Air Defense: Algeria Takes Some Russian

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August 31, 2017: Algeria confirmed it had received the first Russian Buk-M2E mobile SAM (surface to air missile) systems it had ordered and had used some of them in field exercises during July 2017. The Buk-M2E battery consists of a truck mounted command center, one or more surveillance radars (max range 160 kilometers) and four or more 6x6 wheeled vehicles carrying four 9М317 missiles. It is unclear home much Buk-M2E equipment Algeria has ordered or how much has been received but it was apparently at least one battery.

Development of the Buk M, a radical redesign of the 1960s era SA-6, was completed in 1988, near the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the Soviet Union. This delayed its introduction on a wide scael. Russia was not able to start production until after 2002. When NATO discovered the Buk in the late 1970s they called it the SA-11.

Buk began development in the 1970s because of the success of Kub (SA-6) system in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Egyptian SA-6 systems were effective against Israeli warplanes, one of the rare successes of Russian air defense weapons against Western equipment. The Buk-M1 entered service in the mid-1980s while work got underway for the even more advanced M2 and M2E (export version). These were the ones delayed by financial problems and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The M2 missiles weighed 720 kg (1,587 pounds) each and have a max range of 50 kilometers. This was followed by a lighter (581 kg) naval version with the same range. For land-based systems the missiles were carried and launched from a tracked vehicle that held four missiles. Another vehicle has the target acquisition radar which has a range of over 150 kilometers. Versions of the Buk were developed for use on ships and some of those were exported.

As successful as the SA-6 was in 1973 the U.S. and Israel quickly developed electronic countermeasures. Russia responded by improving Buk and Buk-M1 but was never able to repeat the success of 1973, which was largely the result of Israel underestimating the SA-6 and the ability of Egyptian operators. Israel has not repeated that error since then and it was a wakeup call to the United States and other NATO countries as well.

Export customers for the Buk-M2 include Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Egypt, Georgia, India, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, China, Syria and Venezuela. Belarus, China and Iran actually manufacture their own copies of the Buk-M2, some of which are legal.

The Buk-M has seen some combat. In 2008, when Russia briefly invaded the Caucasus state of Georgia, the Georgians used their Buk-M1 systems to shoot down four Russian combat aircraft (one Tu-22M heavy bomber and three Su-25 ground attack aircraft). Russian backed Georgian separatists also had some Buk-M1 systems and used them to shoot down four Georgian UAVs. The loss of the four warplanes prompted Russia to upgrade the defensive systems on their warplanes and pay more attention to potential enemy air defenses. In Georgia the main problem was that the senior commanders and their staffs screwed up and did not do their job (finding out what air defenses the Georgians had and what to do about it.) Russian pilots were not told about the Georgians possibly using a modern air defense system.

In 2014 pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists in Donbas used a Russian supplied Buk-M1 system to shoot down a Malaysian airliner passing by at high altitude. All 298 people on board died. Russia tried to blame it on the Ukrainians (who also had Buk-M1 systems) but the forensic investigation proved that the missile model that shot down the airliner was only used by Russia.

The latest version of Buk is the Buk M3. This version has a longer range (75 kilometers compared to 50 for the M2 and 30 for earlier versions) and improvements in the guidance system and overall reliability.

 


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