The SA-12 is a medium-to-long range surface to air missile system designed and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. It was deployed there beginning in 1987, up to at least 1990 and is still available to (ahem) order. It has largely replaced the SA-1 in defence of Moscow from air attack.

The SA-12 is the first and until recently the only example of a true anti-ballistic missile system. Many think of the US's Patriot system as an anti-missile system and to an extent this is true, however the Patriot is an anti-aircraft weapon system at heart and any anti-missile capabilities have been added later. This is presumably the reason for its poor performance in the 1991 Gulf War, during which it was deployed to protect Israel and Saudi Arabia from Iraq's surface-to-surface missiles.

Sources are a little mixed on the success of the Patriot missiles during this time but the general sense is that few hit their targets and many of those that did only destroyed the body of the target missile, leaving the warhead to fall to the ground and explode. It is speculated that this is not entirely the Patriot system's fault, since both Scud and Al-Hussein missiles tend to break up on reentry giving multiple potential targets, but I digress.

The Soviet SA-10 Grumble system also has anti-missile capabilities, and the more recent variants of the SA-10 have reportedly been shown in tests (the conditions of which are admittedly unknown) to be superior to the Patriot system at shooting down Scud missiles. Still the Soviet Union lacked a system for intercepting tactical nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles for protection of armour or infantry divisions.

Designed by the Novator Design Bureau - developers of the SA-4 and SA-6 systems - the SA-12 is part of the same S-300 family of air defence systems as the SA-10 and its variants. It differs from its predecessors in that it is designed specifically for shooting down incoming tactical ballistic missiles and other similarly small, fast objects. Russia has openly marketed the SA-12 system for worldwide sale in direct competition with the Patriot.

All the vehicles in the SA-12 system are based on the MT-T Tractor chassis, which is a fully tracked vehicle powered by a 6.4 litre V12 diesel engine, delivering 700hp. It can drive at about 40mph up to three hundred miles. As is common to all enclosed Soviet SAM vehicles it is equipped with an air filtration and overpressure system for operating in Nuclear, Biological or Chemical (NBC) warfare conditions. The MT-T seats up to three people in the overhanging cabin (think a mobile crane or the mobile SA-10, if you've seen one) which has a windscreen split three ways. It is quite a bit smaller than the mobile SA-10 vehicle, at about seven metres long, three wide and two high, not including any attachments.


A brigade of SA-12s is supported by up to three radar components, depending on the system function (anti-aircraft or anti-missile). First is the 9S15 Bill Board surveillance radar which is installed at the battalion level. A very large, square rotating radar receiver is mounted on a hydraulically-elevating arm on top of the vehicle. It detects targets up to 250 miles away and sends them to the battalion command post for delegation to individual missile batteries.

Next is the 9S32 Grill Pan multi-channel missile guidance radar. There is one of these radars at each battery, used for tracking targets passed from the brigade command post. The radar is similar in appearance to the Bill Board radar but the hexagonal receiver itself is hinged to a rotating turntable mounted on top of the tractor. This can rotate through 340° and elevate up to 42° from horizontal. It can track twelve targets at once and direct up to six missiles against each.

The vehicle has a crew of five and is used to provide the launch vehicles with the data they need for missile launch and guidance. This radar can also operate in a target acquisition capacity (like the Bill Board radar), able to detect 2m2 targets up to 140km away.

Finally there's the 9S19 High Screen multi-channel sector scanning radar. This is needed for anti-ballistic missile brigades and is controlled by the command post. It looks similar to the Grill Pan radar receiver but is about one metre taller when extended. The radar automatically detects high-speed targets, transmits their anticipated trajectory to the command post and under instruction from the command post, may track up to 16 incoming targets simultaneously from 20km to 175km away.

In addition to this, each brigade has a command vehicle that oversees target delegation. This is either mounted on a tracked MT-T chassis or a 6x6 Ural-4230 truck. It can manage up to 200 targets at once, handed to it by the Bill Board surveillance radar. A maximum of 24 of these can automatically be prioritised by threat and handed off to appropriate Grill Pan tracking radars. Target prioritisation is based on the level of threat, the readiness of each of the brigade's four batteries and the amount of missiles available at each of them. Up to 70 target tracks can be monitored at once.

Missile Launcher

This is easily the mean looking of the vehicles, since it looks like it's carrying two or four huge cannons on its back. It carries one launch tube for each missile in the same manner as the SA-10. A launcher can carry four SA-12a missiles, or two SA-12b missiles.

