SS-21 Scarab: Russia's Forgotten (But Deadly) Ballistic Missile

September 12, 2016 Topic: Security Region: Eurasia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaDefenseTechnologyBallistic MissilesWar

SS-21 Scarab: Russia's Forgotten (But Deadly) Ballistic Missile

While the world worries over other weapons platforms created by Moscow, this one is inflicting some serious battlefield losses.

Russia again launched 23 Tochka missiles in the Russo-Georgia War in 2008, three of them from within separatist-held Ochamchira. Striking Poti, Gori, Racha, and Vaziani with cluster munitions, the missiles reportedly did not inflict great damage, though some accounts insist they played a hand in hitting Georgian airpower on the ground.

Ukraine possesses 90 Tochka launch units, and these went into action against pro-Russian separatists in 2014 and 2015. Many of the Ukrainian missiles are alleged to have failed mid-flight, though some may have caused significant damage. Separatist rebels claim to have shot one down earlier this year, though most analysts consider this unlikely.

A Ukrainian Tochka is believed to have caused a massive explosion in February 2015 when it struck a chemical plant in Donetsk. Shattering windows kilometers away, the blast was first mis-identified by some as tactical-nuclear explosion or the result of a strike from a 2S4 mortar.

Several other countries also maintain Tochkas. North Korea is believed to have an indigenously designed Tochka variant called the KN-2 Toksa. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan own small numbers, presumably ready for use against each other in their decades-long conflict over the Karabakh region. Belarus still maintains 36 launchers, Bulgaria 18, and Kazakhstan an unknown number.

The combat record of Tochka shows that even a Cold War-era tactical ballistic missile with a relatively short range is capable of wreaking considerable havoc—even against a force benefitting from air superiority and advanced air defenses.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Image: An OTR-21 Tochka on parade in Yerevan, Armenia, May 7, 2015. Wikimedia Commons/Public domain