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Two S-125 dual missile launcher trailers. Photo by Nellis AFB
A fixed S-125 quad missile turret. Photo by US Navy Expeditionary Warfare Training.
A pair of S-125 missiles in transit. Photo by GulfLINK.
The Isayev S-125 "Neva"/"Pechora" (Russian ?-123 "????"/"??????", NATO reporting name SA-3 "Goa") Soviet surface-to-air missile system was designed to complement the S-25 Berkut (SA-1 'Guild') and V-75 (SA-2 'Guideline'). It has a shorter effective range and lower engagement altitude than either of its predecessors and also flies slower, but due to its two-stage design it is more effective against more maneuverable targets. It is also able to engage lower flying targets than the previous systems, and being more modern it is much more resistant to ECM than the SA-2. The 5V24 (V-600) missiles reach around Mach 3 to 3.5 in flight, both stages powered by solid fuel rocket motors. The SA-3, like the SA-2, uses radio command guidance. The naval version of this system has the NATO reporting name SA-N-1 "Volna" (Russian ????? - wave).
Transport and Radar
The SA-3 is somewhat mobile, an improvement over the SA-2 system. The missiles are typically deployed on originally fixed, but later trailer-mounted turrets containing two or four but can be carried ready-to-fire on Zil trucks in pairs or on tracked chassis carrying three missiles. Reloading the fixed launchers takes about an hour. The launchers are accompanied by a command building or truck and three primary radar systems:
- P-15 "Flat Face" or P-15M(2) "Squat Eye" 380 kW C-band target acquisition radar (also used by the SA-6 and SA-8, range 250km/155 miles)
- "Low Blow" 250 kW I/D-band tracking, fire control and guidance radar (range 40km/25 miles)
- PRV-11 "Side Net" E-band height finder (also used by SA-2, SA-4 and SA-5, range 28 km/17 miles, max height 32 km/105,000 ft)
"Flat Face"/"Squat Eye" is mounted on a van ("Squat Eye" on a taller mast for better performance against low-altitude targets), "Low Blow" on a trailer and "Side Net" on a box-bodied trailer.
The SA-3 was first deployed between 1961 and 1964 around Moscow, augmenting the SA-1 and SA-2 sites already ringing the city, as well as in other parts of the USSR. In 1964, an upgraded version of the system, the S-125M "Neva-M" and later S-125M1 "Neva-M1" was developed. The original version was designated SA-3A by the US DoD and the new Neva-M named SA-3B and (naval) SA-N-1B. The Neva-M introduced a redesigned booster and an improved guidance system.
The SA-3 is mostly obsolete now due to its short range and easily jammed radar but despite this (and in many senses, because of this) an SA-3 system managed to shoot down an F-117 Nighthawk "Stealth Fighter" on March 27, 1999 during the Kosovo War (the only recorded downing of such an aircraft). It may have been due to the use of the old, low frequency radar which allowed this coup.
The SA-3 was also used against U.S. forces in Vietnam and against Israeli forces during the Arab-Israeli wars. It proved effective against low-altitude targets during both conflicts.
On an interesting note, the "Neva-M" upgrade gives the new 5V27 (V-601) missiles the capability of being launched against surface targets including ships due to their improved guidance which allows them to dive down onto their target with a parabolic-type trajectory (somewhat ballistic in nature).
Since Russia replaced most of its SA-3 sites with SA-10 and SA-12 systems, they decided to upgrade the SA-3 systems being removed from service to make them more attractive to export customers. Released in 2000, the Pechora-2 version features better range, multiple target engagement ability and a higher kill probability (PK). The launcher is moved onto a truck allowing much shorter relocation times. It is also possible to fire the Perchora-2M system against cruise missiles. Amongst the countries that received these upgraded missiles is Iraq.
In 2001, Poland began offering an upgrade to the S-125 known as the Newa SC. This replaced many analogue components with digital ones for improved reliability and accuracy. This upgrade also involves mounting the missile launcher on a T-55 tank chassis (a TEL), greatly improving mobility and also adds IFF capability and data links.
Later in the same year, the Russian version was upgraded again to the Perchora-M which upgraded almost all aspects of the system - the rocket motor, radar, guidance, warhead, fuze and electronics. There is an added laser/infra-red tracking device to allow launching of missiles without the use of the radar.
There is also a version of the S-125 available from Russia with the warhead replaced with telemetry instrumentation, for use as target drones.
- North Korea owns many SA-3 systems (around 32 batteries), along with SA-2, SA-5 and SA-7.
- Yugoslavia operated around 14 SA-3 batteries with a total of about 60 launchers.
- Iraq operated a number before and during Operation Enduring Freedom.
- Other operators include Algeria, Angola, Bulgaria, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Hungary, India, Finland, Hungary, India, Libya, Mozambique, Peru, Poland, Romania, Somali Republic, South Yemen, Syria, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Zambia.
- The SA-N-1 naval version is deployed on Kresta I class guided missile cruisers and Kashin class destroyers (two installations each, fore and aft), as well as Kynda class cruisers, Kotlin-SAM class destroyers and Kanin class destroyers (one installation each, aft).
- Some Indian frigates also carry the SA-N-1.
The "Low Blow" radar. The nose of an S-125 missile is visible to the right. Photo by Nellis AFB