The launch tubes are mounted on rails which are hinged at the rear of the vehicle. These are kept horizontal for travel and raised to 90° for launching. They are then lowered so that the bottoms of the tubes are resting on the ground.

The TELAR also carries its own radar, though sources do not make it clear the extent to which it is involved in an engagement. TELARs carrying SA-12a missiles have a radar that can 'see' more of the sky at once, due to their anti-aircraft duties. However a TELAR cannot launch missiles autonomously - it requires a Grill Pan radar. In theory there can be a mix of SA-12a and SA-12b launch vehicles in a battery of six but in practice, batteries usually have such makeup as to operate one type of missile only.

Similar to the missile launcher is the missile resupply vehicle. In the place of the radar receiver (which is mounted roughly centrally on both types of TELAR) is a folding crane which is used for replenishing missile launch tubes on another TELAR or itself. Interestingly enough the missile resupply vehicle itself can also be used to launch missiles, but depends on a nearby TELAR for its radar.


Both types of missile that operate with this system are fired from recyclable container tubes which they are sealed inside at manufacture. Once sealed the have a best before date of at least ten years. Once the missile has been launched, its tube can be discarded or reloaded later. For launch a missile is ejected by compressed gas to about 50m in the air before its rocket motor fires; a small directional thrust is also included, to prevent damage to the TELAR from the missile's exhaust.

Reportedly both the SA-12a and SA-12b missiles have directional warheads, meaning the majority of the explosive force from the warhead is directed forwards in a tight cone. More coolly still, the missile also has the ability to make last-millisecond adjustments to its attitude with directional thrusting, meaning that it can turn itself to face its target before it blows up.

SA-12a Gladiator

The SA-12a is one of two missiles that can be used with this system. It is designed primarily for anti-aircraft engagements but may also be employed against small, fast-moving targets such as cruise missiles or drone aircraft. The main difference between its stablemate is its size and speed. It has a lower maximum speed of about 1,700m/sec (about mach 3.8) and a shorter range of about 75km; however it can still manoeuvre at up to 8gs and carries the same 150kg high explosive fragmentation warhead as the SA-12b.

SA-12b Giant

The larger SA-12b is designed to engage and destroy ballistic missiles but has all the capabilities of the SA-12a as well. The main difference over the SA-12a is the greater speed and range, though the warhead does explode with larger fragments. It has a maximum speed of over mach 7 and can hit targets up to 100km away. Curiously enough this speed created something of a problem: the missiles could fly so fast that the prototypes were heated by air friction to the point where their control surfaces almost reached melting point and the missile went out of control, so the construction materials and shape of the missile had to be revised.

Because of the increased size and weight only two of these may be carried on a single TELAR, whereas four SA-12as may be carried.

Tests have been performed with the SA-12 system, including ones intended to simulate the engagements that Patriot missiles undertook during the 1991 Gulf War. Pilotless aircraft, battlefield ballistic missiles and individual warheads were used as incoming targets. Although the conditions of these tests are largely unclear it appears that the system performed well, downing over 60 missiles despite a lower deployment rate than the Patriot (reportedly an average of four Patriot missiles were launched against each Scud during the Gulf War, compared to a maximum of two SA-12s during these tests).

Interestingly enough the US allegedly bought two SA-12 systems in 1994; if this is true it will be the first noted occurrence of this and could be seen as a positive indicator of their capabilities. In common with Russian export policy they do not have the full capabilities of equipment used back home, having been delivered sans their High Screen sector scanning radars, without which the anti-ballistic missile aspect of the system cannot work. Meanwhile Russia has continued to market the system and it is now operated by, amongst others, China, India and Cyprus.

A typical Hollywood SA-12 engagement


We see doors of missile silos opening. Missiles launch, menacingly, at RUSSIA. We know this because the country they are flying towards says 'RUSSIA' on it. Cut to:


We see a large TANK with a RADAR DISH on top of it. Inside, we see it has detected incoming missiles. We know this because a radar screen says 'INCOMING MISSILES DETECTED' on it. Computer operators press MULTI COLOURED BUTTONS on their control consoles and SHOUT INCOMPREHENSIBLY at one another and their radios. Panning around we see more RADAR SCREENS and COMPUTERS. One of them has lots of DOTS on its screen, one of which is helpfully FLASHING RED AND WHITE. UNIMPORTANT RADAR OPERATOR is sitting in front of it. He gasps at the FLASHING RED AND WHITE DOT. This is TENSE.

(speaking into headset) <Izikiknnzxxrstan missile battery! Receive inbound targets and engage!>


Izikiknnzxxrstan missile battery!


