At the end of January 2020, “Military Review” published a publication “Why do we need so many air defense systems?”, which briefly examined anti-aircraft artillery, anti-aircraft missile-gun and anti-aircraft missile systems available in the Ground Forces of the Russian Army and in the Aerospace Forces. In the comments, readers expressed a desire to learn more about the state of our air defense and the prospects for its development. In this series, we will examine in more detail anti-aircraft systems in the order in which they went in the above publication.
Some readers find the twin 23mm anti-aircraft artillery mount archaic, but despite this, it still holds a strong position in our armed forces and is practically irreplaceable in a number of tasks. Although the time has long passed when the towed ZU-23 was one of the main means of military air defense and at present the tasks of protecting troops from the air enemy are assigned to complexes with radar and optoelectronic detection means, but obsolete, it would seem, anti-aircraft guns are still in demand .
This is due to the fact that 23-mm anti-aircraft guns have a very large margin of safety and reliability, and in warehouses there are still many spare parts and barrels. In addition, the twin anti-aircraft gun combines high firepower with compactness and relatively low weight. In ZU-23 very successful and compact manual drives of vertical and horizontal aiming with a balancing mechanism of spring type are used, which allows you to transfer trunks to the opposite side in 3 seconds. A trained calculation can aim at a target in just 5-10 seconds. With a weight of about 950 kg, the installation can be mounted on various vehicles.
ZU-23 installations are easy to use, not subject to organized electronic interference and thermal traps. In addition to the fight against air targets, they can be successfully used against manpower and light armored vehicles of the enemy. In both cases, the ZAP-23 sight is used, the data into which are entered manually and, as a rule, are determined by eye. In this regard, the probability of hitting a target flying at a speed of 300 m / s does not exceed 0,02. In the past, various options for their modernization were proposed to increase the effectiveness of 23-mm anti-aircraft installations: the introduction of optoelectronic sights with a night channel and a laser range finder, as well as retrofitting of MANPADS missiles. But at the same time, the cost of both the plants themselves and their maintenance increased many times. For this reason, the upgraded options are not widespread.
The reader, inclined to analysis, may rightly ask: why then does our army need the relatively inefficient ZU-23 anti-aircraft mounts when the more modern Tungusks and Armor are in service?
The answer to this question lies in the versatility of "zushka" and the high flexibility of their application. Although there are practically no towed ZU-23s in the air defense units of the Russian Ground Forces, a significant number of installations are still in storage and can be quickly delivered to the troops. A number of Russian civilian higher education institutions in military departments still train specialists who can operate anti-aircraft guns, the graduation of which began almost 60 years ago.
However, it is not worth considering that the ZU-23 in the Russian army are only in warehouses. Last fall, the author observed a military convoy, which included several KamAZ trucks, similar to that shown in the photograph. I will not dwell on where it was and what kind of column it is, I am sure that knowledgeable readers will understand me. However, I can say that in the convoy, in addition to ZU-23, there were modern MANPADS. The calculations of anti-aircraft guns were in combat readiness at workplaces and were dressed in modern helmets and body armor. In addition to repelling air attacks, fast-firing 23-mm anti-aircraft guns are also capable of turning a sabotage group of an enemy into a bloody slap and are justifiably considered as an effective means of hitting ground targets in the delivery of goods that require special treatment.
In addition to covering transport columns carrying “special” products, the ZU-23 was mounted on tracked lightly armored MT-LB transporters, which was associated with a desire to increase the mobility of anti-aircraft installations. It is known that in a number of parts, due to the depletion of the resource of anti-aircraft self-propelled guns ZSU-23-4 "Shilka", they were temporarily replaced by 23-mm MT-LB systems, increasing the number of MANPADS in the anti-aircraft missile and artillery battery.
During the fighting in Afghanistan and on the territory of the former USSR, 23 mm anti-aircraft mounts ZU-23 were installed on the BTR-D landing armored personnel carriers. A significant drawback of such improvised ZSU was the high vulnerability of the openly located calculation of the twin anti-aircraft mounts. In this regard, improvised armored shields were sometimes mounted on anti-aircraft installations.
