Buk-M1-2 air defence system in 2010. Command post 9C470M1-2, TELAR 9A310M1-2 and a TEL 9A39M1-2 from the backside.
The Buk-M1 (SA-11 Gadfly to NATO) can be used by minimally trained operators to deliver a lethal attack, without the safeguards built into other comparable GBADS, an Aviation Week analysis shows. It is also one of the two GBADS – both of Soviet origin – that are most widely distributed in conflict zones with the potential for large-scale, crossborder or civil violence.
The feature that makes the Buk-series weapons uniquely dangerous was introduced in the 1970s when Tikhomirov NIIP, now part of Almaz-Antey, designed the system to replace the 2K12 Kub low-altitude missile system, known to NATO as the SA-6 Gainful. (The similar names are coincidental: “Kub” means “cube” and “Buk” means “beech.”)
Kub was exported to Egypt after the destruction of that nation’s air force in a low-level air strike in 1967, and proved lethal in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. But it had a serious weakness in that it could engage only one target at a time. A Kub battery included one radar vehicle and four launch vehicles and used semi-active radar homing (SARH) guidance. The radar vehicle carried two antennas, a search radar and a continuous-wave tracker-illuminator, and the missile homed on to energy from the illuminator beam that was reflected from the target. With one illuminator per battery, the system could not start a second engagement until the previous missile had hit the target.
In the 1982 Lebanon war, the Israel Defense Force – Air Force launched a wave of decoys against Kubs and other GBADS. Once the Kubs locked onto the decoys they were unable to respond to the IDF-AF fighters that appeared next, and were destroyed.
The designers of the replacement Buk system had anticipated this problem. In addition to a new radar vehicle – the Phazotron 9S18M, Snow Drift to NATO – they fitted each launch vehicle with its own X-band multi-mode radar, under a radome on the front of the rotating launch platform. The vehicle is defined as a transporter/erector/launcher and radar (Telar). Similar to a fighter radar, the Telar radar (known to NATO as Fire Dome) has search, track and illuminator functions and can scan through a 120-deg. arc, independent of the movement of the platform.
This feature may have been a crucial factor in the destruction of MH17. The Fire Dome radar’s main job was to permit simultaneous engagement of more targets – one per Telar – under control of the battery’s 9S18M Snow Drift. But the Soviet military and the designers installed a set of backup modes that would permit the Telars to detect and attack targets autonomously, in the event the Snow Drift was shut down or destroyed by NATO’s rapidly improving anti-radar missiles. The autonomous modes are intended for last-ditch use by the Telar operators, not the more highly trained crews in the battery command vehicle. According to an experienced analyst of Russian-developed radar, the automatic radar modes display targets within range. The operator can then command the system to lock up the target, illuminate and shoot.
Critically, these backup modes also bypass two safety features built into the 9S18M Snow Drift radar: a full-function identification friend-or-foe (IFF) system and non-cooperative target recognition (NCTR) modes. The IFF system uses a separate interrogator located above the main radar antenna and most likely will have been upgraded to current civilian standards.
The 9S18M introduced new NCTR processing technology, according to a 1998 interview with Buk designer Ardalion Rastov. NCTR techniques are closely held, but one of the most basic – jet engine modulation, or the analysis of beats and harmonics in the radar return that are caused by engine fan or compressor blades – should easily discriminate among a 777 with high-bypass turbofans, a turboprop transport or an Su-25 attack fighter.
There is no sign of an IFF interrogator on the Buk Telar’s Fire Dome radar or elsewhere on the vehicle. In normal operation, it would not be necessary since the target’s identity would be verified (according to the prevailing rules of engagement) before target data was passed to the Telar. Other GBADS also leave identification to the main search radar and the command-and-control center; however, the launch units cannot engage and fire without central guidance. The Buk’s combination of lethality and lack of IFF/NCTR is unique.
The Buk-M1 and later derivatives, the M2 and M2E, have been deployed in 14 nations, and are operational in other areas subject to internal conflict. In January 2013, Israel launched an air strike that was apparently intended to destroy a number of Buk-M2E vehicles – the more advanced version – that were being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. In all, Syria is reported to have possessed eight Buk-M2E batteries. Syria also operates as many as 40 S-125 (SA-3 Goa) batteries, which are reportedly being upgraded. These also are medium-range, mobile weapons, but the launch units do not have radar. The same goes for the nation’s aging Kub batteries.
