SCUD-Types Redux

Notable missile systems such as Scud, Scaleboard and Scarab gave Soviet commanders the means to strike deep into the enemy’s lines of communication and across the battlefield. The initial generation of mobile medium- and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles such as the SS-4 Sandal and SS-5 Skean were transported by cumbersome trailers. (The latter systems gained some infamy after they were involved in the Cuban missile crisis.) These were followed by much more mobile self-propelled missiles mounted on their own transporter-erector-launchers (TELs).

The Soviet Union viewed its strategic rocket forces as the heart of its defensive system and the rocket personnel as the very elite of the Soviet forces. The strategic rocket forces evolved from the Soviet Army’s artillery, and the first commander-in-chief was also head of the artillery. They were formed in 1959 and were responsible for all Soviet land-based missiles with ranges over 1,000km. (Missiles with lesser ranges were assigned to the rocket and artillery branches of the ground forces.) Notably, the strategic rocket forces were considered the ‘primary service’ and their commander-in-chief took precedence over all other military supreme commanders.

SS-1 Scud Medium-Range Ballistic Missile

The SS-1C, known to NATO as the Scud B, was a medium-range surface-to-surface missile intended for battlefield strikes to hit troop concentrations, defences, depots and railways up to a distance of 280km. The missile was 11.4m long and could take high explosive, chemical and nuclear warheads. The rocket was a single-stage missile employing a liquid propellant. The Scud A and B were initially deployed on tracked carriers derived from the IS-3 (Joseph Stalin III) heavy tank chassis, but were later transported on the eight-wheeled MAZ-543. This had eight-wheel-drive, with the front four wheels steerable, and weighed 28 tons with the missile. The crew compartment consisted of a heated and air-conditioned cab divided into two by the missile. The original version was first seen in 1957, and the longer B variant five years later. The SS-1C Scud B was widely deployed with all the Warsaw Pact armies, as well as in Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The Egyptians fired a number at Israeli targets in the Sinai in 1973, but missed. Around a thousand Scud B missiles were fired at Mujahideen targets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The longer-range Scud C and D missiles were largely superseded by the SS-12 Scaleboard and the short-lived SS-23 Spider.

SS-4 Sandal Theatre Ballistic Missile

The SS-4 Sandal, with a range of 2,000km, was an upgraded version of the earlier SS-3 Shyster. It became operational in the late 1950s and was deployed in some numbers with Soviet field armies. This missile system, though, was not really very mobile as it required twelve vehicles towing special trailers, and the missile itself had to be erected and fuelled before firing. From the late 1970s it was replaced by the fully mobile SS-20 Saber, although this process was not completed until the late 1980s. The longer-range silo-based SS-5 Skean that appeared in the early 1960s was essentially a scaled-up version of the Sandal. It was withdrawn from service from the mid-1970s onwards.

SS-12 Scaleboard Medium-Range Ballistic Missile

The SS-12 Scaleboard, first reported in 1967, was previously known as the SS-1D Scud C, but Scaleboard was a much more powerful missile than the Scud. Its range of 800km made it more of a strategic weapon than one for battlefield support. Scaleboard missiles deployed in East Germany could have reached much of eastern and south-eastern England. The SS-12 was very similar in appearance to the earlier SS-1C and employed the same MAZ-543 chassis as the transporter/launcher, but with a more fully enclosed body behind the cab. The missile was erected for firing in a similar way but was contained in a ribbed casing until ready for launch. The longer-range SS-23 Spider was eliminated in the late 1980s under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

SS-14 Scapegoat Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The SS-14 Scapegoat and SS-15 Scrooge were monstrous long-range ballistic missiles carried on tracked chassis. Neither was deployed, and subsequently the Soviets opted increasingly for heavy wheeled vehicles. The SS-14 was carried in a cylindrical container mounted over the carrier vehicle. Before launching, the container was raised hydraulically and placed in a vertical position on a launch pad lowered from the rear of the vehicle. The container was then opened and removed, leaving the exposed missile ready for firing. First observed on a mobile launch pad in May 1965, the SS-14 was an intermediate-range (3,500km) missile with a nuclear warhead; it measured about 10.7 metres in length and was propelled with a solid-fuel rocket. Due to poor mobility and slow missile deployment time, the system did not enter service and the missiles were replaced in 1970.