The successful experience of the combat use of the BTR-D with the ZU-23 installed on it led to the creation of a factory version of the self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, which received the designation BMD-ZD "Rattle". On the ZSU modification, a calculation of two people is now protected by light anti-fragmentation armor. To increase the efficiency of fire by means of an air attack, optoelectronic equipment with a laser rangefinder and a television channel, a digital ballistic computer, an automatic target tracking system, a new collimator sight, electromechanical guidance drives were introduced into the composition of sighting equipment. This allows you to increase the likelihood of defeat and ensure the all-day and all-weather use of low-flying targets. The option to modernize sighting equipment, which did not take root in towed installations, was found to be in demand in anti-aircraft self-propelled guns landing, which can be dropped on a parachute platform.
Thus, talking about the archaism of the 23 mm anti-aircraft guns is premature. According to some reports, up to 300 ZU-23 units installed on various vehicles can be in active operation in Russia. Several dozen towed installations are available in military schools and training centers for personnel. A few hundred more were preserved at the bases of storage of equipment and weapons.
It is not clear why in the article “Why do we need so many air defense systems?” only the ZSU-23-4M4 “Shilka-M4” is mentioned, although in the air defense forces of the ground forces and anti-aircraft units of the marine corps there are not only modernized ZSU, but also thoroughly repaired self-propelled guns of early modifications. In some of them, during the repair, communication equipment was replaced, changes were made to the radio instrument complex and the state recognition system for air targets, aimed at increasing reliability and lowering the cost of operation. But at the same time, the main characteristics of the ZSU have not changed. It is clear that non-modernized self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, in the electronic units of which electric vacuum devices are still partially used, are obsolete and are much inferior to new and radically modernized military air defense systems.
Upgraded ZSU-23-4M4 "Shilka-M4"
During the upgrade, the ZSU-23-4M4 received a new radar fire control system on a solid-state elemental base with the possibility of installing the Sagittarius air defense system. The SLA update is accompanied by the replacement of the existing radar station with a newly created station of the same frequency range with an improved set of characteristics. As part of the Sagittarius air defense system, a Igla-type missile system is used.
According to information available in open sources, the Russian armed forces have about 200 ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" of all modifications. How many of them underwent modernization is not known. However, it is clear that it is impossible to repair and upgrade installations, most of which have already crossed the forty-year milestone. It is safe to say that in the coming years the number of Shiloks in the troops will greatly decrease.
Shooter with MANPADS "Strela-2M"
Now consider the available MANPADS. Until the mid-1980s, the main MANPADS of the Soviet army was Strela-2M, which was adopted in 1970. The production of this complex in the USSR was carried out at least until 1980, and it became very widespread. For example, in the 1980 states, there were 27 portable systems in the motorized rifle regiment. The division of anti-aircraft gunners armed with MANPADS was in the state of motorized rifle companies. Launchers and spare anti-aircraft missiles could be included in the BMP-1 warhead. The complex weighed 15 kg in a combat position, and 16,5 kg in a marching position. The relatively light weight made it possible to carry one fighter.
The Strela-2M portable system significantly increased the air defense potential of the battalion and company units of the ground forces. If necessary, shooting could be carried out from a car body, with armored infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers moving at a speed of up to 20 km / h. At the same time, the first mass portable complex had a number of significant drawbacks. Due to the low sensitivity of the seeker, an attack on an enemy jet combat aircraft in the forehead was impossible. The probability of hitting a target under conditions of low cumulus cloud cover illuminated by the sun was sharply reduced. When firing at a target flying at an altitude of less than 50 m, it was not ruled out that the missile was pointing at heat sources on the ground. The minimum angle in the sun at which it was possible to track air targets with a homing head was 25–40 °. The complex was not protected from heat traps fired by airplanes and helicopters.
