2K12 Kub

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2K12 Kub
NATO reporting name: SA-6 "Gainful"
Sa6 1.jpg
2P25 TEL with missiles elevated
Type Tracked medium-range surface-to-air missile system
Place of origin Soviet Union
Service history
In service 1970–present
Used by See list of operators
Wars Yom Kippur War
Chadian Civil War
Iran-Iraq War
1982 Lebanon War
Gulf War
Yugoslav wars
Production history
Designer NIIP/Vympel
MMZ (GM chassis)
Designed 1959
Manufacturer Ulyanovsk Mechanical Plant (SURNs)
ZiK (TELs)
Produced 1968–1985[1]
Number built 500 launchers, 10 000 missiles[2]
Variants 2K12 Kub, 2K12E Kvadrat (export version), 2K12M3, 2K12M4
Specifications (2K12 Kub)

3 9M336 (or variants) guided missiles
command guidance with terminal semi-active radar homing (SARH)

The 2K12 "Kub" (Russian: 2К12 "Куб"; English: cube) (NATO reporting name: SA-6 "Gainful") mobile surface-to-air missile system is a Soviet low to medium-level air defence system designed to protect ground forces from air attack. "2К12" is the GRAU designation of the system.

Each 2K12 battery consists of a number of similar tracked vehicles, one of which carries the 1S91 (SURN vehicle, NATO designation "Straight Flush") 25 kW G/H band radar (with a range of 75 km (47 mi)) equipped with a continuous wave illuminator, in addition to an optical sight. The battery usually also includes four triple-missile transporter erector launchers (TELs), and four trucks, each carrying three spare missiles and a crane. The TEL is based on a GM-578 chassis, while the 1S91 radar vehicle is based on a GM-568 chassis, all developed and produced by MMZ.


The development of the 2K12 was started after 18 July 1958 at the request of the CPSU Central Committee.[3] The system was set the requirements of being able to engage aerial targets flying at speeds of 420 to 600 m/s (820–1,170 kn) at altitudes of 100 to 7,000 m (330 to 22,970 ft) at ranges up to 20 km (12 mi), with a single shot kill probability of at least 0.7.[3]

The systems design was the responsibility of the now Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design (NIIP). In addition to NIIP several other design bureaus were involved in the creation of the Kub missile system including the now JSC Metrowagonmash (former MMZ)which designed and produced the chassis of the self-propelled components. Many of the design bureaus would later go on to co-operate in the development of the successor to the 2K12 "Kub", the 9K37 "Buk"

First trials of the missile system were started at the end of 1959 to discover a series of problems:

  • low power for the missile radar seeker and badly designed nose cone,
  • missile air inlets design failure,
  • low quality of heat shield inside the afterburner chamber (titanium was replaced by steel).

Those failures resulted in some 'orgchanges': In August 1961 Toropov was replaced by Lyapin as the Chief Designer of Vympel and in January 1962 Tikhomirov was replaced by Figurovskiy as the Chief Designer of NIIP. Still, the work wasn't intensified. Before 1963 only 11 of 83 missiles fired had the seeker head installed, only 3 launches were successful.

Kub downed its first ever air target on February 18, 1963 during the state trials at Donguz test site, Orenburg Oblast. It was an Ilyushin Il-28 bomber.

The system entered an extended testing period between 1959 and 1966, after overcoming the technical difficulties of producing the 2K12 "Kub" the system was accepted into service on 23 January 1967 and went into production that same year.[3]

It is sometimes claimed that the SA-N-3 Goblet naval system is a version of the 3M9 but this is not the case, as the M-11 Shtorm is a separate system and, unusually for Russian surface-to-air missiles, has no land-based variant.

