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historical kill percentages of SAMs

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  • totoro
    Rank 5 Registered User
    • Apr 2006
    • 1024

    historical kill percentages of SAMs

    This is a pretty broad and complex subject, but perhaps with lot of people contributing we could make some progress here.

    Firstly I would like to list all the wars that have seen SAM usage. Naturally, small stuff like manpads would be almost impossible to come by, so i suggest we stick to just heavy tactical systems and strategic sams.

    Vietnam war was the first war to see major usage of SAMs, no? Are there any sources with unprocessed figures around? I know that usually kill percentages of between 2 and 5 percent are quoted for SA-2s and SA-3s there, but is there actual number of missiles fired published anywhere?

    Then we had the isreali-arab wars. I havent managed to find any figures for 1967 war. Does anyone have any data for SAMs there?

    1973. war is interesting. Even though no pk numbers seem to be published, there does seem to be enough circumstantial evidence (number of planes downed by sams, number of sam batteries used, aproximated number of missiles in supply before egyptians ran out of them) to make some conclusions of our own.

    1982. is again a war where i havent found much data... could anyone help with a link?

    1982. falklands war is another example of rather good numbers being available, at least for sea dart. sadly, i havent found any seawolf numbers, could anyone help there?

    I would assume that the gulf war would be too hard to assess, but if anyone has any numbers there, that too would be pretty helpful...

    Of course all this about kill percentages is just part of the story. It doesnt necesarily corelate to actual SAM usefulnes or effectiveness. Plus for every conflict one should definitely take into account the technological gap of two warring sides, so we could make a capability curve of SAMs going through history...
  • djcross
    Rank 5 Registered User
    • Jan 2000
    • 5430

    Everybody likes to discuss K-kills, but equally important are mission-kills. If your enemy cannot accomplish his mission, then the SAM is a success. Sometimes, the mere presence of a SAM can influence your enemy's decision-making process about which targets to prosecute in the mission planning phase.


    • obligatory
      Senior Member
      • Oct 2008
      • 7043

      Well, not equally...the $100 million warplane is still around,
      some expenses will have to go into giving pilots a brave-pill, or at least a placebo, so they can do their job.

      I think an investigation will reveal a massive over-hype in missiles, that is only justifiable for latest short range missiles
      Last edited by obligatory; 13th June 2012, 14:41.


      • Levsha
        Rank 5 Registered User
        • Jan 2006
        • 2835

        Originally posted by totoro View Post

        Firstly I would like to list all the wars that have seen SAM usage. Naturally, small stuff like manpads would be almost impossible to come by, so i suggest we stick to just heavy tactical systems and strategic sams.
        That would be unfortunate to rule out the combat record of MANPADS, they are easily the most successful category of SAM. Coalition forces in Afghanistan are not afraid of the Taliban getting their hands on the S-300 system, they are worried that the Taliban will get their hands on the Igla or Stinger.
        Most successful application of SAMs was probably the Stinger in the last few years of the Soviet-Afghan war.


        • totoro
          Rank 5 Registered User
          • Apr 2006
          • 1024

          i dont want to rule manpads out, i just havent seen any numbers for manpad pk, anywhere. if you do have any sources citing some figures about manpad effectiveness in any historic conflict so far - please do share those here.

          Anyway. Let me try asessing the technological gap in mentioned wars where SAMs were used. Please correct me where i erred.

          Vietnam war. Throughout the war the north vietnamese side didnt seem to use more modern variants of sa-2 and sa-3. So basically since 1965 until 1973 they used same sort of technology. One could argue that even at start of conflict the sa-2 SAMs used lagged technologically behind US system some 5 years or more. On average, the sa-2 and sa-3 duo used in vietnam lagged some 10 years throughout the vietnam war. (little less in the beginning, little more at the end of conflict)

          i will skip the 1967. arab-isreal war as there isnt enough data on sam usage there and it does seem possible they werent used much at all then, as they were received by egyptians shortly prior to the war...

