overlooked. For that matter, the previous test in 2006 may have been a complete success as well, either testing a small-scale nuclear device or validating the performance of the components to be used for a later test.

With regard to the possibility of a small-scale nuclear weapon having been developed successfully, it is known that an armed conflict on the peninsula would result in the DPRK employing a large number of special operations forces. Small devices would be ideal weapons to smuggle into the Repiblic of Korea and detonate in advantageous locations. A small device detonating on the Han river in Seoul, for example, would not only destroy many of the bridges crossing the river, but would likely incite a mass panic, without obliterating a sizeable portion of the city itself. The resulting exodus of civillians, seeking shelter from future attacks or medical care for exposure to radiation, has the potential to interfere with the movement and resupply of military forces in the region. Small warheads would also be ideal for delivery by submarine or missile to targets such as air bases close to the coastline, and could be detonated inside the major port facilities to further complicate the ROK's resupply and civillian evacuation operations. From an asymmetric aspect, they could also be used after an outbreak of hostilities to environmentally cripple fishing grounds in the area which are important for both the ROK and Japan.

The second of the aforementioned holes in logic is that current analysis seems to be focusing on a nuclear-armed ballistic missile representing the end result of the DPRK's nuclear weapons program. As demonstrated previously, this may not necessarily be the case. The standard explanation given is that the DPRK has designs on fielding a nuclear-armed ICBM capable of striking the United States. Testing a weapon and miniaturizing the warhead to fit atop an ICBM takes time. However, this assumes that the second test was another trial, and does not allow for the possibility that the device which detonated was a weapons-ready device. If that were to be the case, then it would be likely that the intended delivery vehicle is not in fact an ICBM.

If DPRK nuclear warheads do not progress much further in yield, they will not have much value atop the nations's largely inaccurate ballistic missiles over intercontinental ranges. This would make aerial delivery or delivery by other means far more likely as they can impart a greater degree of accuracy. Where the weapons would be valuable in terms of missile delivery would be as "terror weapons" meant to be fired at the ROK or Japan. In this capacity the accuracy of the delivery systems would be less important given the large metropolitan and industrial areas in each nation which would be far easier to target. Also, firing a small yield weapon into the ROK to cause panic among the populace as described previously would not result in a release of radiation on the scale found in detonating a much larger weapon. That would almost make it more logical for the DPRK to pursue smaller yield weapons as they could then be employed in select areas without causing a significant degree of ill effects for the DPRK's own military forces to contend with. Alternatively these small weapons could be deployed in artillery shells or battlefield rockets to pulverize US and ROK positions along the DMZ before an advance into the ROK.

However, a limited number of nuclear warheads, large or small yield, are still not logically destined to be fitted to ballistic missiles targeting facilities in or outside the Korean theater. The DPRK's leaders may be paranoid and misguided, but they are not stupid. The United States is fielding numerous ballistic-missile defense systems and has multiple PAC-3 batteries in theater. Japan is also fielding the PAC-3, and the ROK is beginning to field the Patriot system as well, albeit in the PAC-2 form. AEGIS ABM-tasked vessels could also be placed in-theater if needed. This would make relying on ballistic missiles as the delivery system for nuclear warheads a questionable proposition as there is no guarantee that the nuclear-armed missiles would reach their targets. That is not an acceptable proposition for such an important national asset, of which there would only be a limited quantity. In that respect, the asymmetric, naval, or airborne delivery methods begin to seem far more plausible, and more logical from the standpoint of the DPRK. Airborne delivery would not necessarily require any miniaturization of a weapon, making it seem like a decent enough solution, but many of the same air defenses which would be used to intercept ballistic missiles would also be able to target hostile aircraft in conjunction with allied fighters, making airborne delivery a dubious proposition as well. At the end of the day, unless a large number of warheads are fielded to mount atop ballistic missiles and the loss of a percentage is accepted, the most likely uses would seem to be naval or asymmetric.

There is still value to testing a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, even if a large scale deployment is not planned. This would force the US, the ROK, and Japan to divert more attention and resources to missile defense, potentially at the expense of other forces in-theater. Ergo, small-yield weapons testing and ballistic missile trials may not indicate that the DPRK is intending to operationally mate missiles and warheads to a significant degree.


The next question that must be answered is the future direction of the DPRK's nuclear weapons program. It will be important to study the results of any future nuclear test events to answer some of these questions.

Further tests resulting in a yield in the same range seen in the 2009 test will indicate that this is likely the design yield of the weapon. Contrarily, testing of weapons with increasing yield will indicate that the DPRK has its sights set on large yield weapons, and perhaps on thermonuclear weapons. Future nuclear test events will also aid analysts in determining the potential uses for such a weapon. Large yield weapons would have the ability to strike hardened facilities using less-accurate delivery systems, but small yield weapons would have to be accurately delivered and may only have limited use until a time when the DPRK has fielded a ballistic missile with hard-target kill levels of accuracy. Also, an expanded test program with shorter intervals between events will likely indicate that the DPRK has neared deployment of an operational weapon. However, a lack of test events does not necessarily indicate that weapons are not being deployed; if, as theorized previously, the current test met the DPRK's goals, then future testing may not be required until such a time when a larger yield weapon is desired.