Kub Kvadrat

The 2K12 "Kub" was recommended for modernisation work in 1967 with the goal of improving combat characteristics (longer range, improved ECCM, reliability and reaction time). A modernised variant underwent trial testing in 1972 eventually being adopted in 1973 as the "Kub-M1".[3] The system underwent another modernisation between 1974 and 1976, against the general combat characteristics of the system were improved with the "Kub-M3" clearing testing and entering service in 1976.[3]

After the Chief designer Ardalion Rastov visited Egypt in 1971 to see Kub in operation[4] he came to the certain conclusion for the development of a new system, called Buk, where each TEL should have its own fire control radar (TELAR) and is able to engage multiple targets from multiple directions at the same time.

The final major development of the Kub missile system was achieved during the development of its successor, the 9K37 "Buk" in 1974. Although the Buk is the successor to Kub it was decided that both systems could share some interoperability, the result of this decision was the "Kub-M4" system.[3] The Kub-M4 used Kub-M3 components which could receive fire control information from the 9А310 transporter erector launcher and radar (TELAR) of the 9K37 Buk. The advantage interoperability was an increase in the number of fire control channels and available missiles for each system as well as a faster service entry for Buk system components. The Kub-M4 was adopted into service in 1978 following completion of state trails.[3]

External images
Photo of one of the Buk prototype, based on Kub components
Photo of one of the Buk prototype, based on Kub components (sideview)

Some early development interpretations of Buk missile system heavily utilized the Kub components including the 3M9 missile.[5]

There are several plans to integrate active radar homing missiles into Kub. For instance, Polish WZU of Grudziadz shows a project of Sparrow-armed Kub at the MSPO 2008 defence exhibition in Kielce.[6][7][8] It is reported also that Vympel initiated some work to use its RVV-AE air-to-air missile to modernise the Kvadrat SAM system.[9]

Also, the Czech company RETIA presented a SURN (fire control radar) upgrade featuring an optical channel and new multiple-function color displays as well as the radar upgrade and the IFF system. [10]

In 2011 a Kub upgraded launcher (named "2K12 KUB CZ") with three Aspide 2000 missiles in launch contrainers was presented on International Exhibition of Defence and Security Technologies (IDET) exposition in Brno. The modifications were made by Retia. [11]


Rear view of the Kub at the Central Museum of Russian Armed Forces

The 2K12 system shares a lot of components with the 2K11 Krug (SA-4) system. In many ways they are designed to complement each other; 2K11 is effective at long ranges and high altitudes, 2K12 at medium ranges and intermediate altitudes.

The system is able to acquire and begin tracking targets using the 1S91 "Самоходная установка разведки и наведения" (SPRGU - "Self-propelled Reconnaissance and Guidance Unit" / NATO: "Straight Flush" radar) at 75 km (47 mi) and begin illumination and guidance at 28 km (17 mi). IFF is also performed using this radar. It can only guide one or two missiles to a single target at any time. The missile is initially command guided with terminal semi-active radar homing (SARH), with target illumination provided by the "Straight Flush" radar. Detonation is via either the impact or proximity fuze. On the latest models, this vehicle is also fitted with an optical tracking system which allows engagement without the use of the radar (for active RF emissions stealth reasons, or due to heavy ECM jamming) in which case the effective altitude is limited to 14 km/46000 ft. The optical tracking method also allows engagements to altitudes below that where the radar is able to track targets. Maximum target speed is around Mach 2 for head-on engagements and Mach 1 for tail-chase engagements. Top speed of the missile is approximately Mach 2.8.

In contrast to the elaborate Patriot missile or even the simpler Hawk system fielded by US forces, most of the system rides on two tracked self-propelled vehicles, rather than towed or mounted on trucks, and either the launcher or control vehicle can be set to launch in only 15 minutes after changing location.

