Russian forces switching on and off TOR missile to minimize radar heat issues provide window of opportunity to destroy the missile system

Russia’s SA-15 air-defense system is a “critical” asset for Moscow’s troops in Ukraine, but keeping the system working on the front lines is an “extreme test of endurance” for its crew, according to a new assessment.

The Kremlin’s SA-15 system is “playing a critical and largely effective role” in Ukraine, the U.K. Defense Ministry said on Sunday.

But “one of the key limitations of the system in the current war is likely the endurance of its crew,” the British government added in an intelligence update posted to social media. With three people assigned to each system, keeping each SA-15 alert and ready for long periods of time is “highly likely proving an extreme test of endurance,” the U.K. said.

The Gauntlet is designed to take down enemy aircraft, drones, guided missiles and other precision munitions at medium to low altitudes. Russia is currently using it mostly to take down Ukrainian uncrewed vehicles, the U.K. said on Sunday, adding the SA-15 is protecting Russia’s front line of ground troops.

About TOR Missile

The Soviet Military requested a replacement for the SA-8 Gecko anti-aircraft missile system in the mid-70s, and after a long development period, The TOR-M1 was finally accepted into service 10 years in 80s.  As with all things Russians, upgrades followed until the M2 variant was developed, recently using the 10 km range, more compact 9M338 missiles, stored vertically in the centre of the turret ready to be launched immediately, able to fire even whilst on the move under optimal conditions.

Search radars can only be turned on and off via an ROE switch, but using that switch stows the radar on mobile units. Radar overheating is the key issue with the SA-15. The Ukrainian forces have to sense the electronic pulse emitting from the radar by Electronic warfare or anti-radiation missile seekers.

The primary means of engaging targets is by radar guidance. Each Tor system is fitted with a 20 km 360-degree search radar and a 15 km 60-degree tracking radar. The radar modules on the turret can provide targets and guide up to four missiles at a time in later variants, and it can also communicate with the missiles after launch thanks to a small antenna on the vehicle that can update the missiles in flight.

The SA-15 Tor, also known as “Gauntlet,” is one of Russia’s main air-defenses deployed in Ukraine. It is a mobile, surface-to-air system which has a maximum range of just under 10 miles. It comes in several variants, and has been one of Ukraine’s main military targets throughout the war. Kyiv’s forces have previously shared footage of Tor systems being destroyed in combat operations, including ones which were targeted by drones.

The first Tor system entered development in the 1980s, and debuted in 1986, according to the U.S. think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The think tank said that the Tor-M, the first upgraded version of the original system, entered service in 1991 and proved ineffective against slow-moving drones in Syria and Ukraine. A later version, the Tor-M2, was designed to target incoming threats, such as a large number of fast-moving cruise missiles, but proved ineffective against anti-radiation missiles in the Ukraine war.

Moscow and Kyiv have both focused lately on air-defenses, and heading into the colder winter months, Ukraine warned it would need increased capabilities to fend off an upsurge in Russian air attacks.

“Here, in Ukraine, all attention should be focused on defense,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on November 12, reiterating the importance of the hardware to the country.

“I urged allies and partners to dig deep and donate whatever air-defense munitions they can, as Ukraine heads into another winter of war,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin said in September.

Ukraine’s military said on Sunday that its air defenses had intercepted 10 Shahed kamikaze drone strikes out of 12 uncrewed vehicles launched in “several waves” overnight.

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