Syria, situated in the heart of the Middle East, possesses an impressive assortment of ballistic missiles, establishing itself as one of the most formidable military forces in the region. The collection of missiles, including the SS-1 Scud-B, Scud-C, Scud-D, SS-21 Tochka, and Luna-M, plays a vital role in Syria’s defense strategy. With their diverse ranges and payload capacities, these missiles provide Syria with a robust capability to engage a wide range of targets. From the Scud-B, which was first introduced in 1962, to the Luna-M, each missile system in Syria’s arsenal possesses distinct characteristics and capabilities. This article offers a detailed overview of these missile systems, shedding light on their technical specifications, operational ranges, and the strategic roles they fulfill within Syria’s defense apparatus. As the geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, it remains essential to comprehend the capabilities of these missile systems to assess the balance of power in the Middle East.
Syria’s Key Ballistic Missiles
The SS-1 Scud-B, also known as the R-17 Elbrus, was introduced in 1962 to replace the Scud-A. It quickly gained prominence, becoming operational in several European and Middle Eastern countries by 1965. With a length of just over 11 meters, the Scud-B surpasses its predecessor by one meter. Powered by a single-stage liquid propellant engine, it boasts an operational range of 300 km. Its Circular Error Probable (CEP) ranges between 450-900 meters. To guide the missile toward its target, it relies on an inertial guidance system. In terms of payload, the Scud-B is versatile and capable of carrying conventional, chemical, or nuclear ordnance. Launching is facilitated by a mobile truck Transport-Erector-Launcher (TEL), and the entire firing sequence typically takes around one hour.
The Scud-C missile, also known as the R-17M “Elbrus-M” in Russia and SS-1-D in NATO, is a modified version of the Scud-B. Its modification program began in 1988 intending to achieve a longer range than its predecessors by reducing the payload and extending the length of the rocket body to increase the propellant by 25%. This missile has a length of 11.25 meters, a diameter of 0.88 meters, and a launch weight of 6,400 kg. It can operate within a range of 500 to 600 km and carry an 800 kg payload. The missile uses an inertial guidance system and is launched from a Transport-Erector-Launcher (TEL) unit, which carries the missile on an 8×8 truck similar to the Russian-made MAZ-543. The missile is elevated to a vertical position at the rear of the Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) before initiating the launch. The North Korean Hwasong-5 liquid propellant ballistic missile shares the same dimensions and launch weight as the Scud-C. Meanwhile, the Hwasong-6 variant features an improved guidance system with an accuracy of 700 m CEP and carries an 800 kg payload over a range of 500 to 600 km.
Syria possesses the Scud-D missile, which is a ballistic missile variant of the Scud missile developed in North Korea. It is also known as the R-17VTO in Russia, SS-1-E in NATO, and Hwasong 7 in North Korea. The Scud-D has a launch weight of 6,500 kg, a length of 12.29 meters, and a diameter of 0.88 meters. It has an operational range of 300 km and carries a payload of 985 kg with an accuracy of 50 m CEP. Despite its improved accuracy over the Scud-C, the Scud-D did not proliferate as widely due to the Soviet-made OTR-21 Tochka being chosen to replace all Soviet Scud missiles in the early 1980s.
Introduced in 1975, the SS-21 Tochka missile is a mobile weapon system created to enhance the capabilities of conventional forces. Its primary function is to target vital points like bridges, storage facilities, troop gatherings, and airfields, providing versatility on the battlefield. With a solid fuel propulsion system and single-stage operation, this ballistic missile ensures accuracy with its inertial guidance system, achieving an impressive Circular Error Probable (CEP) accuracy of 150 m within its range of 70 km. The SS-21 Tochka missile carries a 482 kg warhead that can be loaded with either conventional, chemical, or nuclear explosives. It is speculated that the nuclear warhead can yield either 10 or 100 kT.