Russia's Missiles Can't Take the Heat (Seriously)

Michael Peck

Key point: Extreme temperatures can impact the performance of any weapon.

Russian missiles had problems operating in Syria.

Why? Because parts of Syria are desert, and Russia lacked experience with designing weapons for such climates.

That startling admission came from Boris Obsonov, head of Russia's Tactical Missiles Corporation (KTRV), during an interview with the business newspaper Kommersant [Google English translation here].

"I will not hide it: various flaws were found in real combat conditions," Obsonov said. "For us, the Syrian campaign has become a serious test."

Obsonov said he tried to convince the Russian military to use smart bombs instead of unguided bombs. We did not have the cheapest weapon compared to free-fall bombs. We were told that the gravitational [unguided] bomb is quite effective thanks to a new method of targeting. And I had to argue! Tables, coordinates—it's all good. It is possible to make aerodynamic tables correctly, but with a strong wind such a bomb can be off by several hundred meters, because it does not have a correction system.

Obsonov blamed the lack of training ranges in Russia with similar climatic conditions to Syria. "We do not have polygons [training ranges] with such climatic conditions: heat, a strong haze rises from the ground, winds, sand storms."

"Therefore, it was not possible before Syria to test products, for example, with a laser homing head in such conditions," Obsonov said. We did not assume that the illumination due to mirages could 'float away.' The principle of operation of a laser weapon is: there is a target light. The head sees the reflected laser signal and is induced at the point of reflection of the signal. Under ideal conditions, a laser weapon is considered the most accurate weapon, but its range depends largely on the transparency of the atmosphere.

"The more complex the weapon, the more one had to think why something went wrong," Obsonov added. "Why, under ideal conditions, the defeat of the target occurs regularly, and suddenly it does not."

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