A 9M79-1 missile being fired in Kazakhstan during exercise Combat Commonwealth 2011. Credit: Grigoriy Bedenko.
The 9K79 Tochka (Точка; ‘point’) tactical ballistic missile launcher has been identified in a recent video from Syria, seen below. Whilst the YouTube video misidentifies the system as a ‘Scud’, it is almost certainly a 9K79, also referred to as the OTR-21 (OTR: оперативно-тактический ракетный комплекс, or ‘Tactical-operational Missile Complex’), or by its NATO reporting name, the SS-21 Scarab. This Soviet-produced system has a maximum range of 70km, and a Circular Error Probable (CEP) of approximately 150m. An updated version, the 9K79-1 Tochka-U (Scarab-B), was introduced in the 1980s with a maximum range of 120km and a CEP of approximately 92m. Syria is thought to possess both iterations, having received its first deliveries of the earlier 9K79 (Scarab-A) systems from the USSR in 1983. Syria is suspected of supplying 9K79s to North Korea to be reverse-engineered for use in their domestic missile development program.
Two 9K79 or 9K79-1 tactical ballistic missile systems operating in Syria.
The 9K79/9K79-1 is a mobile missile launch system, consisting of the 9M79 solid-fuel missile and the 9P129 6×6 wheeled Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL). Various payloads can be delivered by the 9M79 missile, including HE-frag warheads, submunitions, and nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. A passive radar-homing HE warhead also exists. Syria is known to possess 9M79F (9M79-1F, for the 9K79-1) missiles with 9N123F 120kg HE-fragmentation warheads, and may also possess 9M79K (9M79-1K, for the 9K79-1) missiles, featuring the 9N123K cargo warhead containing 50 9N24 fragmentation submunitions. It is also possible that Syria has purchased or developed delivery systems for chemical or biological weapons.
The 9P129 (or one of several later variations) TEL vehicle is based on the Object (объект) 5921 6×6 wheeled vehicle, which also serves as a base for the 9A33 TEL for the 9K33 Osa surface-to-air missile system (NATO reporting name: SA-8 Gecko). The 9P129 has a road speed of approximately 60km/h, is fully amphibious, air-transportable, and provided with NBC protection. A trained crew can setup and ready a missile for launch in around 15-20 minutes from a previously mobile position. 9K79-1 systems were used by Russian forces in the both Chechen Wars and in the Georgian-Ossetian Conflict.
The presence of these systems is an interesting development; they are certainly a lot more accurate than the 9K52 Luna-M (FROG-7) rockets and R-17/R-17M (Scud-B/Scud-C) missiles which Syria also possesses. Please note that many media outlets are incorrectly reporting any large rocket or missile as a ‘Scud’. This confusion is partly due to US government-issued statements referring to ‘Scud-type’ missiles. All systems should be positively identified before being referred to as ‘Scuds’, and it should be noted that there are significant differences between the different missiles collectively referred to as ‘Scuds’. Should any readers see further evidence of 9K79/9K79-1 use in Syria, please contact me.
Remember, all unexploded munitions are dangerous. You can visit RRMA for more information. As always, if you see any UXO, remember the ‘ARMS’ acronym:
•AVOID the area
•RECORD all relevant information from a safe distance
•MARK the area to warn others
•SEEK assistance from the relevant authorities
My thanks to Yuri Lyamin, Alex Diehl, and Ivan Kochin for their assistance with this piece.