(more dramatic beat)

(speaking more urgently) <Izikiknnzxxrstan missile battery! Come in!>

Cut to:


The clearing is occupied by a MISSILE STATION. Three INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIERS are nearby, warming their hands on a small log fire, drinking from bottles of vodka, staggering around singing and TRIPPING OVER tree roots. This is FUNNY.

<Hey, other Russian soldier, I shore am incompeshent.>

(appears) You stole my part, bitch.

<No, ish was himmm.> (points at INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIER 2)

(stumbles back to the missile station, because it is now buzzing loudly)

Cut to:

INT: Inside the passenger cabin of the MISSILE STATION.

The MISSILE STATION has received targets from a nearby radar station. We know this, because one of the COMPUTER SCREENS says 'RECEIVED TARGETS FROM A NEARBY RADAR STATION' on it. In English. A BIG RED LIGHT on the CONTROL PANEL is flashing in time with the buzzer. It says 'LAUNCH MISSILES' on it. INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIER 1, INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIER 2 and INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIER 3 pile in chaotically, looking scared and disorientated, but mostly disorientated.

<What do we chloo, Vladimir?>

(confused)<Where de FUCK did Peter Shtormare come from jusht dhen?>

(reads computer screen, looks around the cabin and at the other soldiers frantically) <How do we launch missiles?

(looking back with total lack of comprehension) <M..missiles?>

(presses red button)

INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIER 1 looks at the other soldiers with what would be an exasperated expression if he wasn't SHIT-FACED, after all the Russian military is CORRUPT AND INCOMPETENT because it is always SHIT-FACED. Cut to:

Ext: the clearing.

We see the MISSILE STATION'S missile tubes elevate until they are vertical. Then, a BIG SPARK jumps from one of them and it makes a bang. Cut to:

INT: Inside the passenger cabin of the MISSILE STATION.

The computer screen on the control panel says 'LAUNCH FAILED'. The soldiers' eyes WIDEN. This is TENSE.

(shouting) <Whatshappened?>

<I think it didn't work, becaush it saysh 'launch faild' over there.> (points shakily at computer screen)

(moans) <What do wghhe dooooo?>

INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIER hits the BIG RED BUTTON, pauses for a couple of seconds then hits it again.

A BANG is heard from outside. All of the soldiers DUCK AND COVER THEIR HEADS with their arms. Cut to:

Ext: Outside the MISSILE STATION.

The lid pops off the other missile launch tube. A MISSILE jumps out of it with a cloud of special effects and quickly rockets into the deep blue special effects. Cut to:


The AMERICAN missile sneers at RUSSIA. There are LOTS OF OTHER MISSILES with it. Then, the Russian missile flies up at it and SHOOTS IT DOWN. The other missiles are also shot down, by missiles fired by OTHER INCOMPETENT RUSSIAN SOLDIERS. Cut to:

INT: Inside the passenger cabin of the MISSILE STATION.


Ext: In the clearing, outside the MISSILE STATION.

We hear the cheers of the INCOMPETENT BUT GOOD-HEARTED RUSSIAN SOLDIERS as we pull back from the MISSILE STATION. Once again RUSSIA is saved against all odds from the AMERICAN IMPERIALIST DOGS.

(Voiceover)<Where the FUCK did Peter Stormare come from?>


<<SA-11 Gadfly | SAM Index | SA-13 Gopher>>

Actually, I quite like Jerry Bruckheimer films.

Thanks to enwhysea for the correction.

  1. Szulc, Tomasz; "S-300W/WM Land based antiaircraft- antimissile system";
  2. (Author not specified); "Russian and Soviet Missile Defenses";
  3. Pike, John; "S-300V / SA-12A GLADIATOR and SA-12B GIANT HQ-18";
  4. Kamnev, Pavel; Klein, Nikolai; "RUSSIAN S-300V AND AMERICAN PATRIOT: WHO LEADS THE WAY?";
  5. Military Parade JSC 1998 (Author not specified); "RUSSIA WILL INCREASE EXPORT OF AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS UP TO US 1 BILLION";
  6. Center for Defense Information (Author not specified); "Russia-US ABM Cooperation Budding";
  7. Braybrook, Roy; "Launch, Intercept, Destroy - Land-based Air Defence";
  8.; (Author not specified); "Russian Missile Designers Laud Products";
  9. Jane's Information Group; "Jane's Land-Based Air Defense 2003; Antey S-300V (SA-12a 'Gladiator'/SA-12b 'Giant') family of low-to-high-altitude surface-to-air missile systems"; Printed word
  10. JED Military Equipmant Directory (Images only)

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