Soviet made Iraqi SA-6b Gainful.JPEG
Type Surface-to-air missile
Place of origin Soviet Union
Production history
Variants 3M9, 3M9M1, 3M9M3, 3M9M4
Specifications (3M9)
Weight 599 kg
Length 5800 mm
Diameter 335 mm
Warhead Frag-HE
Warhead weight 59 kg
Contact and proximity

Wingspan 1.245 m
Propellant integral rocket motor/ramjet booster and sustainer motor
24 kilometres (15 mi)
Flight altitude Max. 14,000 metres (46,000 ft)
Min. 100 metres (330 ft)
Speed Mach 2.8
semi-active radar homing
2P25 TEL


IVC 3M20M3 Peniye
Type Surface-to-air missile training target imitator system
Place of origin Soviet Union/ Russia
Weight 600 kg
Length 5841 mm
Warhead no

Wingspan 932 mm
Propellant integral rocket motor/ramjet booster and sustainer motor
24 kilometres (15 mi)
Flight altitude 500 metres (1,600 ft) – 6,000 metres (20,000 ft)
Speed 200–600 m/s
semi-active radar homing
2P25 TEL

The fairly large missiles have an effective range of 4–24 km (2.5–15 miles) and an effective altitude of 50–14000 m (164–45,931 ft). The missile weighs 599 kg (1321 lb) and the warhead weighs 56 kg (123 lb). Top missile speed is approx. Mach 2.8. The combined propulsion system 9D16K included solid fuel rocket motor which, when burned out, forms the combustion chamber for a ramjet in a pioneering design putting this missile far ahead of its contemporaries in terms of propulsion.

The missile was fitted with a semi-active radar seeker 1SB4, designed by MNII Agat, which was able to track the target by Doppler frequency since the start. Later upgrades (3M9M3 missile) could do this before the start. Chief Designer of the seeker head was Yu.N. Vekhov, since 1960 - I.G. Akopyan.

In 1977 a new version, the 3M9M1 (DoD designation SA-6B) was created with three missiles fitted onto a different chassis (the same as that of the 9K37 "Buk" (NATO reporting name "Gadfly" / DoD SA-11 ), the 2K12 effective replacement) with an integrated "Fire Dome" missile guidance radar. For comparisons between the 2K12, 9K37, see the 9K37 Buk entry.

An earlier incremental upgrade saw the 2K12 missiles replaced with the 2K12E versions and this system was known as Kvadrat ("Квадрат", meaning square). This name was derived from the most common arrangement pattern of the military vehicles of the 2K12 complex, when the 1S91 radar is located at the center and 4x2P25 TELs at the vertices of a square around the radar.


(GRAU designation)
Kub Kub-M1 Kub-M3 Kub-M4
Introduced 1967 1973 1976 1978
Missiles per TEL 3 3 3 3
Engagement range 6–22 km 4–23 km 4–25 km 4–24 km

Engagement altitude

100–7000 m 80–8000 m 20–8000 m 30–14000 m
Missile speed
1.75 1.75 2 2
Maximum target speed
1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75
Response Time (seconds) 26–28 22–24 22–24 24
missile Weight, kg 630 kg 630 kg 630 kg 630 kg

Simultaneous engagements

1 1 1 2
Deployment Time (minutes) 5 5 5 5

1S91 radar

Radiolocator of 2K12 KUB

SURN 1S91 vehicle included two radar station - a target acquisition and distribution radar 1S11 and a continuous wave illuminator 1S31, in addition to an IFF interrogator and an optical channel.

While 1S31 antenna was installed on the upper section of the superstructure and the 1S11 on the lower, they could turn around independently. To make the height of the vehicle lower the central cylinder was able to hide inside the prime mover.

The acquisition range of the radar was reported as 50 km (31 mi) for the Phantom II type target.

Total weight of the 1S91 vehicle with a crew of 4 was 20.3 tonnes and 2P25 vehicle with 3 missiles and a crew of 3 was 19.5 t.