          1973. arab-isreal war. when it comes to sa-2 and sa-3, one could say isreali tech was some 10 or so years more advanced. when it comes to sa-6 we have an interesting range of technological gap as isreali planes at first couldnt even detect the sa-6's radar. One could argue that sa-6 was somewhat more advanced than the israelis. that was however quickly remedied and planes were modernized so overall one could say the SAM and plane technologies were on par in that conflict, at least when it comes to sa-6. it is hard to asess how many batteries were used over all by arabs. sa-6 is usually quoted at 18 batteries for egyptians and 12 for syrians. i havent been able to find numbers for sa-2 and sa-3 systems. could anyone help with that?

          1982. arab-isreali war. more of the same systems for syria as in 1973... were sa-2 and sa-3 modernized in any way? how much? If not, one could argue that isreali enjoyed some 15 or more years of technological lead.

          1982. falklands war. this one is harder to asess for me. i would say the british enjoyed some technological lead with their sea darts and seawolves but how much? five years? surely not more than 10.

          I will skip the gulf war as i doubt there are any reliable figures about numbers of missiles fired.

          i have some questions about chaffs and rwrs.
          how many planes used by US in vietnam had chaffs and rwr systems? are we talking about 95% or something more like 70%?

          how many isreali planes, percentage wise, in 1973 and 1982 had those two?

          when it comes to falklands wars - i was told argentinian planes were fairly poorly equipped - many of them not having flares, chaffs and only some having rwr systems. is that true? and if so, do we have some more precise numbers for that?


          • totoro
            Rank 5 Registered User
            • Apr 2006
            • 1024

            Here is a list i compiled. Yes, i know it is crude and yes i know i am talking solely about kill percentages per missile fired. I am not talking about overall sam effectiveness in war. Another important thing is that i am looking only at the big picture. There are many instances in this list where one could say "but this particular engagement is invalid because X or Y". I am not taking that into account. I am hoping the big numbers in overall scheme of things will even everything out.

            1965: 194 SAM launches. 11 US aircraft lost, a launch/hit ratio of 5.7%. In other words for every 1 downed aircraft it took over 17 missiles to register a hit.

            1966: 1,966 SAM launches. 31 US aircraft lost, a launch/hit ratio of 1.2%. 63 missiles for every one hit.

            1967: 3,202 SAM launches. 96 US aircraft lost, a launch/hit ratio of 3.0%. 33 missiles for every one hit.

            1968: 322 SAM launches. 3 US aircraft lost, a launch/hit ratio of 0.9%. 107 missiles for every one hit.

            Linebacker Operations
            1972: 4,244 SAM launches. 49 US aircraft lost, a launch/hit ratio of 1.15%. 87 missiles for every one hit.

            Sa-2 1957. F version came in 1970, was present during Linebeckers.
            Sa-3 1963. Arabs received it after 1967. war. 1974. P version entered service.
            Sa-6. 1970.

            1967. war Arabs had only Sa-2. no info. Few isreali planes downed total, theoretical effectiveness sub 5%, probably even sub 1%.

            1982. golan heights 57 sa-6 fired, no isreali planes downed by them. overall effectivess sub 1%.

            1973. war
            102-114 isreali planes lost according to israelis
            146 lost/damaged to written off/accidents total
            42 lost to sams
            57 lost/badly damaged to various sams - 75% attributed to sa-6.

            i. rendall claims 40 kills by sa-6 alone, 10 more by sa-2, 4 by sa-7 and presumably none to several by sa-3, depending on number of air to air losses.
            so around 55 lost to sams, 40 to sa-6 or 73%.

            280 isreali planes lost according to russians. if 55% killed by SAMs it would mean 154 planes. if sa-6 killed 75% it means 114 planes.

