The Scud Missile Syndrome

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Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI discusses the various aspects of the Russian SCUD missile

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.

A list of the countries which have/had possessed this missile during the heydays of Soviet Union is a long one, and is indicated separately.

Perhaps the biggest users of this missile were 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 might have tried to target Havelian where there is a large explosive factory producing propellants for the weapons produced in the POF.) All the same, 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 meters - and at the best the missile could be used for engagement of area targets.

India is not listed by famous 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 assistance in their missile fabrication - especially the earlier ones like 'Prithvi' et al.

Writing about the Scud B - Karp says '.... The Russian Scud B (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 chance 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 they had any worry then it was the use of Scuds and Chemical/Biological weapons by Iraq. Scuds of course 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.

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 waiting above.'

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.)

  • Riyadh should be placed on the arc equal to the maximum range of Scud.
  • A careful study of the circumfer-ence of this arc - especially the availability of roads/potential hiding places should be made.
  • 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 movements et al the most likely time could be between 1910 to 0520 hours.
  • The Scud launch - having been completed the launcher took 7 to 10 minutes to vacate its posi-tion. While the US satellites took two minutes to report the loca-tion 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 planners.

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.

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
Egyp 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
Kazkhastan Scud B
Tajikistan Scud B
North Korea Scud B
Scud C ?

Further Reading

1. Sipri Year Book - 1998 : Oxford University Press.

2. Desert Warrior, A Personal View of the Gulf War By the Joint Forces Commander HRH - Gen Khaled Bin Sultan with Patrick Seale.  Harper Collins - 1995

3. Ballistic Missile Proliferation - the Politics & Technics.  Aaron Karp - Sipri.  Oxford University Press - 1996

4. Military Balance IISS London 1997-98