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ZRK-SD Kub 3M9 / SA-6 Gainful - Operations

The 1973 October War saw several instances of technological surprise. The Egyptians built a dense antiaircraft missile defense consisting of 63 Soviet SAM batteries (25 SA-2s, 20 SA-3s, and 17 SA-6s) of 4-6 launchers each. These SAM batteries, in conjunction with the antiaircraft artillery (ZSU 23-4 four-barrel gun), provided an air defense umbrella, effectively denying, for the first time, IAF air superiority in support of the IDF armored forces.

The SA-6 Gainful wreaked havoc with the Israeli Defense Forces fighters over the Sinai. Besides being a mobile threat, the SA-6 missile used a frequency-hopping ground radar and an infrared missile seeker to home in on its target. The SA-6 Gainful missile was guided by a continuous-wave illumination beam that the Israeli and US RWRs of the time period did not detect. Egyptian Gainfuls capable of engaging targets at very low altitudes wreaked havoc among the Israeli strike fighters, who up to then had little respect for Arab defenses. Its improved low-altitude capability forced IAF aircraft down to extremely low altitudes where AAA was most effective.

Both the United States and Israel began crash programs to defend themselves against these threats. They needed a means to locate SA-6 mobile missiles and a weapon to destroy them from standoff range (2540 miles). The USAF heeded this lesson and developed the F-4G expressly for the mobile SA-6 threat. The F-4G reached initial operational capability in 1978. The rapidity with which the electronic warfare community understood the nature of the SA-6 and the counters to it is a fine example of the need and importance of a capability to provide an orderly response to a new threat, resulting in successful operations in the Bekaa Valley and the Gulf War years later.

In the largest single air battle of the second half of the twentieth century, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) devastated the Syrian Air Force on 09 June 1982. In support of "Operation Peace for Galilee," the IAF's mission was to neutralize Syrian SA-6 sites and destroy reacting enemy fighters. Planning and execution were enhanced by accurate intelligence. In the one-year period following the April 1981 introduction of SA-6 missiles into the Bekaa Valley, Israeli military intelligence had focused on the new surface-to-air threat. Aircrews rehearsed the strike missions in the Negev Desert against highly accurate replicas of the missile sites.

On the day of the attack, superb tactical intelligence contributed to success. Syrian airspace was monitored by E-2C surveillance aircraft flying off the Lebanese coast. A Boeing 707 signals intelligence platform monitored Syrian communications and radar activity. With F-15 and F-16 flying combat air patrols, IAF F-4s armed with Shrike and Standard antiradiation, and Maverick air-to-ground missiles, and F-16s loaded with standoff weapons and conventional munitions, attacked 19 SA-6 sites and several SA-2 and SA-3 sites. The IAF strike commander monitored the ongoing operation from video provided by forward orbiting Scout and Mastiff remotely piloted vehicles (RPV).

The SA-6 radar vehicle had two antennae - a search radar and a continuous-wave tracker-illuminator. The missile homed on the signal from the illuminator beam reflected from the target. With only a single illuminator per battery, the SA-6 battery could not initiate a second engagement until the first missile had hit the target. In the 1982 Lebanon war, the IDF Air Force launched a wave of decoys against SA-6 batteries. Once the SA-6 locked on the decoys they were unable to respond to the IDF-AF fighters that appeared next, and were destroyed. On the first day of the air campaign, 17 SA-6 sites were destroyed.

Between 1990 and 2002, enemy forces used three primary methods to attempt to destroy USAF aircraft over their territory: surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), antiaircraft artillery (AAA), and enemy aircraft. The most successful of these, by far, was the use of SAMs. Thirteen of the seventeen aircraft lost, or 76 percent, fell to missiles. Iraqi and Serbian forces launched a great variety of Soviet-designed SAMs at USAF aircraft, but only six types brought down any airplanes. The most successful of these was the SA-16 (NATO nickname: Gimlet), which destroyed four aircraft. A man-portable missile, it has the smallest warhead. Lacking much range, speed, or the ability to reach a high altitude, the Gimlet brought down no fighters.

Two enemy SAM types, the SA-6 (Gainful) and the SA-13 (Gopher) each shot down two USAF airplanes since 1990. Both are launched from vehicles capable of moving soon after firing, thus reducing their vulnerability to counterstrikes. An SA-6 destroyed an F-16 over Iraq in 1991. In 1995, Captain Scott OGrady, who was rescued after nearly a week eluding the enemy in the former Yugoslavia, also fell to an SA-6. Guided by radar, armed with a relatively large warhead, and with moderate range and altitude, the SA-6 is a formidable antiaircraft weapon.

Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev announced that the F-117 stealth aircraft was brought down on 27 March 1999 by two SA-6 surface-to-air missiles. Yugoslav Air Force officials said that the F-117 was also hit by one AAM launched from a MiG fighter aircraft. The Pentagon confirmed that the F-117A was tracked by an unidentified ground radar and that two SAMs were fired at the aircraft. According to one report, during the 78 day campaign, Yugoslav ADF fired 673 SAM's - including 106 man-portable, 126 unidentified, 175 SA-3 and 266 SA-6 surface-to-air missiles at NATO aircraft flying `Allied Force' missions.

By the second day of Operation Odyssey Dawn on March 20th, 2011, coalition cruise missile strikes against selected air defense systems and facilities had been successful. Libya's fixed surface-to-air missile threat and early warning radars are gone. The threat that remained came from mobile surface-to-air missiles -- SA-6 and SA-8 systems -- as well as thousands of shoulder-fired SA-7 missile launchers.

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Page last modified: 10-08-2014 19:52:39 ZULU