SS-15 Scrooge Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The SS-15 Scrooge was an even larger intercontinental ballistic missile, measuring 18.3 metres, likewise carried in a tube on the back of a tracked vehicle. While erected in a similar way to the SS-14, it was fired direct from the tube. Propelled by a solid-fuel rocket, it could reach up to 5,600km. The carrying vehicles for both the SS-14 and the SS-15 were very similar, though their missile erecting systems differed. Interestingly, the running gear was derived from components of the IS-3 heavy tank or its later T-10 derivative.

The transporter had eight small road wheels (whereas the IS-3 had six and the T-10 seven) sprung on torsion bars. The long upper track was supported on five return rollers on each side, which were unevenly spaced. Power transmission was via rear drive sprockets and the engine was believed to have been a V-2 cylinder diesel similar to that in the T-10, which was capable of producing 700hp. In both systems the crew travelled in a superstructure at the front. Again the SS-15 was deemed simply too ungainly for use in the field.

SS-16 Sinner Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

This was the Soviet Union’s very first mobile ICBM, with a range of around 10,000km. The three-stage solid-propellant 18.5 metre-long missile was transported on a massive 12×12 TEL. According to the Soviets, it was never deployed, although Western Intelligence believed it had gone operational in the late 1970s, by which time 200 missiles had been built. Of these, fifty were deployed at the test training site in Plesetsk, but these ran foul of the SALT II Treaty and by the mid-1980s they had been removed from the training sites. Design work on this missile influenced both the SS-20 and the SS-25.

SS-19 Stiletto Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The Stiletto, unlike the other nuclear missiles described here, was not mobile, but was a fourth generation silo-launched liquid-propelled ICBM (supplementing the earlier SS-9, SS-11, SS-13, SS-17 and SS–18). Alongside the mobile Soviet strategic rocket forces, the SS-19 was the backbone of the silo-launched missile force. It was initially deployed in the 1970s but was replaced by the upgraded SS-19 Mod 3. This had a storage life of twenty-two years and was armed with six MIRVs. By 2008 Russia still had 126 operational missiles, but the mobile SS-25 remained the most numerous ICBM. Clearly Moscow felt that mobile systems offered a greater deterrence and first strike capability.

SS-20 Saber Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile

In light of the Warsaw Pact’s numerical superiority in ground forces, NATO developed a tactical nuclear weapons option that could form part of a graduated nuclear response. In order to neutralise these forces in Western Europe Moscow developed a new mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead with a range in excess of 5,000km. This was given the NATO reporting name of SS-20 Saber, and entered service in 1976. The system was also intended to supersede the old SS-4 and SS-5 missiles.

A 37 ton, 16.5 metre-long missile based on two solid-fuel fibreglass-clad stages originally designed for the abandoned SS-16 Sinner mobile ICBM programme, the Saber initially had a single warhead but was made MIRV-compatible and transported on a 12×12 MAZ-547A/MAZ-7916 TEL. This mobile system so alarmed NATO that it responded by deploying ground-launched cruise missiles to Western Europe. By the mid-1980s an estimated 350 Sabers had been deployed, with 240 in eastern Russia threatening Europe and the remainder in Siberia targeting China and Japan. In total, 654 SS-20 missiles and 499 TELs were built, but they were withdrawn from service in the late 1980s under the terms of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and destroyed in 1991.

SS-21 Scarab Short-Range Ballistic Missile

The smallest member of the Soviet Union’s family of short-range ballistic missiles was the mobile SS-21 Scarab, with a range of 120km (compared to the 50km of the SS-23 and the 900km of the SS-12M). Mounted on a 6×6 TEL, the SS-21 could take fragmentation, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads. Developed in the late 1960s, it was used to replace the shorter-ranged FROG-7 battlefield rocket.

The Scarab A entered service with the Soviet Army in 1975 and was forward-deployed into East Germany in the early 1980s. From there, it could have destroyed NATO’s early warning radar and surface-to-air missile sites prior to air strikes. The longer-range Scarab B appeared in 1989, with a third version developed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By this stage Scarabs had replaced most of the FROG-7 rockets in Eastern Europe and had been supplied to Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Syria.

SS-24 Scalpel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

Unlike the SS-19, the SS-24 Scalpel was deployed in 1987 as both a railway-based and silo-based missile. The rail-mounted version understandably had limited utility in time of war. In total, fifty-six rail-based systems were produced but they have since been decommissioned.

