Scud Missile — Syndrome
(Retd) EAS BOKHARI discusses the threat perception because of the
I have somewhat deliberately chosen the Scud missile
for this presentation for its notoriety, waywardness in accuracy yet at
the same time being the forerunner of many a missile in the Third World.
Scud-B/C are older Soviet missiles with range upto 1000 Km, but some countries
have tried to reverse engineer these missiles, and even traded range for
warhead to reach out to specific targets, the case in point being the
use of the missile Al-Hussein by Iraq in the Gulf War 1991 to reach out
to the Saudi capital Al-Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
A list of the countries which have had possessed this missile during the
heydays of Soviet Union is long one, and is indicated separately.
Perhaps the biggest users of this missile were Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Iraq and Iran used this in the ‘battle of cities’ and Afghanistan
tried to target POF Wah during the Afghan War, but the wayward missile
landed somewhere near Havelian. (May be they tried to target Havelian
where there is a large explosive factory producing propellants for the
weapons produced in the POF.)
The Afghani intention was not quite clear, and only a marginal damage
was done which was not serious at all. So the CEP of the Scud could be
many hundred metres, and at the best the missile could be used for engagement
of area targets. All the same this rattled Pakistan whose iron triangle
lies in the triangle Havelian Wah, Sanjwal.
India is not listed by Aaron Karp in his book ‘Ballistic Missile
Proliferation, the Politics and Technics’, but I have a strong suspicion
that the Indians must have benefited from Soviet Russian assistance in
their missile fabrication, especially the earlier ones like ‘Prithvi’
Writing about the Scud-B, Karp says “... The Russian
(R-17) missile is the very symbol of ballistic missile proliferation.
Scud technologies, relatively simple and widely available, pose the most
serious challenge to international control of ballistic missiles in the
post-cold war world. Essentially a perfected V-2 (German) rocket, the
Scud missile was developed in the mid-1950s for the Soviet Army and improved
to reach its most successful form in the mid-1960s. Unlike the V-2, the
Scud can be stored for years. It can be transported fully fuelled and
set up and fired in 90 minutes. The Scud has been used in the six regional
conflicts since 1973... Currently deployed by at least
17 countries, it remains in production in North Korea. Despite its age
and accuracy it can be mastered by emerging powers, whether they seek
merely to deploy it operationally, to modify its capabilities or to reverse
engineer it for local production....”
Scud, therefore, may be considered as a basic model for missile production
for most of the Third World, and of course every new manufacturer tries
his best to inject some variation for improvement, and tinker with the
basic ballistic performance of the Soviet (Ex) missile. Just to illustrate
this point, the much trumpeted Iraqi Al-Hussein and the Iranian Oghab,
are variations of the Soviet Scud. These variations at the very best have
proven a deterrent, and nothing else. They did not improve its ballistics.
Here is a pertinent para from Karp about the Scud and its variations.
“... At the maximum ranges of Scud technology, nuclear weapons cease
to compensate efficiently for missile’s low accuracy (Iraqi Al-Hussein
and North Korean Scud-C have a CEP of about 2 Km) ... Using the missile
like the Iraqi Al-Abbas or North Korean No Dong I with a CEP of 3 Km at
a range of 900 Km, and armed with a 20-Kt nuclear weapon, the chances
of destroying even an unprotected target is less than 27 per cent. Destruction
of a city centre or an unsheltered military target under these conditions
would require at least five (5) missiles despite their nuclear armament.”
For more hardened targets even more than a dozen Scuds are needed, which
indeed is not cost effective. The use of aircraft, and if the conventional
gun batteries could be used is perhaps the real answer.
Scuds can be used both emplaced in well protected bunkers as well as on
mobile launchers, in fact the latter is the more normal way of using these
missiles, and the Iraqis did use these while firing from mobile launchers.
There may have been a few cases where the missile was kept in a fixed
place and probably the missile site was demolished by incessant and massive
allied aerial engagements.
It is interesting, to see how the Iraqis used their Scuds. In this context
the book ‘Desert Warrior’ by HRH General Khaled Bin Sultan,
cites many examples of the Iraqi innovation. This of course is their trading
off of weight of warhead with range. (See Graph) There is no doubt that
the Allies if at all had any worry, then it was the use of Scuds and Chemical
Biological weapons by Iraq. Scuds ofcourse were used by Saddam. No chemical
weapons were used.
