Why bother firing unguided SAMs?

Sending up surface to air missiles up without the aid of radar guidance seems like a rather big waste to me. SAMs probably cost a lot of money- certainly more than an AAA shell costs. So why waste a missile which is almost never going to hit an enemy aircraft?

It sure would be a waste of money, which, I imagine, is why unguided SAMs don’t exist. I am unaware of the existence of such a device. Who is in the habit of firing SAMs without using their guidance systems?

All SAMs have some sort of guidance systems. Not all are radar, some like the Stinger, Avenger (Hummer mounted Stinger) and the old Chapparel are heat seekers.

Yeah, and AAA shells are free if you’re a member. Plus you get free maps!


Incubus --your post is cryptic. Enhance, please? :confused:

No. You’re thinking of the free TOW missles.

In the recent thread on Stealth technology, someone related an anecdote about an F-117 shot down over Bosnia by an essentially unguided SAM. Here’s a page with some details. While not completely radar-free, the SAM’s were being shot off essentially blind on the “even a blind squirrel finds some nuts sometimes” principle.

Desperation will lead anti-aircraft crews to fire their weapons blind, especially if they are being attacked by stealth aircraft - or even if they merely believe this to be the case. Both Gulf wars and Bosnia had examples of this, and as Finagle mentioned, the idea is that maybe it’ll hit something, but it definitely won’t hit anything just sitting here. They basically just try to shoot at the jet noise.

Most anti-aircraft artillery has some kind of guidance, too - radar aiming systems, etc - but think back to those famous images of Baghdad in 1991 where everything the Iraqis had was being fired randomly into the air. They were desperately firing at the jet noise because they couldn’t see anything on radar, but they could hear the planes and stuff was exploding on the ground.

Absent a guidance technology, a military force can set up static AAA (shells, not bullets) sites with pre-establish firing azimuths and elevations to create a converging pattern of fire along likely avenues of approach. But that takes planning and discipline.

For some armies there is also the fear that not firing the SAM when it can’t guide would be interpreted as cowardice or treason (“The Great Satan was bombing our city and you did NOTHING?”).

It also helps that the SAM crews know only that they are responsible for trying to shoot down hostile aircraft - there’s nobody saying “if you miss, this comes out of your pay” so they’ve got nothing to lose - their government is paying for the missiles. Besides, every once in a while a lucky shot will hit something. This attitude was prevalent in VietNam, where every time an American aircraft flew over, everyone shot everything they had into the air - from SAMs (with and without guidance) to AAA guns (ditto) to small arms - rifles, pistols…you name it. American pilots started referring to it as the “golden BB” idea - with that much junk in the air, something’s bound to hit.

It takes a bucketload of bullets to kill a man. Several dozen bucketloads to take down an aircraft. Still, good old-fashioned small and large caliber antiaircraft artillery has an impact.

Pilots are people (speaking technically) and so not like flying into the stuff. They avoid it. So if we throw up a box barrage of dumb AAA here, the aircraft are more likely to come in over there. It helps ‘shape the battlefield.’ We can use this technique to (for example) block off a pass between mountains. This forces the enemy to fly higher, where we can zap him with deadlier weapons.

Further, AAA is pretty robust. If the attackers pop a cap on the missile guidance radar (or the target detection set, or sometimes even the power grid) the SAMs cannot be fired. The AAA guys just keep shoveling shells (lots and lots of them) into their guns.

To say that another way, the attacking force can hope to neutralize the defending SAMs with lots of technical trickery. The AAA however is a never-ending (but low) threat they just have to accept.

Good point, never thought of that. Reminds me of the Nazi units on the east front who at the first sign of an attack would fire all their ammo as fast as they could, then skedaddle. If court-martialed for withdrawing, they could state that they “held the position to the last bullet”.

Has anyone mentioned firing for the simple purpose of making the pilot break off his attack run? The SAMs may be blind, but the pilot can’t be sure that’s the case. He might decide it’s bad day to make that gamble and that it’s better to evade.

Okay, this is the second thread where the acronym AAA has come up. It’s obviously some sort of anti-aircraft weapon, but is it any different than what I’m used to thinking of as just AA guns?

Like others have mentioned, there have been some situations where a city was under attack, and for one reason or another were unable to utilize the radar guidance for surface to air missiles. In these situations, the operators often just ‘fired from the hip’. The problem I see with this is that its like trying to hit a fly with a million dollar dart.

I wasn’t aware that SAMS have alternate guidance systems, do some have their own onboard radar that could ‘search’ for targets independently? While risky to friendly aircraft, this seems practical.

Its a difference in Calibre

AA is basically anything from 50 calibre machine gun , up to the 40 mm Bofors

So its Anti-Aircraft

AAA is in the cannon range , so anything from 88 milimeters , which is the smallest I think to 130 mm which is the heaviest of the soviet guns.

So its Anti-Aircraft-Artillery


I am guessing anti-aircraft artillary. Either that or we just witnessed the fastest meme propagation ever :slight_smile:

You can either command detonate the sam , or have it set to go off with an altimeter fuse. Depending on how good the Enemy ECM is , and your ECCM , the B-52 crews are more likely to be in control of your Frequencies during a bomb run.

Sending up sams ballistically allows the airdefense guys to do an old fashioned box grid , very quickly and from a larger distance , than what good old fashioned guns , if you even have them around , may be able to do.

Hehe , one last thought

The Harm missile is really good and it homes in on the last known position of the offending sam radar guidance van.


AAA = Anti Aircraft Artillery; i.e AA guns as opposed to AA missles and such.

And to answer the unasked:

ECM = Electronic Counter Measures (jamming)
ECCM = Electronic Counter Counter Measures (burning through jamming, frequency hopping, rotating radiating sites)
HARM = High explosive Anti Radiation Missile (aims for the radar source, or for the last known spot where radar radiated from)

HARM being one specific model - the AGM-88 anti-radiation missile used by the US and its allies (IIRC, the British use 'em too). It’s an air-launched anti-radar missile designed to take out radars used by air defenses, and will continue toward the last position of a radar it was tracking, even if that radar is switched off. Very effective, and another reason that SAMs get launched without radar guidance…better chance of going home in one piece for the SAM crew if they don’t turn the radar on.