The SA-15 Gauntlet (Russian designation 9K331 Tor - Russian for Thor) is a short-to-medium range surface to air missile designed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, deployed sometime during 1986. It is designed to supersede (but given the current environment and conditions, will probably augment) the SA-8 Gecko in providing highly mobile division-level protection from low-flying targets such as RPVs, precision munitions such as Laser Guided Bombs and cruise missiles, and attacking aircraft or helicopters. Like several of its recent predecessors - the SA-13, SA-12, SA-11 and SA-10 - I have not been able to find any record of it having been used in combat.

It is currently in service in Russia, generally employed as short-range protection for the SA-12 and - if there are any - the remaining SA-1 systems deployed around Moscow. Greece has also bought 31 systems total - six of which have been transferred to Cyprus and six of which are used to protect the Greek Air Force's SA-10 systems. The SA-15 has also been manufactured under licence by China, who now have at least 36 systems and are reported to have reverse engineered the design for a rainy day.

Launch vehicle

The SA-15 is unlike most SAM systems in that it doesn't really look like anything. When I first saw the system I was confused about whether I was seeing a radar system or a launcher or something else, since unlike most SAM systems I couldn't see the missile launcher(s) on the outside. To the uninitiated it's difficult to tell either way. There are radar receivers on the outside which made me think it was a command post of some sort or a targeting or tracking station.

The transporter/launcher uses the same GM-569 chassis as that of the 2S6M Tunguska SAM system; a tracked chassis with a drive sprocket at the rear, an idler wheel at the front, three track return rollers and six tyred roadwheels in between. A water-cooled, turbocharged V-12 diesel engine develops 780hp, propelling the 35-ton launcher up to 40mph for about 300 miles. The launcher has a three or four-man crew, depending on the circumstances. A driver sits at the left front of the vehicle, behind him are the control consoles at which sit the vehicle commander and weapon system operator(s).

The whole centre and rear of the vehicle are taken up by the engine and firing systems. The 360°-rotating turret extends downwards into the chassis to provide space for the vertically-stowed missiles. They are held in the turret in two sets of four-ply missile 'cartridges'. These are similar in purpose to the sealed containers used for SA-13, SA-12 and SA-10 systems. The missiles are hermetically sealed in these cartridges at manufacture, with a shelf life of circa 10 years. They are lowered into the top of the turret by a crane-equipped resupply vehicle which follows the missile battery around.


Like its predecessor, the SA-15 is a fully self-contained anti-aircraft unit. As well as the missiles it carries it has onboard target acquisition and tracking facilities. If one were to look at the vehicle the thing that would probably stand out most is the large, square radar receiver mounted on the front of the vehicle's turret. This is the phased array pulse Doppler tracking radar, which can track two targets with radar cross-sections as small as 10cm2 simultaneously, up to a claimed maximum range of 25km (though it is believed to be more than this). Targets can be tracked at speeds of up to about mach 3.5. One may also notice that this radar receiver does not pivot; the radar beam is steered electronically much like the MiG-31's Zaslon radar. This allows the receiver to be larger (its size does not have to allow for movement) and hence have a greater range. A video targeting system with a range of up to 20km is also fitted to the vehicle, to augment the radar if jamming equipment is being used against it.

On top of the turret at the rear is the receiver for the target acquisition radar. There are at least two different versions of this, each with different receivers. The early vehicles had a 'traditional' slab-shaped, curved radar while the later receivers were flat and smaller. The targeting system can store up to 48 targets at once, the computer automatically prioritising them by the perceived threat they pose. Any two out of the ten most 'dangerous' targets can be automatically tracked; after that the operator just has to press the big red button.

Missiles & support

The launcher can track targets while driving along but usually comes to a halt for missile firing, which can take place right away. The 165kg 9M334 missile is ejected from its container to about twenty metres by compressed gas, small thrusters at the missile's base turn it to face its target then the 2-stage rocket motor kicks in. The missile is 2.9m long, 24cm wide and carries a 15kg high explosive fragmentation warhead which detonates on a proximity fuse. It has a maximum speed of about mach 3.6 and can manoeuvre at up to 12G.

A typical SA-15 battery consists of four launcher vehicles, a single ammunition resupply vehicle carrying seven missile cartridges, a maintenance vehicle and a command post vehicle which oversees the battery. It maintains a secure data link to each of the launchers to coordinate their actions; this link also allows the command post to supply radar data to the launchers from elsewhere if the situation requires it.

In addition to the mobile battery there are also variants comparable to the early SA-10s - trailer-mounted launchers that would be towed around and left in a semi-permanent position. There is also a static version enclosed in some kind of shelter, with other similar structures housing resupply and support facilities.

The SA-15 also has a naval variant, designated SA-N-9 Gauntlet.

<<SA-14 Gremlin | SAM Index | SA-16 Gimlet>>

Source - Jane's Land-Based Air Defense yearbook 2001-2002; Printed word, published by Jane's Information Group; ISBN 0710623208

Many other sources were checked, but for the most part they leaned very heavily on a article which in turn leaned very heavily on the Jane's article. Any other sources used were for confirming details.

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