Additional radar

The 2K12 can also be used at a regimental level, if used as such it can be accompanied by a number of additional radar systems for extended air search at longer range and lower altitude, to supplement the 1S91 "Straight Flush". These systems include the:

  • P-12 "Spoon Rest", a VHF early warning radar (also used by the SA-2), with a 200 kilometres (120 mi) range.
  • P-40 "Long Track", an E band early warning radar (also used by the SA-4 and SA-8, with a 370 kilometres (230 mi) range.
  • P-15 "Flat Face A", a UHF early warning radar (also used by the SA-3, with a 150 kilometres (93 mi) range.
  • "Thin Skin" or "Side Net" E band height finding radar (also used by the SA-2, SA-4 and SA-5, range 240 km/148 miles)
  • "Score Board" IFF radar

The "Spoon Rest" and "Thin Skin" are mounted on a truck, "Long Track" on a tracked vehicle (a modified AT-T) and "Flat Face" on a van. It is unknown what kind of mounting the "Score Board" has.

Without the P-40 "Long Track" mobile radar vehicle, the 2K12 is unable to track aircraft at high altitudes.

Operational history

Middle East

Yom Kippur War

The 2K12 surprised the Israelis in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. They were used to having air superiority over the battlefield. The highly mobile 2K12 took a heavy toll on the slower A-4 Skyhawk and even the F-4 Phantom, forming a protective umbrella until they could be removed. The radar warning receivers on the Israeli aircraft did not alert the pilot to the fact that he was being illuminated by the radar. Once the RWRs were reprogrammed and tactics changed, the 2K12 was no longer such a grave threat, but still caused heavy losses to Israeli aircraft.

The superior low altitude performance of the weapon, and its new CW semi-active missile seeker resulted in a much higher success rate compared to the earlier SA-2 and SA-3 systems. While exact losses continue to be disputed, more than 40 A-4 Skyhawk Israeli aircraft are confirmed lost to SAM shots, and more than 62 F-4 Phantom Israeli aircraft are confirmed shot down by 2K12/SA-6, SA-2 SA-3 SAM systems.[citation needed] The 2K12 / SA-6 proved most effective of the three weapons.[12]

1982 Lebanon war

Part of a Syrian SA-6 near the Beirut-Damascus highway, and overlooking the Beqaa Valley, in early 1982.

The Syrians also deployed the SA-6 to Lebanon in 1981 after the Israelis shot down Syrian helicopters near Zahlé. The SAM batteries were placed in the Bekaa Valley near the Beirut-Damascus road. They remained close to the existing Syrian air defense system but could not be fully integrated into it. Early in the 1982 Lebanon war, the Israeli Air Force concentrated on the SAM threat in the Beqaa Valley, launching Operation Mole Cricket 19. The result was a complete success. Several SA-6 batteries, along with SA-2s and SA-3s, were destroyed in a single day. While Syria's own air defenses remained largely intact, its forces in Lebanon were left exposed to attacks by Israeli strike aircraft for the remainder of the war.

Angolan Civil War

Cuban Air Defense placed hundreds of SA-2, SA-3 and SA-6 missile sites in the border with Namibia with the purpose of downing Buccaneer and Canberra bombers, particularly since they could carry nuclear weapons. An 3M9M3 missile launched from a Cuban SA-6 hit a South African Impala Mk II light attack aircraft that was mistaken for a Mirage F1.[citation needed]

See Angolan Civil War.

Western Sahara War

Forces of the Polisario Front acquired two full batteries of SA-6 missiles from Libya during the Western Sahara War, which they used effectively against the fighters of the Royal Moroccan Air Force, including shooting down two Mirage F1 fighters in 1981 during a major battle in Guelta Zemmur.[13]


On 19 August 2003, a Polish Air Force Su-22M4K was accidentally shot down by friendly fire during an exercise by a Polish SA-6 battery. The aircraft was flying 21 km from the coast over the Baltic Sea near Ustka. The pilot, General Andrzej Andrzejewski, ejected and was rescued after two hours in the water. He subsequently died in a C-295M crash on 23 January 2008.[14][15]


The system was deployed by Libya during the border dispute with Chad and proved a threat for French aircraft, however on January 7, 1987 these were successful in destroying an SA-6 radar site in the Faya Largeau area with SEPECAT Jaguars armed with Martel anti-radiation missiles.