SS-25 Sickle Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

Development of the SS-25 Sickle by the Soviets commenced in the late 1970s as an improved three-stage solid-propellant single-warhead mobile ICBM. The missile was deployed in a TEL canister on a 14×14 chassis. Measuring over 29 metres long and 1.7 metres in diameter, the missile was mounted on the MAZ-7310 or MAZ-7917. The TEL was normally supported by a mobile relay station and command support vehicle. Understandably, because the Sickle was fully mobile, it was vastly more expensive than the silo-based ICBMs. The first regiment equipped with it was activated in 1985; by 1991 the Russians had deployed 288 SS-25 missiles and five years later this figure had risen to 360. They were used to equip three strategic rocket forces missile armies totalling seven divisions.


Like those of the USA, the Soviet Union’s first post-war missile was a development of the German A-4; this led to the SS-1A (NATO = ‘Scunner’) with a range of 300 km and a 750 kg high-explosive warhead. The first nuclear battlefield missile to enter service (in 1957) was the Scud-A, which was mounted on a converted JS-3 heavy-tank chassis and carried a 50 kT warhead over a range of some 150 km. This was later supplemented by the Scud-B system, which carried a 70 kT warhead over a range of 300 km. Although Scuds were supplied to many other countries, nuclear warheads were only ever issued to the Soviet army and the system served throughout the Cold War, as plans to replace it with the SS-23 were cancelled as part of the INF Treaty.

The SS-12 (‘Scaleboard’) was a road-mobile, solid-fuelled ballistic missile, which was first fielded in 1962, followed by a modified version, the SS-12B (initially designated SS-22), in 1979. The missile had a maximum range of 900 km and a CEP of 30 m, carrying either a high-explosive or a 500 kT nuclear warhead, and system reaction time was estimated at sixty minutes. The SS-12B was withdrawn under the terms of the INF Treaty, and all missiles were destroyed.

One of the significant features of both the SS-1 and the SS-12 was that later versions were transported by 8 × 8-wheel TELs. These were highly mobile for off-road driving, were air-conditioned, accommodated the full crew and all necessary equipment, and even had an automatic tyre-pressure-regulation system. All these features enabled the missile detachment to move into a new location, set up the missile quickly, launch, and then move to a resupply point – the so-called ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactic.

All Warsaw Pact exercises made use of battlefield nuclear weapons in support of attacks. A typical scenario, used some 233 weapons in the first strike, followed by 294 in the second strike. As used in these exercises, the intended purpose was to eliminate NATO forward troops – Area B, for example, coincided with the North German Plain. Following such a strike, the Warsaw Pact tank and motor-rifle units would have been able to advance rapidly into NATO rear areas.

The Soviet equivalent of the Honest John was known to NATO as the FROG (for Free Rocket Over Ground). The last model, the FROG-7, had HE, chemical, and nuclear warheads and a range of 42 miles. The SS-1C, known to NATO as the SCUD-B, was a guided missile with a range of 180 miles. During the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi-made crude versions of the SCUD proved widely inaccurate but were a tremendous nuisance to the Coalition, especially when Iraq fired them at Israel in a failed attempt to broaden the conflict. The Soviet SS-21 guided missile was a divisional-level system with a range of only 60 miles.

The SS-23 was an army-level system with a range of 300 miles. The SS-12 was a theater-level system with a range of 540 miles. All these Soviet systems carried nuclear warheads. Under the provisions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States agreed to eliminate the Pershing and the Soviets agreed to eliminate the SS-12 and SS-23.

Summit meeting between U. S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held in Moscow during 29 May–2 June 1988. It was the fourth such meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev since 1985. For Reagan, the conference coincided with congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra Affair. Because of this, some critics speculated that the president was trying to divert attention from the scandal by creating a newsworthy achievement at the meeting. The major accomplishment of the summit was the signing of the already-ratified 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on 1 June 1988. It did not represent a breakthrough in arms control.

From the Soviet perspective, the 1988 summit greatly enhanced Gorbachev’s domestic and international prestige. This was because of the obvious close relationship between the two leaders and Reagan’s international reputation as an anticommunist hard-liner. Gorbachev’s heightened prestige gave him important political capital, which was needed as he continued to move forward with his perestroika and glasnost reforms.

