For me, the SA-10 Grumble captures the spirit of Soviet Russia during a war that I never really knew (so it's a farce, really). Images of ugly, bulky launch tractors parked with their gigantic tyres amongst bare trees, frozen snow, grey skies and preparedness. Large capacity diesel engines, a mix of analogue and digital gauges with almost spherical CRTs, getting the job done with an air of somewhat primitive but incredibly rugged sophistication. Soldiers in thick furs, warming themselves as their equipment stands sentinel, watching the skies it defends. Like one of those gigantic mobile cranes with millions of huge wheels and balloon tyres, but with missiles on its back instead of a jib. Tangibly solid, gaunt, functional, resilient and dependable equipment (though I've already shouted myself down on that last comment). Finally, it's the first Russian missile system I've noded with a NATO codename that actually suits it perfectly.

The SA-10 (Russian designation S-300PMU) is a current-generation long range surface to air weapons system, intended for strategic defence from threats such as fleets of bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. It is the official replacement for strategic SAMs such as the SA-2 and the SA-5, though bureaucracy and dropping defence budgets indicate that many examples of both are probably still operational on top of the reasonably widespread deployment of the SA-10.

The SA-10 was manufactured and produced by the Soviet Union, beginning in 1978 and still available on demand now. Although exports have been limited to about four countries the number of systems in existence is considerable; reports indicate that that over one hundred separate batteries are currently in operation at various points around the world. The SA-10 is one of the few anti aircraft systems that have (apparently, or officially) never been fired in anger. Given what such a firing might indicate, this is probably a good thing.

The missile itself is a pointed cylinder 45cm in diameter and 7 metres (about 22 feet) long with one or two sets of fins: one small set of clipped delta fins at the rear steer the missile and slender fins sometimes mounted along the missile body stabilise and act as antennae. It is propelled by a single-stage, solid fuel rocket motor that gives it a maximum speed of about mach 10, which it is quite capable of manoeuvring at. The warhead is between 100 and 150kgs of fragmenting high explosive, though it is possible that as with the SA-2 and SA-5, a low yield tactical nuclear warhead may be used (this would extend the missile's maximum range and altitude, due to the area of effect of the detonation).

By far the most interesting aspect of this system is the transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) used, mainly because they're so damn mean. The first line of SA-10 systems, the SA-10A, used trailer-mounted TELs towed by a KrAZ-260V tractor unit (or semi truck, if you're American). It seems that this limited the mobility of the system, particularly since the launchers had to be parked and levelled (with hydraulic jacks) on concrete pads. Later versions, the S-300PMU1, S-300PMU2 (aka SA-10 Favorit) S-300PMU3 (aka SA-20 Triumf) incorporated the same sections or advancements of them, mounted on mobile 8 x 8 wheel truck chassis (plural). Unlike more self-contained tactical missile systems such as the SA-6, 8 and 9, SA-10s serve a strategic function and have more comprehensive detection and tracking gear that requires several vehicles to transport.

All of these vehicles are based on the MAZ series of truck chassis; the diesel tractors all have eight wheels - two sets at the front and two at the rear separated by a gap of about seven feet in the middle - with steering on all four front wheels. All four axles are driven by the 525bhp V-12 engine. The two-man cab overhangs the front of the vehicle in much the same way as a mobile crane. Even photographs of these tractors don't quite convey just how big they are without a scaling object, like a person. The wheels (with tyres) are five to six feet tall, making the unit itself at least ten feet tall without the height added by any fittings such as radar antennae or launch tubes. Length is just over thirteen metres, width is three metres.

A typical 'Grumble' missile battery contains the following components:

  • Clam Shell phased array engagement radar
    This doubles as the battery command post, mounted on a MAZ-7910 chassis. The radar receiver is fitted to a trailer-mounted tower that can extend up to 24.5 metres tall, giving greatly improved low altitude target tracking and increased maximum engagement altitude. Especially useful in rugged terrain.
  • Flap Lid pulse Doppler target acquisition radar
    This is a trailer-mounted radar with a large flat antenna array, raised to about 60° when in use. In more recent SA-10 systems this radar is replaced by the Tombstone radar which is mounted on a tractor chassis.
  • Some MAZ tractors carrying resupply rounds.
  • Up to 12 TELs.
    These are the distinctive components, with their four 50cm launch tubes containing a missile each. When moving these are stored horizontally like metal logs; when stopped they are erected to 90° for missile firing. The TEL is supported by four hydraulic jacks (again, think the type used on mobile cranes or excavators) when firing, for stability. In an SA-10A battery these TELs are towed; all subsequent versions are mobile.

A single battery can engage up to six targets simultaneously, guiding two missiles at once to each. The mobile TELs can spread over a wide area to avoid detection since, unlike their predecessors, they have an electronic connection between themselves via extendible antennae so no cables between vehicles are needed. A mobile TEL can be ready to fire 5 minutes after coming to a halt.

Three such batteries make up a regiment. An extra vehicle at headquarters makes up the regiment's command post, with a 4 metre-high Big Bird surveillance and tracking radar for initial target detection. This radar has a range of 300km and can detect 100 targets at once.

There have been significant advances in the radar sections of the SA-10 system and it is these that make up the major differences between the S-300 and the S-300PMU1-3 systems, as well as improved missile performance.

The SA-10PMU systems (the first) had a range of about 100km, able to engage targets from altitudes of 25 metres to 30 kilometres. The PMU1 had improved range and target detection, able to engage targets as small as cruise missiles flying up to 6700mph. Further, it was able to do this while under ECM influence and against heavy background clutter. Maximum range was increased to about 150km. The most recent version (technically - there is a newer SAM system that is an evolution of the SA-10 but it has a different designation so is beyond the scope of this writeup) - the S-300PMU2 Favorit, introduced in 1997 - is basically a new SAM system in familiar clothing. Uniquely, it is backwards compatible with its predecessors, able to load and fire any missile used by any SA-10 variant. The missiles have larger warheads (145kg against 70-100kg of previous versions) and the detection and tracking capabilities of the radars are greatly improved. The Favorit can engage targets flying at up to mach 8, at altitudes from 10 metres to 27km.

The SA-10 is arguably one of the most accomplished SAM systems currently in use and with the introduction of the Favorit, one of the most modern. Its closest parallel is the Patriot missile, which it outperforms demonstrably. During several tests at Kapustin Yar in 1995, the SA-10 proved its anti-ballistic missile capabilities against several Scud missiles, destroying them in the air: a feat allegedly achieved by Patriot missiles on a few occasions at best.

The SA-10 also has a naval variant, designated SA-N-6 Grumble.

<<SA-10 Grumble | SAM Index | SA-11 Gadfly>>

Sources/Much Further Reading:
  • Defence Systems; "S-300 PMU1 air defence missile system";
    <> (includes images of all components)
  • Jane's Information Group; "Jane's Land-Based Air Defense 1996-97" (various sections)
  •; "S-300PMU2 Favorit";
  •; "S-400 Triumph (sic)";
  • Chinese Defence Today; "S-300PMU (SA-10) Surface-to-Air Missile";
    <> (content probably lifted from but includes photographs of all components)
  • Air Force Association; "The Double-Digit SAMs"; via Google cache;
  • Pike, John; " S-300PMU / SA-N-6 SA-10 GRUMBLE";
    <> (and accompanying pages)
  • Ranger Associates, Inc; "THE 1997 MOSCOW AIRSHOW";
  • Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems, via: "`SCUD B' variant (Hwasong 5)";