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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

SS-12 SCALEBOARD - Western Views

Soviet ground commanders had long complained of the lack of a tactical missile system with the range and mobility suited to the needs of the front. The Soviets developed a missile, the SS-12 which can meet these needs: in the West, it was estimated to be capable of carrying a 1,500 pound warhead to a range of 500 n.m. There was no evidence that the SS-12 missile was deployed with the ground forces. It was believed, however, that the SS-12 was carried by the Scaleboard transporter erector-launcher [TEL].

Pause for a moment to consider what is being reported here. The "SS-12 missile" was detected an monitored with signals intelligence by the National Security Agency. The SCALEBOARD was a TEL observerd in parades, and monitored with satellite imagery. The SS-12 missile itself remained unseen, and the connection between the missile and the TEL was conjectural, not a demonstrated fact.

Scaleboard units were assessed as probably under the control of the Strategic Rocket Forces rather than the ground forces. It was likely however, that Scaleboard would be used in support of theater operations if required. This is especially true in the Sino-Soviet border area, where Soviet ground forces cannot call upon' the heavy missile support from medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) available in the west.

First displayed in November 1967, Scaleboard was carried on the same type of wheeled erector-launch vehicle as Scud-B and similar in length (37ft). It appeared to be larger in diameter, but has never been seen as it is housed and erected for firing inside a ribbed split casing which was closed on all photographs.

First launched on the Kapustin Yar range on 5 February 1964, the SS-12 SRBM attained initial operational capability in mid-1965. With a minimum and maximum range of about 100 and 500 nautical miles respectively, the liquid fueled SS-12 evolved quickly through a testing program associated with no lengthy pauses, indicating the probable use of proven technology in its design.

A missile was assessed as a single-stage missile with a separating reentry vehicle, the SS-12 was 39 feet long and 3.3 feet in diameter. Gross weight of the missile is 18,800 pounds, with a reentry-vehicle weight of about 1,300 pounds. Maximum thrust is assessed at about 31,000 pounds. All-inertial guidance is used for the SS-12, with jet vanes employed for directional control. In addition to a nuclear warhead, a high-explosive warhead is possibly also available for the missile. CEP was estimated to be about 0.3 nautical mile at two-thirds maximum range.

Designed for mobile tactical applications, two transporter-erector launchers (TELs) had been associated with the SS-12. The first, mounted on a MAZ 543 chassis, was seen in a Moscow parade in 1965. The second version was similar except that the missile was enclosed in a protective canister. Named Scaleboard, the latter version was first seen in a Moscow parade in 1967.

The research and development program of the SS-12 was also marked by distinct test phases. NSA reported that "Radint showed that the missiles had been tested primarily to ranges of about 285, 325, and 450 nautical miles" ["The Soviet Land Based Ballistic Missile Program, 194 5-1972: An Historical Overview" 1973]. A possible fourth impact area, was approximately 200 nautical miles from the Kapustin Yar rangehead.

Following completion of the third test phase in 1965, deployment began almost immediately, reflecting the apparent high priority placed by the Soviets on the rapid deployment of the SS-12. Mobility was added to the force in 1967 when a total of 27 to 36 Scaleboard short range ballistic missiles were deployed at three Strategic Rocket Forces facilities near China. Some or all of these missiles may have been subordinate to the ground forces.

The SS-12 missile believed to be associated with this system has a range of about 500 nm, so the total of 27 to 36 Scaleboard launchers based at these three sites could cover the major invasion routes from China. One of the sites was deactivated in 1970 and taken over by the ground forces, but the Scaleboard unit previously based there apparently was moved nearby to the deactivated SS-5 site at Novosysoyevka.

Additional Scaleboard deployment appeared to be under way in the western USSR where Scaleboard equipment has been observed at two and possibly three locations. Some of the equipment was seen at ground forces installations, indicating that if Scaleboard units had been deployed in that part of the USSR, they may be subordinate to the ground forces rather than the SRF.

The deactivation of all MRBM and IRBM units in the maritime territorv suggested that the Scalebard unit at Novosysoyevka in the maritime territory, and possibly the other two Scaleboard units near China, may be subordinate to the ground forces. Earlier, during parades in which the Scaleboard launcher was displayed, Soviet commentators had stated that it was a strategic missile system, and the launchers themselves appeared in the strategic missile portion of the line of march.

Although the SS-12 had been tested once to a range of 540 nm -- meeting the Soviet criteria for a strategic missile -- more than half the firings had been to a range of less than 400 nm. This, along with the uncertain subordination of the deployed units, made it unclear whether Scaleboard is assigned to a strategic or tactical role.

Scaleboard and SS-11 missiles greatly improved Soviet peripheral attack capabilities. Both systems were less vulnerable to attack than the SS-4 and SS-5. When on alert, the Scaleboard would be deployed to unimproved presurveyed positions that are difficult to detect and target. In addition, Scaleboard units could be moved to new positions after firing.

By the end of 1968, at least 71 SS-12s had been launched, a collaborating agency estimating that approximately 380 missiles had been manufactured to that time. Production continued into at least 1969. For many years the SCALEBOARD was credited with only a nuclear warhead option in the megaton range; however, by the 1980s there was strong support to the existence of at least one nonnuclear option.

If the introduction of the SS-23 provided SCUD systems for export, perhaps fielding of the SS-22 had freed some of the massive SCALEBOARD systems for use by "client states." For many years the SCALEBOARD was publicly credited with only a nuclear warhead option. This limited option appears extremely unlikely in light of reports published in early 1984. In February, 1984, widely respected defense sources began to report Iraqi receipt of a number of SS-12 SCALEBOARD missiles from the Soviet union. Even without the nuclear option, the greatly increased range of the SCALEBOARD provided Iraq with a tremendous new deep strike capability.

Most publications ignored the significance of the SCALEBOARD's arrival. More disturbing than the arrival of the missiles was the possible command and control relationship that was created. Looking back at the first SCUD exports a decade earlier, Soviet soldiers were reportedly used to service and operate the systems. Had the Soviet Union made the same troop commitment to Iraq?

In light of the apparent willingness of many third world countries to use these hugh "regionally strategic" battlefield missiles, the Soviet Union's expanding export of these systems seemed a dangerous trend. Perhaps most ominous was the reported addition of the SCALEBOARD system to the export list. As both systems are increasingly fielded in the world's trouble spots, there was a probability that the rockets and their terminal effects will become more familiar to soldiers and civilians alike. Members of the US military and their allies simply cannot afford to ignore the capabilities of these weapon systems or to overlook them in future targeting efforts wherever the SCUD or SCALEBOARD might be employed.

By 1979, no Scaleboard launchers were believed to be located in Eastern Europe, but it was estimated that six Scaleboard units with 72 launchers were part of the forces in the USSR earmarked for use against NATO.

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Page last modified: 16-10-2018 16:14:00 ZULU