A surface to air missile system developed and produced by the Soviet Union in the 1970s, deployed there and in at least five other countries from about 1980 onwards. The SA-11 system (Russian designation 'Buk-M1' - 'Buk' is Russian for 'beech') is the intended replacement for, and is a highly evolved version of the SA-6 Gainful. It also replaces the SA-4 Ganef system. One could be forgiven for mistaking an SA-11 TELAR for that of an SA-6 and vice versa; viewed side-by-side the TELARs (Transporter-Erector-Launchers) for both systems look similar, though the SA-11 is considerably more advanced with improved infrastructure and more capable missiles.

The SA-11 system is designed for use against multiple short or medium range high performance targets such as jet fighters, helicopters and cruise missiles (the kill probability descending roughly in that order). Recent developments of this system have improved its versatility, making it a real contender for anti-ballistic missile and even anti-ship duties.

Designed by Toporov Design Bureau, the components of the system are:

  • Snow Drift search and target acquisition radar
    This carries a large slab-like radar receiver (approximately 10' x 6') which is mounted on a 360°-rotating turret. This receiver can be elevated up to 40° and folded flat for transit. Snow Drift radar has ranging capabilities from 85-100km for high-flying targets down to 20-35km for targets 100 metres off the ground. Helicopters hovering close to the ground in line of sight can be targeted up to about 10km away.
  • Command post vehicle
    This unit contains all of the data readouts for the battery. It processes targets passed to it by the targeting radar and oversees handing-off of targets to individual TELARs. It also processes missile launch data and in-flight guidance information for individual missiles. It is the only one of the four vehicles that doesn't have a turret.
  • Missile TELAR
    Similar to the target acquisition unit, but with missile rails in place of the radar receiver. The turret is extended to accommodate the four missiles it carries. These are mounted on missile rails that may be angled up to 40°. The TELAR unit carries the Fire Dome radar which can guide up to three missiles simultaneously against a maximum of six targets.
  • Missile loader/resupply vehicle.
    The loader vehicle is similar to the missile TELAR except it has a missile crane in place of that unit's tracking radar. This may completely reload a missile TELAR in about 13 minutes. Interestingly this unit can also launch missiles as long as target data is passed to it from a nearby TELAR. The missiles themselves are guided by the Fire Dome unit.

All of these units are based upon the GM-569 tracked chassis, the same used by the ubiquitous ZSU-23-4 23mm antiaircraft gun. The 30-tonne vehicle has about 9mm of armour all round (slightly less in the turret) and, like many of its predecessors, has an internal air filtration and overpressure system for some protection against NBC (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) conditions. The vehicles maximum speed is about 40mph, with a limited fording ability of about 1 metre of water. The vehicle driver sits in the front of the hull, the rest being housed in the rotating turret section where applicable.

An SA-11 battery can be ready for action five minutes after coming to a halt. Targets detected by the Snow Drift radar are handed off to the Fire Dome tracking radar (up to 75 at a time), which can track up to 15 of these targets simultaneously, a tremendous improvement over the single-target 'capability' of the SA-6. When a 9M28M1 missile is launched, Fire Dome guides it to its target until it detonates on a proximity fuse. It is worth noting that SA-11 TELARs may be equipped with electro-optical guidance systems for use in heavy ECM environments, when the conventional semi-active radar is useless.

The 9M28M1 missile is 5.7 metres long and 40cm wide, with four small steering fins at the rear and stabilizing vanes (that probably also double as antennae) that run about two thirds of its length. Weighing 650kg at launch, it is powered by a solid-fuel rocket motor and can reach a maximum speed of about mach 3 and sustain manoeuvres up to 23g. It carries a 70kg high explosive fragmentation warhead, lethal up to 17 metres (almost 60ft) from the blast centre.

Recent upgrades by the Russian state's Instrument-Making Research Institute have greatly enhanced the performance of and potential applications for the SA-11 system. The modified version, called Buk-M1-2, uses a new missile developed by the Dolgoprudny Research and Production Enterprise. The 9M317 missile - possibly designed for the future SA-17 Grizzly system - can engage a wide range of targets and is considered to be suitable for anti-missile duties comparable to those of the US Patriot missile system, as well as deployment against smaller targets such as anti-radar missiles and bombs. This modified air defence system may also be used against high-contrast surface targets such as control centres, radar stations, ships and grounded aircraft. Testing has reportedly confirmed this.

Further new additions to the SA-11 include an optical sight for use when under jamming, as well as a digital sensor suite including an IFF interrogator (for a target identification ability), a laser rangefinder and improved resistance to jamming. These capabilities are apparently all built into the TELAR. Usefully the modified SA-11 system may also augment the SA-6, enabling that system to track two targets at once instead of one.*

Currently about 200 SA-11 systems are deployed worldwide, in countries that include India, Syria, Poland and several former Russian republics. This figure will likely increase as Russia continues to market this system, and as the SA-6 is phased out in favour. Eventually this system will probably be replaced by the SA-17, though the small amount of information available on that system suggests that this is some time away.

The SA-11 also has a naval variant, designated SA-N-7 Gadfly.

<<SA-10 Grumble | SAM Index | SA-12 Gladiator/Giant>>

* One might wish to take this paragraph and the one preceding it with a pinch of salt as the principal source for it is what amounts to an arms catalogue. I hope I managed to filter out the hyperbole.

  • Jane's Information Group - "Janes Land-Based Air Defense 2003 - 9K37 Buk (SA-11 'Gadfly') low-to high-altitude surface-to-air missile system"
  • Pike, John;
    • "9K37M1 BUK-1M / SA-11 GADFLY / SA-N-7 GADFLY";
    • "ZSU-23-4 Shilka 23MM Antiaircraft Gun";
  • Venik's Aviation; "The SA-11 "Gadfly" Buk-M SAM system";
  • DKAG; "9M36 Buk SA-11 Gadfly";
  • Missile.index; "SA-11/SA-N-7 Gadfly";
  • russiansabroad.com (author not specified); "Russia - Foreign Arms Sales";
  • Martin, Kate; " Editorial Digest Volume 3 Number 15 (October 21, 1998) - A missile and a flame thrower for all my friends";