America Buys Another Russian Wonder Weapon

In January 2021 a Russian truck-mounted Pantsir S1 (SA-22) air-defense system captured in Libya was turned over to the U.S. at a German airbase. The UAE had, with assistance from American commandos and an American C-17 transport, obtained the Pantsir S1 and flown it out of an improvised landing strip west of Tripoli. The UAE had apparently arranged to buy the Pantsir S1 from one of the Libyan militias that captured the Pantsir when they accompanied Turkish mercenaries to capture an airfield,

This confirms rumors that the Americans had acquired a Pantsir in 2020 with the help of UAE. The Russians and the UAE had long supported the LNA (Libyan National Army) with weapons, air support and logistical services. This alliance had made it possible for the LNA to control over 80 percent of Libya by late 2020. Then the Turks agreed to provide military support, including thousands of Syrian Arab mercenaries, to help the GNA (Government of National Accord) push back the LNA forces that had besieged Tripoli since early 2019 and were on the verge of taking the city and eliminating the GNA in late 2019 when the Turkish forces began arriving.

Captured Pantsir defence system
Captured Pantsir defence system

By May 2020 Turkish and GNA forces had broken the LNA siege of Tripoli and the LNA forces began moving away from the city. This enabled the Turks to capture the al Watiya airbase 135 kilometers southeast of Tripoli. This had long been a major military airbase and the LNA captured it intact in 2014. The airbase served as a major logistical and air support base for the 2019 operation to capture Tripoli. The Turks launched a major effort to take al Watiya and this was supported by over fifty airstrikes carried out by Turkish UAVs. Several warplanes and at least one Russian Pantsir air defense vehicle were captured at the airbase. The Russian Pantsir systems have been remarkably ineffective against the many Turkish UAVs used in Libya. The Pantsir the Americans obtained was the same model as the one the Turks captured. It was also the same model that had performed so poorly against Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

Russia was aware of his poor performance of it its troubled Pantsir S1 anti-aircraft system and in 2019 announced a major Pantsir upgrade, Pantsir S1M, that would be available in 2021. The upgrade can be applied to existing older Pantsir S1 systems. It was specifically noted that the S1M model had changes based on combat experience in Syria and Libya. That combat experience was disastrous, with over twenty Pantsir S1 vehicles destroyed by Turkish and Israeli aircraft and electronic countermeasures. Most of the losses occurred in Libya where Russia supplied the LNA with over 20 Pantsir S1 vehicles. Most were lost to Turkish Bayraker TB2 UAVs firing laser-guided missiles after the Pantsir S1s had been blinded by Turkish Koral jammers. Israel used similar tactics in Syria.

The Pantsir S1M is a major upgrade that includes a new, 75-kilometer range, radar plus an “advanced” electro-optical target tracking system. Electro-optical systems cannot be blinded easily and certainly not by electronic jammers. The S1M is now equipped to detect and take down all manner of UAVs, no matter what their size or operating capabilities. S1M uses a new missile with a range of 30 kilometers and an improved internal guidance system.


At the same time, there has been a less publicized effort by the Russian army and navy to obtain a new system to replace Pantsir, which they have lost confidence in. Given the dismal state of the defense budget, it may be a while before a Pantsir replacement can be developed and delivered. Meanwhile, Russia is apparently going to put the S1M model to the test in actual combat. Turkey and Russia are allies, so they avoid killing each other’s personnel in Syria and Libya, but the new Pantsir S1M would only be out to destroy Turkish UAVs. That will cost Turkey some hardware and reputation if S1M works but won’t do the kind of diplomatic damage Russians killing Turkish troops does.

Pantsir-S1 is a mobile, truck-mounted system. Each vehicle carries a radar, two 30mm cannon and twelve Tunguska missiles. The original 90 kg (198 pound) missiles had a twenty-kilometer range and the radar a 30-40-kilometer range. The missile can hit targets at up to 8,400 meters (26,000 feet). The new Tunguska is heavier, has a longer (30 kilometers) range and presumably can hit targets at higher altitudes.

The 30mm cannon is effective up to 3,200 meters (10,000 feet). The carrier vehicle can vary, but the most common one carrying all this weighs 20 tons and has a crew of three. Each Pantsir-S1 vehicle-mounted system costs about $15 million, and the S1M costs about a third more. Typically, four to six Pantsir vehicles are organized as a battalion along with a command post and support vehicles. Larger numbers of Pantsir vehicles are organized into a regiment of two or three battalions.

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