Missile testing and training operations will also provide insight into whether nuclear warheads are being developed or deployed. Chemical or biological weapons are more likely to be used given their comparative cheapness and the belief that the DPRK maintains a large stockpile of one or both of those weapons. As long as CBW handling operations are detected in missile units without a significant change in procedure, it can be assessed with a degree of accuracy that nuclear weapons are not present.

A final option to consider for the future is another weapon system that has been rendered partially ineffective by recent defensive systems testing by the West: a FOBS. The DPRK's continued efforts to develop the Taepo-dong 2 SLV/ICBM is potentially indicative of a desire to have a space launch capability. After the most recent test the DPRK declared that a satellite had been orbited, a point which Western analysts dispute. Nevertheless, as a nuclear-tipped TD-2 is a paper threat until the DPRK produces a warhead of significant size to overcome the inherent inaccuracy of the delivery vehicle and develops penetration aids to defeat any American ABM systems, if a satellite launch capability can be developed and demonstrated, a FOBS would be an interesting avenue to pursue.


It can be stated with certainty that the DPRK is developing a nuclear weapons capability. How far along the program is, how many weapons may be available, and the intended and actual yields of the developed systems are up for debate. But at the end of the day, it would seem that the world is going to have to make room for another member of the Nuclear Club. How the West approaches and deals with the DPRK will have a significant impact on other nations wishing to acquire the same capability, providing them with an idea of how far the West will go to get its way. In this light, the DPRK's nuclear program, should it reach operational status, may be an impetus for Iran to fully develop a similar capability. And as a final note, the effect of a nuclear DPRK in the Korean theater may have much more ominous implications; could this be the final straw which forces Japan to shake off its self-imposed shackles and become a nuclear and offensive power in its own right?


Feel free to discuss the content of this article at the IMINT & Analysis Forum in the discussion thread found here.


-Satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth

CTBTO on the DPRK's Nuclear Tests
The ROK's Patriots
DPRK Nuke Test
ISIS Online

Friday, May 29, 2009

Brief Update

Right now I'm finishing up a piece on North Korea's nuclear testing ground. That one will be up today or tomorrow. In other site news, I've added a few more links to the Recommended Websites and Recommended Blogs sections on the right. Eric Palmer's ELP Defens(c)e Blog has replaced his old two blogs, and I've added Andreas Perbo's Verification, Implementation and Compliance blog. I'm not sure how I managed to forget about adding that one, sorry Andreas! I also added a link to the new Intelligence Magazine website. I'll be starting to author some content for that site in the near future, articles will be mentioned here with a link to their page at Intelligence Magazine. That's about it for now, time to finish up the Nork Nuke piece (Norke?).

And yeah, before anyone asks, updates to old articles are still being worked on, and SHORAD systems are still being categorized for the SAM Site Overview file. A lot of that stuff might have gotten finished this week, but then the Norks went all nuclear on us on Monday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Decoding Codenames


Western intelligence organizations began applying codenames to Soviet military equipment shortly after the Second World War. Codenames were a convenient way to describe military equipment when the native designators were often unknown. Eventually, two naming systems became the standard for Western military use. The US DoD assigned a series of alphanumeric designators to missile systems, and the five-nation Air Standards Coordinating Committee (ASCC, ASIC as of 2005) assigned a codename to various military systems and weapons.


The DoD system assigns identifiers to missiles using an alphanumeric format. The two-letter prefix denotes the missile type, and the numeral following denotes the specific system in that prefix series. For example, AA-8 is the 8th air-to-air missile assigned a designator. Missiles are categorized using the following prefixes:

AA-air to air missile
AS-air to surface missile
AT-anti tank missile
SA-surface to air missile system
SL-space launch vehicle
SS-surface to surface missile
SSC-surface to surface missile for coastal defense (an anti-ship weapon)

Other identifiers have been employed, but those listed above are the most common.

Using the information above, a lot of information can be inferred by examining an identifier. It can be inferred, for example, that the SA-20 is likely a newer system than the SA-10.

Two additional letters can be used before the numerical identifier to describe a system. These are N, denoting a naval system, and X, denoting an experimental system. In the case of the former, these are assigned separate categories. SA-N- and SS-N- prefixes denote naval SAMs and SSMs, respectively. These series are separate from the SA- and SS- series. In other words, the SA-N-4 does not represent a naval variant of the SA-4. In fact, until recently naval SAMs were assigned different numerical designators than land-based counterparts. The naval SA-10 was the SA-N-6. This is because designators are believed ot be assigned chronologically. The first naval SAM system, therefore, was the SA-N-1, even though it was a navalized SA-3. The X designator can be used with naval systems, and in this case it is employed as follows: SA-NX-20. This denotes an experimental naval SAM system, being the 20th naval SAM system identified.