It is generally accepted that the Iraqis used their Scuds behind a cloud
cover, and perhaps most of these were mobile. There is an interesting,
though not very convincing statement by Gen Schwarzkopf made on 18 January
1991. This runs as below:
“... This morning, the United States Air Force found three mobile
erected launchers with missiles on board inside Iraq... Those three mobile
erected launchers have been destroyed... In addition to that, at the same
time we found eight more mobile erected launchers in the same location.
We are currently attacking those launchers, and we have confirmed the
destruction of three more of those mobile erected launchers and we are
continuing to attack the others ....”
According to Gen Khaled, a member of his staff who had a very considerable
experience with Scuds expressed skepticism about the US General’s
statement. “It was most unlikely, he wrote that Iraqis would move
their launchers during the day and expose such a highly valuable asset
to air attack. In his view, the American pilots probably destroyed decoys,
rather than launchers. .. Or if they were not decoys, they could have
been long-bed vehicles used to carry missiles and which are similar in
shape to launchers ... he conceded that there was just a chance, one in
a thousand, that the pilot had destroyed real launchers and the Iraqis
had simply lost their heads”. The American General has insisted
on such statements and has even said this in his book “... Our bombers
had obliterated every known Scud site in Western Iraq, destroying thirty
six fixed launchers and ten mobile ones...”
The above statement does not look to be true, for one thing there is no
such thing as a ‘fixed launcher’ as all Scuds are mounted
on long wheeled vehicles.
Countries with Scud Missiles
Country Ballistic Missiles
150 to 1000 Km
Belarus Scud B
Bulgaria Scud B
Czech Republic Scud B
Hungary Scud B
Poland Scud B
Romania Scud B
Russia Scud B
Slovakia Scud B
Ukraine Scud B
Egypt Scud B/ Scud C ?
Iran Scud B/ Scud C ?
Iraq Scud B
Libya Scud B/ Scud C ?
Syria Scud B/ Scud C ?
Yemen Scud B
Afghanistan Scud B
Kazakhstan Scud B
Tajikistan Scud B
North Korea Scud B/ Scud C ?
Gen Khaled, writes about the Iraqi use of Scuds thus
“... In the ‘Great Scud Hunt’, the Coalition was defeated
by the ingenuity of Iraqi Scud crew, but also by weather. Iraq launched
Scuds only in bad weather, when the cloud ceiling was 3000 feet or below.
... The US Combat Air Patrols did not have the accuracy to detect the
exact launch point through the cloud cover, and transmit it to the pilots
And then of course there is the promotional episode of the performance
of Patriots, which I have already covered, in one of my previous presentations.
This is corroborated by Mark Crispin Miller writing in ‘International
Herald Tribune’ of 25 January 1992 when he said “Desert Scam,
not one mobile Scud launcher was destroyed....”
A Saudi Arabian officer who had the experience of Scud operations for
about two years in Egypt has suggested the following procedure for location
of Scuds, which appears to be the standard procedure. (In the procedure
outlined below, Al-Riyadh is the Scud target.)
l Riyadh should be placed on the arc equal to the maximum
range of Scud.
l A careful study of the circumference of this arc, especially the availability
of roads potential hiding places should be made.
l As discussed, above and as the Iraqis did not move launchers during
the day time the most probable time of Scud attack would be between nightfall
and first light. But within this time frame and taking into account various
other procedures and movement et al the most likely time could be between
1910 to 0520 hours.
l The Scud launch, having been completed the launcher took 7 to 10 minutes
to vacate its position. While the US satellites took two minutes to report
the location of the missile site. Thus, the Coalition had just 5 minutes
time to react i.e. the Coalition bombers must be somewhere, 35 to 70 miles
away from the Iraqi site. This normally did not happen.
I suppose, this simple procedure was not really adopted by the Coalition
Finally, though I cannot be absolutely sure that the new crop of missiles,
like Prithvi, Ghauri, and Shahab-3, et al are in some way descendants
of the age old and durable Scud, these are definitely its derivatives
in a big way.
It is known for certain that large scale tinkering and doctoring with
the original Soviet missile has been done by many countries, but the ballistic
results achieved were not satisfactory.
Sipri Year Book, 1998 Oxford University Press.
Desert Warrior — A personal view of the Gulf War by the Joint Forces
Commander HRH, Gen Khaled Bin Sultan with Patrick Seale Harper Collins,
Ballistic Missile Proliferation — the Politics & Technics Aaron
Karp, Sipri Oxford University Press, 1996.
Military Balance IISS London 1997-98.