Key point: What better ongoing battlefield exists for Moscow to try out its newest toy than Syria? In fact, Russian forces have been using the war as a testing ground for many new weapons.
Russian arms manufacturer Techmash has announced that its S-8OFP unguided air-to-ground rocket will finish testing and enter into military service by the end of the year. As Techmash general director Vladimir Lepin told Russian news, “we aim to wrap up [testing] and to begin taking orders from the military, if all goes according to plan.”
The S-8OFP "Broneboyschik" (Russian for “armor piercer”) is the latest entry into the S-8 family, originating as a 1970s series of Soviet rockets with a wide range of warheads from fuel-air explosives (FAE) to flares.
Though virtually indistinguishable from the outside, the S-8OFP brings several key internal improvements to the S-8 system. It houses a smaller but more powerful engine, which gives Techmash engineers room to install a much larger and heavier warhead. The result is a rocket that boasts not only more firepower but a more sophisticated payload delivery system.
Whereas previous S-8 series rockets only went off within a set distance from a target, Techmash states that the S-8OFP has an intelligent proximity fuse that can explode in front, within, or behind a target to maximize impact against heavy armor and clustered groups. That is, the S-8OFP can be calibrated to penetrate certain surfaces prior to detonation.
This newfound flexibility in target acquisition is supposed to translate into exponential performance gains: “in combat capabilities, it [the S-8OFP] exceeds the old model by several times,” says Lepin. It also abandons the S-8’s old ballistite propellant in favor of a new composite fuel that allows for increased effective range, estimated at 6 km as compared with the 4 km of its predecessor.
The S-8OFP’s high-explosive anti-tank warhead excels against armored, relatively stationary targets. As military expert and insider Alexei Leonkov put it to the Russian Federal News Agency (Riafan): “this armor-piercing weapon is designed to work against columns of enemy armored vehicles. The S-8OFP missiles will be very effective against tanks, whose armor will be shredded by pieces by our barrage.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense believes that this unguided, anti-tank rocket has a wide application in asymmetric conflicts, particularly in Syria where the S-OFP has likely already been tested. “By the way, I would posit that “Broneboyschik” has already undergone testing in Syria where it was deployed to attack columns of militants, who often use jeeps. This is an excellent, and long overdue weapon,” concludes Leonkov.
Like Russia’s recently-released “Drel” bomb, the S-8OFP was not made to operate within the radius of dedicated anti-missile systems, conflicted airspaces, and other high-intensity theaters. It is unknown whether or not the S-8OFP can be modified with a guidance system, and whether there are plans to do so.
In any case, the clear target-acquisition benefits of guidance technology have to be balanced against increased production cost and vulnerability to electronic countermeasures (ECM) such as jamming. In addition to these technical and financial obstacles, a guidance-enabled S-8OFP may overlap too much with the Drel bomb already being used by the Russian air force.
The S-8OFP was designed to be compatible with a wide range of Russian mid-tier jets; these include the Su-24, 25, and 27, as well as the MiG-23, 27, and 29. In keeping with its low-intensity use case, it is also compatible with the Ka-50 and Ka-52 attack helicopters.
In what could be a foreboding of Russia’s export plans for Broneboyschik, an early prototype of the S-8OFP was unveiled at IDEX 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and exhibited at India’s 2014 DefExpo.
Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as a research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a Ph.D. student in History at American University. This first appeared in December 2018.