A Brief History of the SA-11/17
The 9K37 (SA – 11 Gadfly/SA – 17 Grizzly) is a heavily upgraded version of the venerable 2K12 (SA-6) system. The development of the 9K37 system began in 1972, the development team consisted of many of the same contractors that were responsible for the 2K12 system hence the similarities. The 9K37 was built to surpass the capabilities of its predecessor the 2K12. During the development phase the design team travelled to Egypt to see the 2K12 in action. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the 2K12 was the fact that the system was self propelled. However the main weakness with the 2K12 (SA-6) was the fact that the “Straight Flush” radar was the responsible for both tracking and searching for targets, thus, if it was destroyed the entire battery was rendered ineffective. So the decision was made to add a targetting radar to each of the mobile launcher units. This had the added benefit of removing the reliance on the ‘Straight Flush’ search and track radar system, and allowed the SAM battery to utilise its multiple TELAR units to engage multiple targets over different azimuths at the same time, an impossibility in the 2K12.
The 9K37 was designed to counter aircraft, cruise missiles, helicopters and unmanned drones. The 9K37 BUK received a capability upgrade and this is where things get interesting. To simplify what was a typical russian upgrade program where seemingly endless versions were made I will outline the objective of the program and summarize the outcome. The 9K37 BUK was accepted into service in the USSR in 1980 after testing was completed between 1977 – 1979, after the BUK was accepted into service a upgrade was being developed. The purpose of the upgrade was to increase the BUK’s resistance to ECM, improve the performance of the radars and overall increase the SAM’s ‘probability of kill’ (PK), additionally the IFF system was upgraded to discriminate between civilian and military targets. At the end of this modernisation programme the 9K317M1-2 ‘BUKM1 – 2’ (NATO designator SA – 17 Grizzly). Complicated right!
The SA – 11 and ultimately the SA – 17 use a similar missile but as the SA – 17 uses a modernised version of the missile used by the SA – 11. I will split this section in two between the two variants of the missile.
The 9K37 (SA – 11) uses the 9M38 and 9M38M1 missile. The missile uses an X winged design without any detachable parts, with the exterior design being similar in looks to the RIM 161 SM-6 ‘Standard’ missile. The missile had to follow strict dimension restrictions to allow the missile to be adapted to the M22 system for the soviet navy. The 9M38 is 5.55m long, weighs 690Kg and has a 70Kg (150lbs) warhead – relatively large for the missiles size – and is triggered by a radar proximity fuze. The 9M38 uses a proportional navigation type of guidance making the missile much harder to kinetically defeat. The 9M38 uses a two stage rocket motor has a burn time of 15 seconds and accelerates to a speed of mach 3 guiding after a brief lofting period.
The 9K317M1-2 uses the 9M317 missile which is similar to the 9M38 but has a vastly increased defeat area of 45km and differs from the 9M38 by having an active seeker head, luckily this version of the missile is not found in BMS.
In BMS the SA-11 will usually start engaging an aircraft from 1 – 12.5nm at an altitude of up to 90,000’. The SA-17 will engage from anywhere between 1 – 23nm up to 79,000’.
The SA – 11 is a unique system. It hold the privilege of being the first system we have examined which utilises both an off board search and track radar and the launcher itself has the guidance radar for the missiles. This is called TELAR (Transporter Erector Launcher And Radar). The search radar is known as “Snow Drift” and has a maximum detection range of 85Km, the radar is also well equipped to deal with targets attempting to ingress at low altitude – it is stated that it can detect a fighter sized target flying at 100m from a distance of 35Km. The missiles are guided by a radar called “Fire Dome” by NATO. The official designation of the radar is 9S35 (9S35M for the SA-17) and operates in the X band. The ‘Fire Dome’ is mounted to the front of the TELAR system and can guide upto 6 missiles simultaneously from each launcher (this type of engagement in BMS 4.34 is rare although the author has had 4 missiles fired at him – two from two separate launchers). The firedome radar has a search and acquisition range of 46nm and fire control range of 29nm.
Be aware, in BMS and in reality, the SA-11 and SA-17 will not give a launch warning when they fire at you, due to the fact that the Fire Dome radar has TWS capability.
How to Defeat SA-11/17
The SA-11/17 is a truly deadly SAM and is optimised for attacking fighter sized targets (like the F16). A kinetic defeat is very hard when facing SA-11/17 especially in 4.34 as they will ambush you. A hard break turn away from the missile in a dive is advised along with liberal deployment of chaff. When you reach low altitude seek terrain to mask behind as soon as possible. If terrain masking is not possible then rapid climbing and descending movements are the best bet against a launch to defeat the missile, the movements will either force the missile into the ground of throw off the lead tracking of the incoming missile.
How to Destroy a SA-11/17 Battery
The SA-11/17 is deceptively hard to deal with effectively, each launcher has its own FCR which means that, even if the ‘Snow Drift’ SA radar is removed, the missiles can still be guided. Additionally in high ECM environments the SA-11/17 has a EOTS backup and can track you through a TV/IR camera system. In order to effectively neutralise the SA-11/17 battery the entire complement of launchers and ideally the Snow Drift must be destroyed. The best way to accomplish this task is down to to the wider situation at the time. Ideally a full package should be employed to wipe out a battery of SA-11/17 with jamming support and dedicated SEAD and DEAD flights to suppress the radars. If the site is stationary then cruise weapons are preferable due to the large standoff range they allow. However, if these weapons are not available then a low altitude (terrain masking) ingress followed by a low altitude pop up attack using either CBUs or AGM65 series weapons is ideal. Additionally be aware that SA-11/17 batteries are often protected by double digit MANPADS (SA-14/16) so getting close to the SAM is not advised.
The Tactical Use of SA-11/17 in BMS
The SA-11/17 is used to cover multiple battalions underneath a ‘bubble of air defense’ due to the mobile nature of the SAM. The system works in conjunction with other MRAD and SHORAD systems (like SA-19 and SA-15). It can also be employed in a static strategic defense role guarding targets such as an airbase or a nuclear power plant.