In the past, I had the opportunity to study the Strela-2M MANPADS and to teach others how to handle it. In feature films, you can see that the launches of MANPADS are carried out without any preparation, almost offhand. In practice, it is not so easy to use. weapon, as is commonly believed among the layman. The shooter must evaluate the flight speed, range, target elevation angle, prelaunch preparation and turn on the one-time starting power supply. About 5 seconds after the power was turned on, the rocket was ready to launch and it was necessary to capture the target, about which the shooter was notified by a sound signal. After the homing head began to steadily follow the target, the control light came on, and the trigger could be pressed. 1-1,5 seconds after receiving the command, the rocket launched. During all this time, the shooter had to accompany the target and not make sudden movements. Moreover, the power-on time is very limited, and this procedure could be performed no more than two times. If after restarting the launch did not occur, it was necessary to replace the power source, and send the unused rocket for maintenance. In the event of a missile, the rocket self-destructed 15-17 seconds after launch.
By and large, the methodology for using Strela-2M and more modern MANPADS is not very different, and I am talking about this so that readers understand that the effective use of portable anti-aircraft systems requires quite a long training and the use of special simulators.
In my memory, experienced shooters who were trained on simulators and perfectly passed all the tests were allowed to start real training launches. Before firing, to increase attentiveness and responsibility, the personnel were verbally informed that the cost of one anti-aircraft missile is equivalent to the price of a Zhiguli passenger car. As training targets, M-13 rockets launched from the BM-13NMM rocket artillery fighting vehicle on the ZIL-131 chassis or parachute targets were used. In the second case, the arrow was much easier to aim and capture the target. Under ideal conditions of the range, the probability of a single missile being hit was above 0,5.
From the experience of combat use in local conflicts, it is known that even well-trained shooters during the reflection of air attacks by launching 10 missiles, on average, shot down 1-2 enemy planes or helicopters. If the enemy used heat traps, then the firing efficiency decreased by about three times.
Taking into account the fact that new types of MANPADS were mainly sent to troops deployed in the western military districts, in units deployed in Siberia, Transbaikalia and the Far East, Strela-2M remained the main portable anti-aircraft system until the second half of the 1990s . Although the probability of hitting air targets for this missile was relatively low, the Strela-2M MANPADS were taken in bulk, and they were well mastered by the troops.
Soon after the mass deliveries of Strela-2M, work began on creating a modification with better noise immunity. In 1974, the Strela-3 MANPADS was adopted for service, but in significant quantities the troops received this complex sometime in 1980.
Shooter with MANPADS "Strela-3"
The mass of MANPADS "Strela-3" in comparison with the "Strela-2M" in the combat position increased by 1 kg, but at the same time the combat characteristics improved significantly. Launch range increased from 4200 to 4500 m. Reach in height from 2200 to 2500 m. The portable system can hit targets flying at an altitude of up to 15 m. Now you can attack jet aircraft in the opposite direction. A significant improvement in the combat characteristics of Strela-3 MANPADS with maximum unification with Strela-2M was achieved mainly due to the use of a fundamentally new GOS with cooling to a temperature of -200 °. A launching mechanism was also introduced, which allowed automatic launching of a rocket against a target located in the launch zone when firing at oncoming courses.
At present, the Strela-2M and Strela-3 MANPADS are recognized obsolete in Russia, but they are not officially withdrawn from service and are in storage. Given the fact that these complexes were produced several decades ago, the coefficient of their technical reliability leaves much to be desired. The most critical elements are disposable electric batteries, and the degradation of fuel charges in engines is also possible. Modernization of morally and physically obsolete portable systems does not make sense, and they must be disposed of.
Even before the adoption of the Strela-3 MANPADS, the development of a more long-range portable system began. In order to accelerate the timelines for creating a new complex in an anti-aircraft missile, a homing head from Strela-3 was used, but a new missile and a launching device were developed. The mass of the complex increased, in the fighting position MANPADS "Igla-1" weighs 17,8 kg, in the marching 19, 7 kg.
