Thursday, May 5, 2011
"The Gazelle (SH-08/ABM-3), also known by its Russian designation, 53T6, is a short-range, high-acceleration interceptor missile designed and manufactured by the Soviet Union.(1) At present, 68 Gazelle interceptors are deployed around Moscow as part of System A-135.
In 1978, the Soviet Union decided to build a new anti-ballistic missile system around Moscow. System A-135 was designed with two tiers of defense: long-range exoatmospheric interceptors and (2) short-range endoatmospheric interceptors. During the late 1970s, the Soviets began testing its short-range interceptor, the Gazelle, developed by the Novator Design Bureau. By 1988, U.S. intelligence sources estimated that the Soviets had manufactured 500 Gazelle interceptors, although some CIA analysts at the time believed that as many as 3,000 could have been manufactured.
By 1988, a total of 68 Gazelle interceptors had been deployed in underground silos around Moscow. Including the 32 long-range Gorgon (SH-11/ABM-4) interceptors, System A-135 was technically compliant with the 1972 ABM Treaty, which allowed a total of 100 missiles. However, a loophole in the treaty allowed the Soviet missiles to protect both the capital city as well as nearby ICBM bases, thus maximizing System A-135’s functionality. Had the U.S. gone ahead with a similar system, for instance, it would have had to choose between defending either Washington, DC, or the ICBM silos in North Dakota: not both.
State acceptance tests of System A-135 were completed by the end of 1989. That same year, the Soviets decided to modernize the system even further to improve its combat performance. Thus, work continued on the new system during its period of experimental use, which lasted until the middle of 1994. At that point, the Gazelles were placed on full combat alert.
As the endoatmospheric tier of System A-135, the Gazelle missiles were designed to intercept ballistic missiles within the Earth’s atmosphere in their final or terminal descent phase. In the event of an attack on Moscow, the Gazelle was responsible for destroying any warheads that managed to evade the long-range exoatmospheric Gorgon interceptors. It served as a last line of defense against nuclear annihilation.
To accomplish this task, the Soviets designed the Gazelle as a high-acceleration weapon, capable of operating at speeds of over Mach 10 and able to withstand G-loads several times greater than those of convention surface-to-air missiles. The Soviets used high-strength, low-weight aluminum and titanium alloys and a special heat barrier to allow the missile to withstand the intense thermal build-up caused by its high acceleration. The Gazelle was equipped with solid-fueled boosters, giving it a range of approximately 80 kilometers. Each missile was initially armed with a 10-kiloton nuclear warhead."