In March, the Chadian rebels captured Ouadi Doum air base and captured practically the whole heavy equipment used for the defense of this airfield intact. Most of this equipment was transported to France and the USA in the following days, but some SA-6s remained in Chad.

With this catastrophe, the Libyan occupation of the northern Chad – and the annexation of the Aouzou Strip – was over: by 30 March, also the bases at Faya Largeau and Aouzou had to be abandoned. The LARAF now had a completely different task: its Tu-22Bs were to attack the abandoned bases and destroy as much equipment left there as possible. First strikes were flown in April, and they continued until 8 August 1987, when two Tu-22Bs tasked to strike Aouzou, were ambushed by a captured SA-6 battery used by the Chadian Army. One of the bombers was shot down.[16]

Libyan air defense, including SA-6 batteries, was active during the 2011 military intervention in Libya.[17] They were completely ineffective, not managing to shoot down any NATO or allied aircraft.


Several SA-6s, along with other SAM systems and military equipment, were supplied to Iraq before and during the Iran-Iraq War as part of large military packages from the Soviet Union. The batteries were active since the start of the war in September 1980, scoring kills against U.S-supplied Iranian F-4 Phantoms and Northrop F-5s.[18][19][20]

Kub systems were active again during the 1991 war. On January 19, 1991 a USAF F-16 (serial 87-228) was shot down by an SA-6 during the massive (though ill-fated) Package Q Strike against a heavily defended Baghdad. It was combat loss number 10 in Operation Desert Storm. The pilot, Captain Harry 'Mike' Roberts, ejected safely but was taken prisoner and freed in March 1991. The aircraft was on a mission to attack the Air Defense Headquarters Building. It had flown 4 combat missions before being lost.[21]

Two days before, a B-52G was damaged by either an SA-6 or an SA-3.

In any case, the SA-6 threat was largely controlled by Allied EW assets together with the older SA-2 and SA-3 missile systems. Most of the losses were due to IR guided SAMs.[22]

Kubs continued to be used by the Iraqi military, along with other SAM systems, to challenge the Western imposed no-fly zones during the 1990s and early 2000s. They weren't able to shoot down any Coalition aircraft though several sites were destroyed as retaliation. For example, on December 30, 1998 an SA-6 site near Talil fired 6-8 missiles at aircraft enforcing the Southern Watch component of the NFZ. American F-16s responded by dropping six GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on the site and also launching two HARMs "as a preemptive measure" to warn Iraqi radar operators against carrying out more firings.[23]

Bosnia and Kosovo

Army of Republika Srpska forces, using modified SA-6s were successful in shooting down Scott O'Grady's F-16 in 1995[24][25] and two to three Croatian AN-2 aircraft that were used as night bombers with improvised 100 kg bombs.[26]

One Mi-17 was shot down by a Kub on May 28, 1995, killing the Bosnian Minister Irfan Ljubijankić, a few other politicians, and the helicopter's Ukrainian crew.[citation needed]

During the Kosovo War, in 1999, on the first night of the war (March 24./25.), a Yugoslav Air Force MiG-29 flown by Maj. Predrag Milutinović was downed by a Kub battery in a friendly fire incident, while approaching Niš Airport after an unsuccessful engagement with NATO aircraft. The Yugoslav Air Defence had twenty-two SA-6 batteries. Using shoot and scoot tactics, the self-propelled ground system demonstrated a good surviability with only three radars lost in the face of nearly four-hundred AGM-88 shots, but the system proved to be very ineffective having fired 477 missiles without a single success, at the same time. As comparison the fixed SA-2 and SA-3 sites demonstrated a similar low rate success, but suffered losses to around 66 to 80 percent.[27]


Map of 2K12 operators in blue with former operators in red
Hungarian SA-6 modernized 'Kub' launcher
3M9 TEL in desert camouflage. Photo by Nellis AFB.

Current operators

Former operators



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External links