SA-8 (Gecko) / 9K33 OSA
6x6 Wheeled Self-Propelled SAM Vehicle
The SA-8 Gecko short-range anti-aircraft defense vehicle was introduced in the early 1970s and is still in operational service today through modernized forms.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
To contend with ever-improving, more agile low-altitude aircraft emerging from the West during the Cold War, the Soviet military developed and ultimately adopted the 9K33 "Osa" ("Wasp") self-propelled, wheeled, amphibious Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) vehicle. It was designated "SA-8" and codenamed "Gecko" by NATO once its existence was verified. Design work by the NII-20 Research Institute spanned from 1965 into the early 1970s to which the system began formal service in 1971 (continuing today - 2014). The SA-8 has proven a combat veteran, seeing action in the Lebanon Civil War (1982), the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002), the Persian Gulf War (1991), the South Ossetia War (2008), the Libyan Civil War (2011), and the Syrian Civil War (2011-present). It is estimated that some 1,200 units have been produced with several notable variants having appeared.
The 19-ton system features a vehicle section with a running length of 9 meters, width of 2.75 meters and a height of 4.2 meters. It's typical operating crew is five. The vehicle consists of a lightly-armored hull form atop a 6x6 wheeled chassis. The chassis supports cross-country travel while the hull is cleared for amphibious crossings which then played well into established Soviet ground warfare doctrine (forged largely by actions in World War 2 some decades earlier). The vehicle featured a D20K300 diesel-fueled engine of 300 horsepower output which provided driving ranges out to 500 kilometers and road speeds nearing 80 kmh. In water, the vehicle managed a pedestrian 8 kmh. The driving compartment lay at front in the usual way with the launcher component was sat over the rear of the vehicle, the radar element affixed over the frontal center mass. The six road wheels, three to a hull side, were large and well-spaced for good balance while the overall hull shape was quite shallow, presenting a smaller target along the horizon. The powered launcher component fitted two groups of three short-range missile launch tubes (for a total of six missiles) in a side-by-side arrangement - the launchers separated at center the radar component.
The missile series of choice became the "9M33" mark, a weapon weighing 170 kilograms with a length over 10 feet. Its diameter was 210mm while the warhead held a High-Explosive, FRAGmentation (HI-FRAG) payload with contact and proximity detonation. Propulsion was through a solid-propellant rocket booster aided by a guidance system with dual-thrust rocket steering for fine corrections. The missile reached an altitude of 39,000 feet and range over 9 miles with speeds over 1,000 meters per second.
As with other Soviet-sponsored weapon systems of the Cold War, the SA-8 found its way into the inventories of many Soviet-supported states, nations, and allies. This list included Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia (later the Czech Republic), East Germany (some sold to Greece post-reunification), Ecuador, Georgia, Greece (from Germany), India, Jordan, Libya, Poland, Romania, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. Kuwait also fielded the type and many were captured in the 1990 Iraq invasion - now falling to the Iraqi defense inventory. Czechoslovakian models were absorbed into the new Czech Republic defense network but eventually phased out during 2006. Similarly, Soviet SA-8s were absorbed into the new Russian Army but these were modernized to contend with newer aerial threats - about 400 or so may still be in the active inventory. Belarus, Poland, and Jordan versions have followed suit and completed local modernizations to combat emerging regional threats.
Various official marks have resulting from the SA-8's lengthy, still-ongoing service career. 9K33 - the designation assigned the original incarnation by the Soviets - was the model of 1972 and designated SA-8A by NATO. The 9K33M was a navalized version and known to NATO as SA-N-4. In 1975, a new missile was used on the 9K33M2 and designated by NATO as SA-8B "Gecko Mod-0". The 9K33M3 then appeared in 1980 with upgraded missiles and improved engagement ranges to which NATO marked it as SA-8B "Gecko Mod-1". Export versions were known under the local name of "Romb". The 9K33-1T is a Belarusian upgrade. The Osa-AKM-P1 is a Polish approach.
Latest active use of this SAM vehicle has been in the ongoing Syrian Civil War which began in 2011 as an offshoot of the Arab Spring from the 2010 revolutions.