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Syria’s (Russian made) Pantsir S1 system makes the grade in combat

Mobile antimissile launch platform credited with eliminating many of the incoming missiles launched by the US, UK and France during April 13/14 strike

The Russian Ministry of Defense has been consistent in its report that Syrian defenses successfully stopped some 71 of the 103 missiles that the triad of Western powers launched at targets in Syria. One of the systems that deserves the credit for the missile kills is the legacy system, called the Pantsir S1 Surface to air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system. NATO has its own coding for this system, and for Western powers this system is known as the S-22 “Greyhound.”

Sputnik News reported that the Pantsir systems were (almost) 100 percent effective in repelling the US strikes – this report attributed to the Russian Ministry of Defense:

According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, Russian-made Pantsir-S1 air defense system deployed by the Syrian forces showed almost 100% effectiveness in repelling the Western missile strike.

“In anti-aircraft combat, the Russian-made Pantsir S-1 system that had been previously supplied to the Syrian armed forces was actively used,” he added.

Konashenkov went on to say that the Syrian air defenses used 112 ground-to-air missiles to repel the attack that targeted not only facilities in Barza and Jaramana, but also military facilities, including airfields.

Konashenkov further commented that the strikes had involved cruise missiles launched from the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf and the eastern Syrian city of al-Tanf. The attack targeted the facilities that were not bunkers protected by the Syrian air defenses, he pointed out, adding that those were facilities were built on the surface. He has reiterated that 71 missiles of those 100+ had been intercepted.

The Pantsir S1 is a potent weapon.

As one might surmise, the Pantsir was developed to proved point air defense of military and industrial installations against aircraft, helicopters, precision munitions, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) and most specifically, it was designed to provide such defense at extremely LOW ranges.

This low range capability comes in very handy when dealing with low flying ordinance such as the Tomahawk cruise missile. Also, as can be surmised, this weapons platform can fire both missiles and guns, and it can do so while the whole platform itself is in motion.

The Guns

The capabilities of the ordnance are specialized according to their purpose. For very short range targets, the two dual 2A38M 30mm autocannon emplacements are fitted with 700 rounds of ammunition, which can itself be of various types – High Explosive, fragmentation tracers, and armor-piercing with tracer rounds. The rate of fire is withering – 2500 rounds per minute per gun, with a range of up to 2.5 miles (4km), and it can engage targets at zero altitude – again this is an ideal configuration for hitting incoming targets at low altitude, such as a cruise missile.

The Missiles

Pantsir systems carry up to twelve solid-fuel two-stage surface-to-air missiles in sealed, ready-to-launch, container tubes. The missiles are radio-controlled in flight, and are not seeker equipped in order to keep target engagement costs down. However, as mentioned just before, the missiles are nonetheless precision-guided by the Pantsir’s multiband sensor system and guidance data is relayed by radio link for up to four simultaneous missiles in flight. While the Pantsir can choose four targets at once, the usual targeting is set for two missiles per target to increase the chance of accuracy. These missiles have a hit probability of between 70-95%. Each missile carries a 20kg warhead, itself usually consisting of some 5.5kg of explosive and 2,000 fragments in each one. That means that this missile explodes in such a manner as to act like a shotgun shell on its target, which also increases the hit probability. The missiles fuses can be set in a range from either target contact to a proximity of 30 feet (9 meters) away.

Finally, the Pantsir can fire its missiles while in motion.

Target Acquisition

The Pantsir is a capable detection platform. It boasts three interdependent target acquisition systems. The first is a radar that boasts a detection range of between 20-22 miles (32-26km) and a tracking range of between 15-17 miles (24-28km) for a target as small as 2 square meters in Radar Cross Section (RCS). The target tracking range can be extended as well, to as distant as 28 miles (45km). The radar can track both the incoming targets and its own SAM’s while in flight.

The second tracking system is an electro-optic channel fire control system, and it is often tied to the third system, which has a long-wave thermal imager and infrared detection finder, and this includes both digital signal processing and automatic target tracking. On some Pantsir systems, though, only the first system, the electro-optic one, is fitted.

These systems operate collaboratively, and they give the defense platform the ability to track up to 20 targets in a 45-degree cone of view, and as mentioned before, each Pantsir can guide up to four outgoing missiles simultaneously.

This allows the system to engage targets at the rate of up to 10 targets per minute.

In Combat

The video clips we get to see like the recent one with the Syrian airstrike are long on featuring the launch of a SAM that flies very high in the sky and eliminates its target while it is far off the ground. There are probably two reasons for this – one is that the cameraman never knows where the intercept will be launched from or where the incoming weapon is, so something that takes time to find is easier to catch on camera.

It is not likely that any of the video clips we saw showed Pantsir systems in action. Since Pantsir specializes in very low range targets, these are deployed as companion systems to the better known S-300 ABM (which is probably what the video clips showed in action). In fact, the Pantsir’s mission is to protect the S-300s. Because of the short ranges involved, there is very little flight time involved for any missile, and tracer rounds are probably not visible unless viewed at very close distances. The video clips circulated are all at some distance from the intercepts. So, these defense systems may be rather unsung heroes, but they are extremely effective.

Usually the deployment is for multiple Pantsir systems to be working in tandem, as is also the case with Russian ABM systems. Up to six Pantsir may be linked in a network with the command node being one of the vehicles itself commanding the other five, or all six may be remotely commanded. Since the system is mountable on both wheeled and tracked carriers, its placement is extremely versatile.

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