Egypt has 50-plus batteries of S-125, some of which have been modernized, and has been reportedly negotiating orders for Buk-M2E systems. Yemen also has some S-125 systems. Most pre-2003 Iraqi and Libyan GBADS have been destroyed, analysts suggest.
Russian 9K33M1 ‘BUK’.
With a NATO reporting name of ‘Grizzly’ or ‘Gadfly’ these effective Surface to Air missile defence systems have been operated by many countries from the 1980s to present with the usual Russian development approach of ‘slowly but surely’ and equally Russian robustness of the torsion-bar tracked chassis. The BUK system attained Worldwide infamy recently when it was used to shoot down of a civilian airliner. The system has a range of 35 Kms and a warhead weighing some 70Kg travelling at a speed of Mach 3 these 9K37M missiles can counter most airborne targets.
The first fire unit of the new 9K317M Buk-M3 SAM system, developed and manufactured by Almaz-Antey, has been delivered. It was received in early November, together with two units of the less advanced Buk-M2, and both the Buk-M3 and Buk-M2 fire units have successfully passed acceptance testing.
The Buk-M3 has longer range and can engage more air targets than its predecessor. Its maximum range is 70km with a minimum range slated at 2.5km, while the number of targets that can be simultaneously engaged is 36.
It uses a new missile, designated 9K317M, equipped with an active-radar, fire-and-forget seeker. Each 9K316M transport-erector-launch (TEL) vehicle can take up to 12 missiles accommodated in storage and launch tubes. The 9K317M autonomous fire vehicle with guidance radar is equipped with six missiles.
Each fire unit consists of a command post, an early warning radar, two autonomous fire vehicles with guidance radars and one or two TELs and transport-reload vehicles. All use tracked chassis enabling high off-road mobility.
The 9K317M missile boasts good manoeuvrability, thanks to the gas-dynamic controls (thrust vectoring) which enables the hit-to-kill capability. The missile’s maximum speed is 1,550m/s while the maximum speed of the engaged air targets is 3,000m/s and the engagement altitude is between 50 and 115,000ft.
In addition to aircraft, cruise missiles, UAVs and helicopters, the Buk-M3 is also advertised as well suited for countering tactical ballistic missiles.
The Israel Air Force (IAF) began a series of air strikes in 2013 that reportedly targeted weapons systems that Syria was transferring to its Lebanese ally Hizbullah. These air strikes all struck targets in areas largely controlled by pro-government forces.
The first was carried out on 30 January 2013, when vehicles were destroyed at the Al-Jamraya Research Centre just northwest of Damascus. Western media reports cited unnamed US officials as saying Buk-M2E mounted on transporters had been targeted before they could be driven across the border into Lebanon. In contrast, Syrian television showed footage of 9K33 Osa SHORAD systems and a number of transport trailers that had been destroyed in the air strike.
Even if the Syrians removed Buk-M2E components from these trailers after the air strike, the presence of the SAMs would not have been indicative of an intention to transfer them outside of Syria. Tracked vehicles that are capable of severely damaging paved roads are often transported on trailers and this has been seen with Syrian Buk-M2Es heading towards Al-Mazzah Air Base west of Damascus.
At the same time, Hizbullah would not be able to operate and maintain complex systems such as Buk-M2E SAMs on its own. Furthermore, the transfer of that system to Hizbullah would put Russia under far more international pressure to discontinue arms deliveries to Syria and to concede to a UN arms embargo on the Arab country. There are other possible explanations: Syrian may have intended to deploy Buk-M2E batteries to Lebanon to defend Hizbullah positions and/or challenge the Israeli aircraft that currently operate over Lebanon with impunity, or to transfer the less sophisticated Osa SAM systems to Hizbullah.
A series of airstrikes in early May 2013 appeared to have been directed at Hizbullah-oriented weapon systems. According to an unidentified US official quoted by The New York Times , the first strike on 3 May targeted Iranian-supplied Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) under the control of Iranian Quds Force and Hizbullah personnel. The Fateh-110 is a far less sophisticated weapon system than the Buk-M2E and potentially could be operated by Hizbullah personnel.