            SAMs (not specified): 28
            SA-2: 1
            SA-3: 4
            SA-6: 22
            SA-7: 2
            ZSU-23-4: 13
            AAA (not specified): 12
            MiGs (MiG-17 and MiG-21): 61
            Fratricide: 1
            Accidents: 2

            Total Arab SAM batteries:

            Global security claims:
            40 sa-6 batteries
            85 sa.3 batteries
            40 sa-3 batteries

            32 sa-6 batteries
            12 and 20 sa-3 and sa-2 batteries

            Important claim:
            over 1000 missiles fired overall in first 3 days by egypt and syria, iaf lost 42 planes during those 3 days. even if all were lost to sams during those first 3 days that would lead to some 4%. Since AAA led to a fair deal of kills in that war, actual effectiveness is likely to be less - perhaps closer to 3 %.

            ausairpower claims:
            egypt 18 batteries sa-6
            syria 12 batteries sa-6

            egypt supposedly deployed 30 various SAM batteries over suez.

            My assesment:
            There were at least 30 batteries of syrian and egyptian sa-6 present. (some sources say as many as 72 batteries, but that seems way too many and would also make sa-6s kp look bad) sa-6 battery is usually deployed with between 36 and 48 missiles, 12 of them being ready to be fired. There may have been more missiles purchased by Arabs, but that is impossible to know. Since we know both sides, especially egyptians, were running low on missiles after the first 5 days, we know that in total at most 1080-1440 sa-6 missiles were fired at isreali planes. that is, of course, not a realistic figure as we know that during the most active first 3 days of fighting 1000 missiles were fired altogether, counting in sa-3 and sa-2. Furthermore, 1080-1440 fired missiles is also not necessarily realistic as, even if we assume that no further missiles were purchased other than those normally coming with the batteries, not ALL the stock would be spent and more importantly, it is likely that not all sa-6 batteries saw actual usage and were all near the frontlines. Surely most of sa-6 were used near the frontlines, as they were newest and most mobile SAMs Arabs had. Therefore, it seems likely that a more realistic approximation sa-6 missiles fired seems around 720, or between half and two thirds of possible total stock. Again, that is assumed based on the alleged fact that sa-6 were in short supply after first 5 days. I do realize 720 is quite an arbitrary figure, but it is one that helps show sa-6 in best possible light, perhaps even unrealistically so.

            using isreali sources for isreali losses, based on the above assumption that sa-6 accounted for as much as 75% of all sam kills, and sam kills, depending on definition, being 42 to 57 in total, sa-6 might have downed between 30 and 44 planes. so 720 missiles for 30-44 planes. That leads to a kill percentage of 6% to 4%.

            using russian sources for isreali losses, the abovementioned pk ratios would increase, due to claims of 250% bigger losses for the israeli. In that case we would have 114 isreali planes downed by sa-6. For 720 missiles fired that would amount to pk of 16%.

            There is also some mention that alongside "over 1000" heavier SAMs fired, as many as 5000 SA-7 manpad sams were fired. Other sources say "hundreds of sa-7 were fired" in 1973. war. Lesser figure certainly seems more realistic. Isreali sources cite no more than 4 planes downed by sa-4. Knowing russian sources say israeli lost 150% more aircraft than what IDF mentiones, no more than 10 planes were lost. in the end, if conservative figure of 300 fired sa-7 is used, at most 3% missiles killed their targets, while the lower end projection would suggest only 1,3% pk.

            Isreali planes lost:
            102 airplanes: 32 F-4s, 53 A-4s, 11 Mirages and 6 Super Mysteres.
            Out of fleet before war:
            40 neshers, 90 a4h, 60 a4e, 117 a4n, 70 mirages3, 24 super mysteres, 122 f4e.

            10% mirages, 20% a4s, 25%, 25%.

            Majority of isreali A4s did not have any sort of missile defence equipment - no rwr, no chaff, flares or jammers.
            Most of the rest of isreali fleet did have basic rwr, which in some cases (f4) was obsolete at start of war and needed urgent modifications to work properly. Flares were not existant in the fleet, chaff and jammers were seldomly used.

            hawk SAM:
            israeli regular hawk dating from 1960s.
            Attrition war data inconclusive, iran-iraq data inconclusive.

            in 1973. yom kippur war:
            One source claims 22 planes killed in 25 engagements. Does not mention how many missiles per engagement. 3 missiles?
            Battery has 18 ready missiles.
            Most sources however claim 75 fired missiles for 10 planes and 2 helos downed. hawk is from 1960. Some sources say 75 missiles for 24 aircraft downed.
            Very hard to assess but as history has taught us, usually the smaller claims are correct. Thus i will stay with 12 aircraft.

