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!