Artillery: March 22, 2005


Sons of Scud vs. ATACMS. The Scud is one of the most well-known weapons in the world. It is widely-used, and much like the AK-47 and RPG-7, it is everywhere by virtue of the fact that it is a cheap weapons system that is cheap and works. Countries who have not been able to buy the Scud have copied it and modified it.  North Korea and Iraq are prime examples of this.

But Russia has moved on. The Scud was a good weapon, but it had problems. It was liquid-fuelled, which takes a while to get ready for launch (one must handle some highly poisonous fuel before launching). The missile is also inaccurate, with a circular error probable that went as high as 700 meters in the SS-1D Scud C, which had a 550-kilometer range. The Scud could carry a 50-kiloton nuclear warhead or a 1320-pound high-explosive warhead. The Scud was mobile on a crude tank chassis. Something better was needed. The Russians brought forth two designs.

The first effort was the SS-23 Spider. The liquid fuel was replaced with a solid fuel, which made the missile more reliable. The Spider had a 500-kilometer range. The missile could deliver a nuclear warhead, a chemical warhead, submunitions, or a 1,700-pound high explosive warhead. The SS-23 launcher was road mobile, with a speed of 60 kilometers per hour. It was also more accurate, using radar homing to get within 100 feet of its target. This was the Scuds replacement until the 1987 INF Treaty, which required the destruction of all ballistic and cruises missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead 500 kilometers or more. The SS-23, therefore, was headed to the scrapyard. Only ten vehicles and thirty-seven SS-23s survived in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, as non-nuclear weapons.

But the 1990s proved Russia would still need missiles. The SS-26 Stone, which was developed as an alternative to the SS-23, came into service. Like the SS-23, it is a solid-fuel, road-mobile missile. However, it has a shorter range (400 kilometers for the Russian military, 280 kilometers for export variants), a slightly smaller warhead (1,540 pounds), and is also quite accurate. This missile has recently been in the news as Syria has sought to purchase some. It is also entering service with the Russian Army.

The Americans designed their own tactical ballistic missile, the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The ATACMS is fired from the same vehicle as the M270 MLRS. It comes in four versions. The basic version, the MGM-140A, has a range of 165 kilometers and carried 950 bomblets. The next version, the MGM-140B, had a longer range of 300 kilometers, and used GPS guidance for improved accuracy however, it only carries 275 bomblets. The third version, the MGM-164A (formerly the MGM-140C) has a range of 140 kilometers, and carries 13 BAT submunitions for destroying tanks. The Block IIA ATACMS is a long-range (300 kilometers) variant that carries six BAT submunitions. Finally, there is the MGM-168A, which carried a 500-pound unitary warhead. ATACMS has been combat-tested in the Persian Gulf (in the early stages, one was used to destroy a SAM site).

Which of these is the best? The Russian Armys version SS-26 probably has the edge. It has a longer range than the ATACMS, and is almost as accurate, while delivering a much bigger payload. This really should not come as a surprise. The Russians rely on missiles because they have to the 1990s have shown that the Wests fighters are likely to shoot down strike aircraft. Ballistic missiles have a better chance of getting through and if a missile is shot down, no pilots are lost. The American ATACMS is not a bad missile, but the American method is to use air power to deliver the explosives on target. The Son of the Scud are solid and reliable systems that could end up all over the place, just as their forebear did. Harold C. Hutchison (


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