Wednesday, 11 May 2011

In focus: SAM sites world tour

In my Google Earth wanderings I’ve found hundreds – maybe thousands - of air defense positions around the world. I’m sure that’s only the top of the iceberg.

If we crudely divide 
air defense systems into three categories:
“Area defense” of a large area
“Point defense” of a high value (static) asset
“Maneuver defense” of army

In general, the first two types of system are much easier to find than the last. Contrary to popular perception, even “mobile” area defense systems like Patriot and SA-10 are often deployed in a static position during peace time. The same goes for point defense systems such as those often deployed around air bases. The reality is that in most countries the armed forces cannot/do not just go around the countryside digging up people’s gardens to redeploy the system every day. Even on their own property like air bases it is tedious to re-dig positions daily. Shoot and scoot is not as practical as it may seem.

Another generalization is that in many countries air defense units spend a lot of time in depot (not deployed) during peacetime – especially in the West. On the other hand in certain hotspots like the middle east the SAMs are active a lot of the time.

SAM systems I intend to cover:
Sparrow/Aspide/SPADA etc
SA-2 Guideline
SA-3 Goa
SA-5 Gammon
SA-10 Grumble
SA-6 Gainful (possible)
Nike Hercules (If I get around to it)
AAA in less detail

SAM spotting tips: countries where they are easy to find:
Saudi Arabia
Turkey (look at the air bases)
South Korea (look at the air bases)
Japan (look at the air bases)
Germany (both East and West, many sites empty)

The basics of fixed SAM sites

SAM sites are typically made up of several components:
* The missile launchers – typically 3-6. Can be trailer or vehicle mounted, or fixed
* The radar – often a separate search radar and fire control radar.
* Generators – these set ups need a lot of power and batteries wouldn’t last long
* Towing vehicles
* Command centre vehicles/shelters
* Reload trucks

Radar ramps
A common feature of many SAM sites is some form of ramp or high ground to put the radar on so that it has a better field of view. This is often at the centre of the site. An alternative is to have a mast mounted radar – a solution which is becoming more common.

SAM sites are usually arranged in a way so as to give the missile launchers maximum field of fire – typically in a ring around the radar. Other aspects are also systematic; the launch positions are often connected by a roadway to allow reload trucks to easily replenish them, command vehicles are next to the radar etc. This radial layout, though differing between systems and between operators, generally has a “rose” look to it when viewed from above.

Many SAM systems, particularly under Russian doctrine, have some form of blast protection around the launcher. These earthworks show up well in satellite images

In most countries they put fences around SAM sites to stop kids and locals accidentally spreading themselves around a bit more than they’d like. WWHhhhoooooossshhhh. This means that these sites aren’t farmed, and the vegetation inside the fence, kept short so as not to impede the SAM’s operation, differs from that in the countryside around – this helps them show up on satellite imagery.

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