Missiles which are for test purposes are not assigned designators. Only weapon systems believed to be undergoing trials for service are given designators, and they typically possess the X prefix denoting their experimental status. When the weapon enters service, the X is no longer used with that system.

Suffixes applied after the numeric designator are used to denote different variants of that system. For example, there are six in-service variants of the AA-10, and these are referred to as AA-10A through AA-10F.


The ASCC system assignes codenames to various pieces of military hardware. They are usually categorized by the first letter of their codename. Various suffixes are employed to denote different modifications or versions of the system. Systems are categorized into groupings using the following first letters:

A-air to air missile
C-cargo aircraft or airliner
F-fighter aircraft
G-surface to air missile/ABM
K-air to surface missile
M-miscellaneous aircraft (trainers, AEW&C, tankers, etc)
S-surface to surface missile

It is important to note that in the case of missiles, the codename refers to the missile itself, not the entire system. This becomes important when combining DoD and ASCC/ASIC designators to describe a system.

When dealing with aircraft, single syllable words denote propeller driven aircraft, while jet powered aircraft have two syllable codenames. For example, the Tu-95 has the codename BEAR, while the Tu-160 has the codename BLACKJACK.

Suffixes do not appear to follow a specific rule, but rather a set of loose rules. Firstly, the letters I and O are not used, to avoid confusion with the numbers 1 and 0. Modified variants can be denoted using the suffix Mod., followed by a numeral indicating which modification is being identified. This is commonly used for SAMs and SSMs. For example, GRUMBLE mod 1 refers to the 5V55R missile, while GRUMBLE mod 0 is the earlier 5V55K. Aircraft typically employ an alphabetical suffix to denote which variant of the airfract is being referred to. The Su-27 series is an excellent example. FLANKER-A refers to the original T-10 prototype series, while FLANKER-B refers to the T-10S series production model. Further examples include FLANKER-G for the Su-30MKK series, or FLANKER-H for the Su-30MKI series. Different variations of a subvariant are denoted by adding Variant to the codename, followed by a sequential numerical designator to note the variation. The FLANKER provides another example here, in the form of the Su-27M and Su-37. The former was designated FLANKER-E Variant 1, while the latter was designated FLANKER-E Variant 2.

The ASCC/ASIC system is different from the DoD system insofar as it often assigns codenames to anything identified regardless of whether or not it is predicted to be used operationally. For example, both the MiG-AT and Yak-130 received codenames, even though it was widely assumed that only one would be purchased for the Russian Air Force.

The ASCC/ASIC system also assignes two-word codenames to radar systems (airborne, ground-based, and naval), such as TOMB STONE, although these do not appear to follow any sort of naming convention. In some cases, such as SPOON REST or CLAM SHELL, the codenames are an amusing play on the visual appearance of the radar array.


As mentioned previously, US DoD and ASCC/ASIC designators can be combined to describe a given system. Consider the example of the S-300P series. Being a SAM system, it has a DoD designator prefixed with SA and an ASCC/ASIC codename starting with G: SA-10 GRUMBLE. Employing the proper suffixes can provide a detailed description of the system. A SAM battery described as employing SA-10B GRUMBLE Mod 0 systems can therefore be known to possess mobile components (SA-10B refers to the S-300PS or S-300PMU) equipped with the 5V55K missile. Ergo, the system is not operating to the limit of its capability, as the 5V55K is shorter-ranged and uses a simpler guidance method than the 5V55R or 5V55RD.


There are numerous errors in the way that these designators are referred and employed by analysts, journalists, and authors. First and foremost, ASCC and DoD codemanes are often used by NATO forces, and have erroneously been referred to as "NATO names". This is not the case; NATO did not devise these designators, the US DoD and/or the ASCC/ASIC did. Secondly, codenames are often not properly formatted. Codenames should be written in all capitals. Returning to the Su-27, the commonly seen printed name is Flanker rather than the correct FLANKER. Thirdly, correct codenames are often misused. Many sources refer to the 64N6 as TOMB STONE, when this is in fact BIG BIRD, for example. Other sources confuse the same issue altogether, referring to the guidance radar as "64N6 Tomb Stone". Correct codename, wrong radar system, and improperly formatted.


This is not intended as an all-inclusive lesson on Western codenames, but rather an introduction to how they are devised and employed. Understanding the systems in place aids an analyst who is not fully versed on Soviet/Russian system names (many Chinese or Warsaw Pact systems such as the JH-7 and L-29 have also been named using these systems as well), and also will aid in properly employing them.


For a comprehensive listing of known codenames and further explanation of other DoD and ASCC/ASIC sequences, Andreas Parsch has done a very good job here.