Air Defense: Venezuela Buys Russian

January 31, 2007: Venezuela is buying three batteries of Russian Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles. These would be used to protect key Venezuelan assets from attack by, well, you never know.

Each battery costs about $100 million, and consists of search radar and command center vehicles, as well as four missile launcher vehicles (each carrying eight missiles, and another radar.) The missiles can hit aircraft up to 12 kilometers away, and cruise missiles at a distance of five kilometers. The missile launcher vehicle has a crew of thee (commander, driver and missile systems operator).

The 370 pound missiles are nine feet long and 9.25 inches (235mm) in diameter. The tracking radar on the missile vehicle can track two targets at once, and can launch a missile in under eight seconds of a target being located. Missiles can be launched from the vehicle at three second intervals. The missile carrying vehicle weighs 34 tons, and has light armor (good against small arms and shell fragments). The system has not been used in combat yet, but the Russians say it has performed well in tests. The Chinese and Iranians are happy with the system, and the Chinese have ordered more of them.

The Tor-M1 is also known to NATO as the SA-15 Gauntlet. The system was designed as a successor to the SA-N-8 Gecko. The system was designed to be a tactical battlefield air-defense system, designed to take out close-air-support planes like the A-10 or tactical fighter-bombers like the F-4, F-16, and F-18. The A-10 still comes in low, but most other American warplanes stay up at 20,000 feet, dropping smart bombs, and are thus out of range of the Tor-M1.

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