Air Defense: Stealth Killer Missile Sales Soar

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December 29, 2008: Russia announced that it still has seven export customers for its 1970s era S-125 (SA-3 Goa) surface to air missile system. A Russian factory is currently producing over 200 S-125 missiles for these customers. The largest one is Egypt, with orders for 70 missiles. Other customers are Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Myanmar, Vietnam and Turkmenistan. Some of these countries are buying new launchers and radars as well.

The two stage S-125 missiles weigh nearly a ton, and carry a 130 pound warhead against targets 35 kilometers away (and altitudes as high as 18,000 meters). There is also a smaller missile, weighing closer to half a ton, with a range of 15 kilometers. Having two different size missiles for the same system is a common practice with the Russians (and some other nations as well, like the U.S. Patriot system).

Users have upgraded or modified their S-125 missiles and radars over the years. The most notable example of this was in Serbia, in 1999, where a missile battery commander used S-125s to shoot down a U.S. F-117 stealth aircraft. He did this by using human observers a lot, and his radar rarely. Since the S-125 can be controlled (flown by) a ground operator, once the F-117 was located, it was launched and flown manually to the target. Simple and effective, and largely immune to countermeasures.

This feat gave S-125 sales a shot in the arm, and now the Russians have opened a new factory to meet the demand (worth over $250 million). But nations don't buy the inexpensive, and reliable, S-125 because one took down a stealth fighter. No, the missile provides basic air defense against neighbors who don't have high-end air forces. The S-125 provides basic air defense, and keeps aerial smugglers nervous.

 

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