            During the 1973 Yom Kippur War around 75 HAWK rounds were used against Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Egyptian aircraft and destroyed four MiG-17s, one MiG-21, three Sukhoi Su-7s, one Hawker Hunter, one Dassault Mirage V and two Mil Mi-8 helicopters. Included amongst the kills were several multiples using just one missile.

            While the last sentence is weird (very close formation???) one can still assess the level of equipment from said aircraft. No aircraft in that list had chaff or jammer, and most did not have rwr. The rest that did have rwr had most basic version, giving only info from back or from front, not giving exact bearing or any other kind of information concerning type of radiation.

            Anyway, 12 aircraft out of 75 missiles fired would equate to 16%.

            1990 iraq invasion on kuwait.
            allegedly 15 iraqi planes downed by 3 batteries of I-hawk engaging them. at most they could have 54 missiles ready to fire all together. Improved Hawk dates from 1970. There is confirmation, however, for just two planes. So between 2 and 15 planes for ?? to at most 54 missiles.

            at worst, that would mean 4% effectiveness, though realistically at least some hawk missile would not be fired, so actual effectiveness probably over 5%, perhaps even close to 10%. If we believe the figure of 15 planes downed we can get to 30% pk, or even over 40% since probably not all 54 missiles were fired. Average number would therefore be 21%, though this whole engagement is quite inconclusive.

            Falklands 1982:

            seacat: 1-2 kills for over 10 missiles per kill. 80 missiles? (1-2 a4)

            sea dart - 7 hit, 26 fired (4 a4, 1 puma, 1 learjet, 1 canberra)

            blowpipe: 95 fired - 1-2 hit (o-1 a4, 1 aeromachi b339)

            stinger: 6 fired, 1-2 hit helicopter. (pucara, puma?)

            sea wolf: 8 fired, 4-5 hit (1 dagger, 3 a4, ?)

            rapier -1-3 hit, at least 20 fired (1 dagger, 1 a4, ?)

            kill percentages:
            seacat - 10 %

            sea dart - 27% (3 easy targets)

            blowpipe - 1-2%

            stinger - 17-33 %

            sea wolf - 50 - 62 %

            rapier - 5 - 15 %


            seawolf entered service in 1980.

            Sea dart was present in several verions, average models dated from 1975.

            Stinger was brand new, from 1981

            Blowpipe on paper 1975. but realistically, considering its guidance method, it was 1965-1970.

            Seacat variants present from 1962.-1970s

            Rapier - 1971.

            Argentinean planes were poorly equipped.
            aircraft downed by sams:
            9-11 a4
            2 daggers
            1 aeromachi b339
            1 canberra
            1 learjet
            1 pucara
            2 puma helicopters

            Only canberra and learjet had rwr for sure.
            Daggers maybe had rwr but it cant be confired.
            Others, including a4, did not had rwr.

            chaff and flares not present on great majority
            of planes, on some (mirages or daggers) chaff
            were crudely improvised at the end of war.

            Argentinean air fleet was technologically, on average calculated out of entire fleet (a4, pucaras, daggers etc) at 1960. level


            Early vietnam, 1965: 5,7% SA-2s and SA-1s technologically trailing 5-10 years.
            Average vietnam pre-linebecker 1965-1968- 2,5% SAMs trailing 5-13 years
            Vietnam Linebeckers 1972: 1,15% SAMs trailing 10 years
            1967. Six day war: SA-3: at best 5%, probably as little as 1%. SA-2 trailing 5 years
            1973. Yom kippur war: SA-6: 16% to 5%, on average 11,5%. SA-6 leading 5 years
            1973. Yom kippur war: Hawk: 16% to 30%. on average 23%. Hawk on par
            1973: Yom kippur: SA-7: 3% to 1,3%. Sa-7 probably trailing 5 years.
            1982. Lebanon war: SA-6: sub 1%. SA-6 trailing 5-10 years.