The IAF’s unwillingness to enter Syria’s airspace indicates that its efforts to improve its IADS have been successful. Furthermore, the incorporation of modern Chinese radar systems following the 2007 incursion suggests a more robust EW network is being established, designed to limit the effectiveness of any network-centric warfare attempts to degrade it. At the same time, the more strikes that the IAF carries out, the better the chances of the Syrian Air Defence Command predicting future strikes. In doing so, the command has the ability to relocate advanced mobile systems such as the Buk-M2E and Pantsyr-S1E in an attempt to successfully repel hostile action.
Original design tree
9K37-1 ‘Buk-1’ – First Buk missile system variant accepted into service, incorporating a 9A38 TELAR within a 2K12M3 Kub-M3 battery.
9K37 ‘Buk’- The completed Buk missile system with all new system components, back-compatible with 2K12 Kub.
9K37M1 ‘Buk-M1’ – An improved variant of the original 9K37 which entered into service with the then Soviet armed forces.
9K37M1-2 ‘Buk-M1-2’ (‘Gang’ for export markets) – An improved variant of the 9K37M1 ‘Buk-M1’ which entered into service with the Russian armed forces.
9K317 ‘Ural’ – initial design of Buk-M2 which entered into service with the Russian armed forces
Backside of the 9A317 TELAR of Buk-M2E (export version) at the 2007 MAKS Airshow
Wheeled MZKT-6922 TELAR of Buk-M2EK SAM system at Kapustin Yar, 2011
9K317E ‘Buk-M2E’ – revised design for export markets
9K37M1-2A ‘Buk-M1-2A’ – redesign of Buk-M1-2 for the use of 9M317A missile
‘Buk-M2EK’ – A wheeled variant of Buk-M2 on MZKT-6922 chassis exported to Venezuela and Syria.
9K317M ‘Buk-M3’ – A SAM battalion has 36 target channels in total.
- combat assets
- support assets
Typical combat assets include:
- 9S470 M1-2 command post;
- 9S18 M1-1 target acquisition radar;
- up to six 9A310M1-2 self-propelled launch vehicles;
- up to six 9A39M1 launcher-loader vehicles, assigned to SPLVs;
- up to 72 9M317 surface-to-air missiles, carried on SPLVs (up to four on each) and
LLVs (up to eight SAMs with four of them ready-to-fire on launch rails).
The support assets include maintenance and repair assets for the ADMS main elements, including tracked vehicles.
A group of up to four ADMS is provided with the following support assets:
- maintenance and repair facilities for the ADMS elements, and an automated integrated missile test and monitoring system;
- missile storage and transportation means (with rigging equipment to load/unload the missiles);
- training facilities;
- a group set of spare parts, tools and accessories for the ADMS elements.
Basic missile system specifications
Target acquisition range (by TAR 9S18M1, 9S18M1-1)
Range: 140 kilometres (87 miles)
Altitude: 60 meters – 25 kilometers (197 feet – 15.5 miles)
Firing groups in one division: up to 6 (with one command post)
Firing groups operating in a sector
90° in azimuth, 0–7° and 7–14° in elevation
45° in azimuth, 14–52° in elevation
Radar mast lifting height (for TAR 9S36): 21 meters
Reloading of 4 missiles by TEL from itself: around 15 minutes
Combat readiness time: no more than 5 minutes
Kill probability (by one missile): 90–95%
Target engagement zone
Altitude: 15 meters – 25 kilometers (50 feet – 15.5 miles)
Range: 3–42 kilometres (2–26 miles)
Tactical ballistic missiles
Altitude: 2.0–16 kilometres (1.2–9.9 miles)
Range: 3–20 kilometres (1.9–12.4 miles)
Sea targets: up to 25 kilometres (16 miles)
Land targets: up to 15 kilometres (9.3 miles)
The system is estimated to have a 70% to 93% probability of destroying a targeted aircraft per missile launched. In 1992, the system was demonstrated to be capable of intercepting Scud missiles and large rocket artillery.