GRAIL is the NATO codename for the SAM-7 Soviet MANPADS system, the Strela-2. It was the first Eastern Bloc man-portable SAM, and used a passive IR seeker with a high explosive warhead. It was designed to be used in 'fire and forget' mode; i.e. the user acquired a target, launched the weapon and then went about his business (usually getting under cover). The GRAIL's effectiveness was reduced by the fact that the original IR seeker was very indiscriminate. It could be blinded by solar heat (by pointing at the sun) and could apparently even be confused by heat rising from hills within its field of view at launch. This meant it was not suitable for use in hilly terrain or (really) in clear daylight weather.

Later versions of the weapon were better able to discern their targets through the addition of filters, and could also accept input from an IFF system mounted on the user's helmet. Later versions also sported a radio receiver and headphones which would offer some tonal warning as to the direction and proximity of incoming aircraft. The two primary production versions differed in the missile; the two versions were the 9K32 and 9K32M (systems with the latter referred to as the 'SA-7b'). The system consists of a missile, a gripstock, and a battery (thermal battery). When the round is fired, a new all-up round (missile) is placed onto the gripstock and is ready to fire. The latter version featured a boosted propellant, with consequently slightly greater range and speed.

Like most early MANPADS systems, the GRAIL was designed to defeat low, slow targets such as helicopters and low-flying fixed-wing aircraft. It could home on the heat from a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft, either turbine or reciprocating engine exhaust. In combat, the Soviet Army ground units (Armored, Motor Rifle, etc.) had integrated MANPADS soldiers. Their job was to prevent enemy ground-attack aircraft from flying over their formation with impunity. Even if the enemy a/c stayed high enough to avoid the SAMs, that was fine; in addition to the reduced accuracy they would trade, being higher put them in the effective range of larger (division level) AAA and SAMs.

avalyn contributes some anecdotes: The SAM-7 is presently the world's most popular DIY/cheap SAM, going for approximately $2000 on the open market (probably not inside active war zones). It was used to shoot down a Vickers Viscount in Rhodesia in 1978, following which the rebels who fired it made their way to the crash site in the bush and killed 10 of 18 survivors. A SAM-7 hit a USAF C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft as it took off from Baghdad International Airport in January, 2004; it did not crash, however.

Variants of this weapon were built by license or through reverse-engineering by China, Egypt, Pakistan and Yugoslavia, among others. Pakistan used these weapons to shoot down two Indian aircraft during their 1999 spat over (what else?) Kashmir. There have been naval versions, vehicle mounted versions and fixed-defense versions. From FAS, here are some stats:

  • Date of Introduction: 1972
  • Proliferation: Worldwide
  • Crew: 1
  • Launcher Name: 9P54M
  • Length (m): 1.47
  • Diameter (mm): 70
  • Weight (kg): 4.71
  • Reaction Time: 5-10 seconds (acquisition to fire)
  • Reload Time (sec): 6-10
  • Missile Name: 9M32M
  • Max. Range: 5,500 meters
  • Min. Range: 500 meters
  • Max. Altitude: 4,500 meters
  • Min. Altitude: 18 meters
  • Length (m): 1.40
  • Diameter (mm):70
  • Weight (kg): 9.97
  • Missile Speed (m/s): 580
  • Propulsion: Solid fuel booster and solid fuel sustainer rocket motor.
  • Guidance: Passive IR homing device (operating in the medium IR range)
  • Seeker Field of View: 1.9°
  • Tracking Rate: 6°/sec
  • Warhead Type: HE
  • Warhead Weight (kg): 1.15
  • Fuze Type: Contact (flush or grazing)
  • Self-Destruct (sec): 15

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