            Falklands 1982.
            Seacat - 10 % - leading 5 years
            Sea dart - 27% - leading 10-15 years.
            Blowpipe - 1-2% - leading 5 years
            Stinger - 17-33 % - leading 20 years.
            Sea wolf - 50 - 62 % - leading 20 years.
            Rapier - 5 - 15 % - leading 10 years.

            1990. invasion of kuwait: I-Hawk: no less than 5%, possibly 21%. I-Hawk trailing technologically 1-5 years. Numbers very sketchy and dubious, hard to assess.

            All the other wars (like iran-iraq, 1999 serbia campaign etc) not taken into account as i didnt find even a shred of concrete numbers for missiles available/fired.

            Compiling all these figures, in the situation where aircraft use all possible means to prevent getting shot down, while SAMs use best possible technology available at the time, one could conclude the following:

            Overall pk effectiveness of SAMs over the years has risen, from some 5-10% in 1960s, to 10-20% in 1970s, to 20-30% in 1980s. Not enough historical examples of SAM usage after that.

            One could, if pressed, use the amraam examples from the 90s where it showed 50-60% pk while the aircraft it downed averaged 20 years of technological lag. If we use the SAM list to extrapolate amraam numbers in situation of technological egality, those numbers would fall to 20-30%.

            A2A missiles have a little better pk than S2A missiles. Short range missiles are better than longe ranged ones. When it comes to SAMs, history insinuates that best pk will be achieved by short ranged SAMs. In today's world, against an opponent who is technologically equal, those short ranged SAMs (10-15 km) may enjoy 30-40% effectiveness per missile fired.
            Medium ranged missiles (20-50 km) come next, their effectiveness might be around 25% today.
            Long ranged SAMs may have pk of around 20 or so percent.
            Worst would be individual manpads without external warning; their effectiveness being perhaps sub 10%.

            SAM effectiveness, and missile effectiveness overall, will continue to rise, albeit at slower and slower pace. It is unrealistic to expect that in 30 years time surface-to-air missiles will run along a linear curve and enjoy 60-70% effectiveness. (while a-a missiles get to 80 or so percent) A better expectation is that the effectiveness curve will be gradually dropping, so if we get to 50% in 30 years time it will be quite a pleasant surprise.

            Technological edge is VERY important. While missiles may show 80-90 percent effectivenss in testing, even if it has manouvering targets that jam and have decoys - overall effectiveness of today's missiles (and more so of earlier generation of missiles) will inevitably drop by perhaps as much as 60-70%, depening on technological gap. If the defender who has SAMs is trailing 20 or more years - he will be hoplelessly outmatched. For a half decent result he should be about on par, or trailing perhaps just several years behind attacker. Even then effectiveness of over 30% will be quite improbable. For best results, SAMs should be 10 or 20 years more advanced than the attacker - but such a situation is unlikely.


            • obligatory
              Senior Member
              • Oct 2008
              • 7043

              Good work totoro


              • Kapedani
                Rank 5 Registered User
                • Jan 2005
                • 841

                Vietnam war. Throughout the war the north vietnamese side didnt seem to use more modern variants of sa-2 and sa-3. So basically since 1965 until 1973 they used same sort of technology.
                The N. Vietnamese did get constant upgrades to their Sa-2s throughout the conflict, even if they may not have been "new variants".


                • Levsha
                  Rank 5 Registered User
                  • Jan 2006
                  • 2835

                  The North Vietnamese also never used S-125 (SA-3) in the war against America.


                  • totoro
                    Rank 5 Registered User
                    • Apr 2006
                    • 1024

                    true. i did take into account newer version of sa-2 for linebecker kill percentages.


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