The maximum firing range of Igla-1 MANPADS, which was put into service in 1981, is 5000 m. The upper boundary of the affected area is 3000 m. The minimum flight height of the targets is 10 m. The maximum speeds of the fired targets and the probability of destruction have increased. This was achieved through the introduction of an additional circuit and miniature jet engines that ensure the reversal of missiles at an anticipated meeting point with a target in the initial phase of the flight. Also on the launcher appeared electronic switch mode "catch up - towards." The warhead of the rocket was equipped with an additional non-contact fuse, which ensures the defeat of the target with a small miss. A switchable radar interrogator is integrated in the launch mechanism, which carries out target recognition and self-locking the launch of missiles in their aircraft. The commander of the anti-aircraft gunner’s squad received a portable electronic tablet at which he received data on the air situation in a square of 25 x 25 km. The tablet reflected up to four targets with marks on their nationality and on the course of the target’s flight relative to the position of anti-aircraft gunners.
In 1983, the Igla MANPADS entered service, which in our armed forces is still the main means of air defense of the company and battalion units. As in the case of earlier MANPADS models, infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers have places for transporting launchers and spare missiles. At the same time, missile launches from combat vehicles are regularly worked out at exercises.
The main advantage of the Igla MANPADS in comparison with previous portable systems was the improved sensitivity of the GOS and the ability to work in conditions of artificial thermal noise.
In 2002, the Russian Army officially entered service with the improved Igla-S MANPADS, with a probability of defeat increased to 6000 m. Reach in height - more than 3500 m. However, most of the new MANPADS of the Igla family, after the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of “economic reforms”, were exported. Considering that the warranty period of storage of Igla SAMs in equipped rooms is 10 years, a significant part of the available missiles requires an extension of the resource in the factory, which, however, is much cheaper than the production of new anti-aircraft missiles.
In 2015, the Verba MANPADS, which is a further development of the domestic line of portable systems, entered service with the Russian army. According to information from the official website of the company developing the complex, the new Verba MANPADS is 1,5-2 times superior in efficiency to previous-generation systems, especially at a distance of more than 3 km. The firing range of targets with low thermal radiation was increased 2,5 times, this was achieved by increasing the sensitivity of the GOS anti-aircraft missile. The security of the complex from powerful pyrotechnic interference has significantly increased. Also, the designers managed to reduce the weight of the combat assets of the complex relative to Igla-S MANPADS from 18,25 kg to 17,25 kg. To use the “Verba” MANPADS in the dark, a detachable night vision sight can be introduced into the complex. Firing range increased to 6500 m, reach in height - 4000 m. The combat work of anti-aircraft gunners is automated, as part of a platoon, it is possible to control the actions of a separate anti-aircraft gunner, with the issuance of individual target designation. The portable fire control module provides the simultaneous solution of fire missions for 15 different air targets.
Assessing the situation with the equipment of our army with modern portable anti-aircraft missile systems, we can assume that there are enough of them in our army. By the number of MANPADS, our armed forces occupy a leading position in the world. So, in the American army there are about 1000 launch tubes for the FIM-92 Stinger MANPADS, the Russian army has about 3 times more portable systems: Igla-1, Igla, Igla-S and Verba. This is largely due to the huge stockpiles of weapons left over from the times of the USSR. After the reduction of the armed forces, a significant number of launchers and anti-aircraft missiles are still stored in warehouses, which can be used to equip existing army units in excess. However, it should be understood that the shelf life of anti-aircraft missiles is not infinite, they require timely maintenance and replacement of a number of elements in the factory. Along with maintaining the combat readiness of previously produced MANPADS, it is necessary to develop and manufacture new compact systems designed to provide air defense for small units.
In the next part of the review, we will talk about mobile military complexes of short and medium range on a wheeled and tracked chassis, available in the Russian army. Consider their numbers, technical condition and prospects.
To be continued ...