The meeting was carefully crafted to focus on the INF Treaty. The treaty had been forged at the December 1987 Washington summit meeting between the two leaders and was approved by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in March 1988 and by the U. S. Senate on 29 May 1988. The treaty called for the destruction of 2,611 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with flight ranges of 300–3,400 miles. Included in the treaty were U. S. Pershing II missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles as well as Soviet SS-4, SS-12, SS-20, and SS-23 missiles. It also specified very detailed on-site inspection and verification procedures. In accordance with the treaty, by 1991 both countries would have eliminated all intermediate- range nuclear missiles.


To increase the survivability of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), military planners have always turned to mobility in order to complicate the calculations of an attacker. For the Soviet Union, development of mobile ICBMs was slow until the late 1960s owing to concerns about command and control and the ability to maintain positive control of Soviet missiles under all circumstances. Lack of communications links were an additional Soviet concern. In the United States, high operating costs and the need to operate systems over enormous expanses of land limited interest in mobile missiles. The U. S. Air Force pursued the railmobile Minuteman option in 1960, which would have been deployed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, but for budgetary reasons Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara canceled the planned procurement of additional Minuteman ICBMs, which eliminated the need for the deployment scheme. As the accuracy of ICBMs improved, creating concerns about the survivability of ICBMs deployed in fixed silos, both superpowers revisited the issue of deploying mobile ICBMs.

The Soviets first attempted to use a tank chassis as a transporter for the SS-15 in 1968. After discovering that vibration of the chassis caused missile component failures, they canceled the system after ten test flights. After reviewing its options, the Soviet Strategic Forces decided that a truck chassis was a better vehicle than a tank chassis as a missile transporter, offered better road speeds, was relatively easy to maintain, and created fewer vibration problems. The SS-16 system that emerged in 1972 was concealable, highly mobile, and successful. It also became one of the major stumbling blocks in superpower arms control talks. The United States could not detect the missile launchers using reconnaissance satellites and tried to have mobile missiles banned. The SS-16 was specifically banned in the treaty resulting from the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), although the Soviets kept the missile in their inventory in violation of the treaty. It was eventually withdrawn from service when better systems were ready for deployment.

After the SS-16 was decommissioned, the designs were used in the highly successful SS-20 intermediate- range ballistic missile (IRBM) that entered the Soviet arsenal in the 1970s. Soviet planners also decided that they required a secure second-strike capability and eventually deployed the road-mobile SS-25 and the rail-mobile SS-24 ICBMs. The SS-25 carried a single warhead, while the SS-24 carried ten multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). The SS-24 was deployed on missile trains that carried three missiles, their launchers, support equipment, and security railcars. These missile trains usually patrolled for about five days out of garrisons that were situated along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In order to keep its defense posture as other strategic arms treaties entered into force, Russia replaced the SS-25 with the SS-27, another road-mobile missile.


A transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) is a self-propelled vehicle that transports and erects a missile to the vertical position in order to launch it. In the 1950s and 1960s, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were too heavy and too susceptible to vibration damage while being moved on a transporter. Development of a mobile ICBM was thus a high priority for both the United States and the U. S. S. R. The Soviet Union had a string of failures with its SS-14 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and its SS-15 ICBM, which were mounted on a tracked tank chassis. These two systems were never widely deployed because the tracked TELs could barely carry the weight of the massive ICBMs. Only with the development of the SS-16 ICBM and the SS-20 IRBM did the Soviets achieve their goal of a wheeled TEL.

The TEL carries not only a missile that is environmentally protected, but also electronics to monitor the missile, alignment equipment, and communications links to receive orders from headquarters. To increase the pre-launch survivability of the missile, the TEL must be able to traverse a variety of terrain types and move quickly over a large distance, especially to disperse to operating areas when placed on alert or during a crisis.

Russia currently uses a slightly larger TEL for its SS-25 and SS-27 ICBM force. Other nations have developed but not deployed mobile ICBM TELs. The United States developed a complex vehicle for the single-warhead Midgetman ICBM that could withstand a nuclear blast by hugging the ground. The MX missile also could have been TEL mounted, but it was never deployed in this configuration. Other short-range missile systems, most notably the Scud missile, often are mounted on trucks or simple tracked vehicles.

Reference Podvig, Pavel, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). A History of Strategic Arms Competition, 1945-1972, vol. 3, A Handbook of Selected Soviet Weapon and Space Systems (Washington, DC: United States Air Force, June 1976), pp. 204, 205, 209, 216. Jane’s Weapon Systems 1987-88 (London: Jane’s Publishing Company, 1988).


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