Buk-M3 air defence system emerges as Russia’s favorite HIMARS killers

The integration of airborne optical and electronic surveillance conducted by the Russian Aerospace Forces, as well as high-precision strike weapons, has proved fruitful in Donbas theatre of operations. The M31A1 GMLRS guided projectiles of the HIMARS system have an extremely small effective reflective surface - approximately 0.05-0.07 square metres.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The People’s Militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) says that the Russian Buk-M3 has emerged as a potent defence against the US supplied HIMAR deployed in the region. 

Izvestia recently interviewed the Donetsk People’s Militia participants, who carried out strikes against enemy positions and equipment. These strikes include the destruction of American M142 HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), which are in use by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

An operator of the Buk-M3 anti-aircraft missile system, who goes by the call sign Tolyan, told the Russian newspaper that one calculation could maintain sight of up to 12 different targets simultaneously at any given time. The launch of one Buk-M3 missile can take out one HIMARS installation.

“You can shoot down in batches. In principle, if there are three missiles [from HIMARS], you can shoot down with one of our missiles,” explains Tolyan.

The Buk-M3 air defence system can hit targets at an altitude of 10 kilometres and a distance of 40. 

Regularly shoot down HIMARS

“The crews of the anti-aircraft missile brigade, armed with the latest Buk-M3 systems, regularly shoot down shells from the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system. During combat duty, the air defence crews detect, escort and destroy various aircraft around the clock, providing reliable air cover for the positions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as well as the most important administrative and industrial facilities,” the Russian Ministry of Defence on September 28.

The ministry also released footage of the combat work of the Buk-M3 crews of the air defence units of the Central Military District in the special operation zone. The air defence system is equipped with improved electronics and new anti-aircraft missiles, the number of which has increased to six.

“[During work, it is necessary] constant attention, in no case to relax, to watch the indicators, and then everything will be successful. It all depends on the target’s movement parameter and on where the target is. The complex itself sees far enough, and if the target is in the zone, then it is literally to escort, report, identify and launch. About two or three seconds – the missile left, “said the battery commander with the call sign “Brodyaga” in the video released.

How did Buk-M3 begin countering HIMARS?

In the Donbas theatre of operations, the integration of airborne optical and electronic surveillance conducted by the Russian Aerospace Forces, as well as multi-purpose attack platforms undertaken by both the Aerospace Forces and the Land forces, into a single “information field” has proven to be fruitful.


Integration of network-centric connection between ground and air tactical reconnaissance systems, as well as the broadest range of high-precision strike weapons, has been a primary emphasis of the command of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Russian Rocket Forces and Artillery.

Also, the skills necessary to defeat the high-precision guided missiles fired by the M31A1 GMLRS system, which is employed by the HIMARS, MARS-II, and M270B1 MLRS systems, were documented by the soldiers of the Air Defense Forces of the Russian Ground Forces.

The birth of HIMAR killer

Igor Konashenkov, the official representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, made a statement about the interception of these shells by Russian air defence systems in early July. On July 25, the type of anti-aircraft missile was also made public, confirming that it possesses the greatest potential in the fight against M31A1 shells. The Buk-M3 proved to be a promising military anti-aircraft missile system. The Russians began inducting Buk-M3 in 2016 when the first batteries reached the air defence combat units.

During a massive missile and artillery strike by HIMARS systems, during their initial deployment, on the Russian rear logistics hubs in the South Ukrainian theatre of operations, the combat crew of one of the front-line Buk-M3 air defence systems of the Russian military air defence became acquainted with the capability of countering small-sized rockets M31A1.

The difficulty of intercepting these missiles is due to their limited effective reflective surface and rapid cruising speed, which limit the interception range and altitude to 22 kilometres and ten seconds, respectively.

Starting with the known parameters of the radars and features of the anti-aircraft missile guidance system of this air defence system, as well as the flight performance and electrodynamic characteristics of the M31A1 GMLRS guided missiles to be intercepted, the Russians analysed the capabilities of the Buk-M3 in countering the M31A1 projectiles.

The Buk-M3 was not limited by the M31A1 missiles’ extremely low EPR. The 227-mm guided projectiles of the HIMARS system have an extremely small effective reflective surface – approximately 0.05-0.07 square metres. m (comparable to the EPR of the 220-mm RS 9M27F of the Uragan systems), which reduces the detection range of the 9S36M radars of the Buk-M3 self-propelled firing systems from the standard 130 to 35 kilometres.

After detecting shells at a range of 30 kilometres, the computer facilities of the battle control centre of the Buk-M3 complexes require an additional 12 seconds to precisely trace the courses of attacking objects and designate additional targets for 9M317MA anti-aircraft missiles. During this time, missiles travelling at 750 m/s cover an additional 9 kilometres in the direction of the target, reducing the range to around 21 kilometres.

At this moment, anti-aircraft missiles are launched, which shoot down attacking HIMARS rounds at a distance of 13-15 km from the Buk-M3 anti-aircraft missile batteries. 

This is achieved by equipping 9M317MA anti-aircraft missiles with active radar homing heads of the Slanets family and having a 6-channel target designation radar on each of the six battery firing systems. In comparison, one S-300PM2 division can simultaneously intercept no more than six enemy targets, which is due to the presence of only one 30N6E target illumination radar and the semi-active guidance of 48N6E2 anti-aircraft missiles, which requires continuous illumination of the intercepted object until the moment the radar fuse is activated.

Consequently, only Buk-M3 complexes are capable of simultaneously intercepting 28 incoming rockets during a massed classic attack by Ukrainian Armed Forces forces equipped with two HIMARS installations and diversionary “Hurricanes.”

Other systems capable of intercepting HIMARS projectiles

Long-range S-400 and S-350 Vityaz air defence systems are both equipped with super-manoeuvrable 9M96D/DM anti-aircraft guided missiles with active radar seekers from the same Slanets family.

Having an autonomous receiving-transmitting path that enables the “fire-and-forget” mode, these homing heads conduct autonomous target acquisition, relieving the target channel and firing performance of the 92N6E and 50N6A illumination/target designation radars and freeing up updating channels for processing new targets. Consequently, the firepower of the S-400 and Vityaz makes it able to counter huge M31A1 shell attacks. Another system capable of intercepting HIMARS projectiles is the S-350 Vityaz air defence systems but are in limited numbers and cannot be deployed enmasse in the battle field.


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