Jeffrey LewisDid Russia Fire SS-26s at Georgia?

Update: It has become clear to me that the Iskander is a modified SS-26 that should have a different SS-number. See the testimony of DIA Director Maples.

Anya Loukianova, blogging at Total Wonkerr observes that the Georgian Interior Ministry claims Russia launched conventionally-armed SS-26 “Iskander” missiles into Georgia. She also posted a link to the Russian denial.

Shota Utiashvili, Head of the Analytical Department at the Georgian Interior Ministry, shows photographs purporting to document debris from three Iskander (SS-26) missiles. (The original link to the press briefing was hard to find, so I uploaded it to YouTube.)

The Interior Ministry also released 23 images to back up the assertion — although I have to say that the debris doesn’t look to me like it came particularly from an SS-26. The debris is clearly Russian ordnance of some sort, although it could equally well be from conventionally-armed SS-21s the White House claims Russia used. (The White House said two, David Fulgham at Aviation Leak said at least 15.)

But I wouldn’t know an SS-26 if, well, its flaming debris fell on me. So, that’s where you come in, my friends.

Have a look at the images and tell me what you think:

[1], [2] Drawing and stock image of Iskander missile system

[3] A car in Gori crushed by debris. (Maybe a portion of a conventionally-armed SS-21?)

[4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10] Three pieces of debris near the oil pipeline.

[11], [12], [13] Two pieces of debris in Gori.

[14], [15], [16], [17] One piece of spherical debris in a field.

[18], [19], [20] A piece of flaming debris.

[21], [22], [23] Images of one or more craters.

You can post in the comments or, if your employer might frown at that sort of activity, drop me a line at armscontrolwonk [at]


  1. Chris (History)

    What type of warhead was used? Single or multiple? HE, Fuel-Air, Incendiary, EMP, and/or other?

  2. russiannavyblog (History)

    Pic five and six is definitely the end of a solid rocket motor stage.

    The number on pic 11, 9N722 (9I722? Its hard to tell) should help identify the part. 9N numbers tend to belong to tactical missiles and if someone has a list of GRAU numbers than then you can figure out which system the piece belongs to.

    Pics 12 and 13 definitely look like the cracked and expended ends of a solid rocket motor, and the 9M72 on the end indicates that it probably is an SS-26, see the program number here:

    I think its pretty conclusive that the debris in pics 14-17 is an expended SS-26 motor.

  3. Sean O'Connor (History)

    Correct, the 9M723 seen in pic #17 indicates that it came from an SS-26. The object on top of, amusingly, the car in #3 is the mid to rear section of an SS-21 containing the mid-body control surfaces. It’s missing the aft-most section which mounts the potato-masher flip-out control surfaces (same thing used on the AA-12 and SS-25/27 basically). The control surface configuration is different for the SS-26, it has rear-mounted control surfaces which are far more triangular in shape compared to those found on the SS-21.

  4. russiannavyblog (History)

    Sorry, got my pic numbers wrong.

    Instead of #12 amd #13 I meant to write that 14 and 15 look like expended solid rocket motors.

  5. Gridlock (History)

    Sean and RedBannerFleet to the rescue – You should update post title to “Did Russia Fire SS-26s at Georgia? – Yes” 🙂

    russiannavyblog, do you not worry about posting definitively that your (?) government is lying? Freedom of the press is not a strong point of the New and Improved (‘now with added money!’) USSR, so you must be in an even more precarious position, no? I’d steer clear of anyone offering you tea, that’s for sure.

  6. russiannavyblog (History)

    There is a much better shot of an SS-21 in all its glory here:

    While here are some good shots of an SS-26:

  7. russiannavyblog (History)


    I’m not Russian, I’m American.
    If I get tea, I’ll get it from one of eight Starbucks within a quarter of a mile radius of my apartment in NoVa.

  8. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    What was interesting was what the Russians apparently did not use: UAVs.

    Their manned platforms certainly do work. But they are way behind in the application of electronic systems to warfare.

    Losing a half dozen aircraft to a two bit air defense “system” ought to raise a lot of red flags in Moscow.

    Likewise, just how accurate are those SSMs? Not terribly impressive in the era of PGMs.

    It was not that long ago that the Russian army was routed by a numerically inferior (and poorly equipped) Finnish army.

    Had the Georgians been properly trained and equipped, it could have happened again.

    The real message Medvedev and Putin should have received is how badly the Russian army has fallen behind and how much it is in need of fresh blood, resources, and new equipment.

  9. Gridlock (History)

    RNB, then your knowledge of Soviet defense systems and goings on is certainly admirable 🙂

    And I’d suggest that (as an Englishman) tea from a Starbucks would probably only improve with the addition of a strong dose of Polonium..

  10. princeton scotch (History)

    I have a question, why can’t NORAD or what is it now, USSpaceCom or something like that, detect the launch of of these missiles? I mean, if they are conventional tipped, it shouldn’t matter from the thermal signatures. Didn’t NORAD track Iraqi scuds during Gulf War I?

  11. Sean O'Connor (History)

    Jeffrey, Iskander is the SS-26 system. What is causing some confusion is Russian development of new cruise missiles that can be fitted to the Iskander’s launch vehicle. The cruise missile is believed to be designated R-500. This new missile was tested in June of 2007 from an Iskander-M TEL. As the term Iskander can be used to describe the entire system, it also would cover the new cruise missile. The new missile would need an SSC- series designator, like the GLCM version of the AS-15 received, not an SS- series designator. SS-26 applies to the Iskander’s SRBM. The DIA testimony is pretty much accurate, it just doesn’t give the background info on the SS-26/Iskander to illustrate that the SS-26/Iskander is already around, and that she is referring to the new variant incorporating a cruise missile.

  12. Anya

    For a backgrounder on Sean’s last point, see discussion of the R-500 test in this piece by Nikolai Sokov.

  13. user_hostile (History)

    I just got back from Baikonur, Kazakhstan (after finding out that Russian crane operators tend to better at breaking satellites then lifting them). Arms Control Wonk is filtered in Russia. Which also means blogging by fellow Russian arms control advocates is possibly likewise restricted . You can read ACW, but is requires using Google’s website “cache” feature—tedious, but doable.

  14. EB1

    “russiannavyblog, do you not worry about posting definitively that your (?) government is lying?”

    The Russians said they did not employ tactical ballistic missiles in South Ossetia. They never said they did not employ them in the conflict in general. They are not lying.

  15. Sean O'Connor (History)

    Sokov’s piece is pretty interesting, I’d seen that before. Do take note that the second image he uses, labeled as an Iskander TEL, is actually a Tochka!

  16. Lao Tao Ren (History)


    Arms Control Wonk is not filtered in mainland China.

    Now if these ACW wonks can just get automated translations into Chinese…

  17. Rwendland (History)

    The NYT has the picture of the crushed car, but it says it is in Poti not Gori as above. Also says the car is a Military Police vehicle, which suggests the missile was accurate in hitting a military base.

  18. russiannavyblog (History)

    The Russian’s deny using the SS-26 in South Ossetia.

    Okay, I’ll accept that.

    The Russian’s also deny that the SS-26 is in the OOB of the 58th Army.

    Okay, I’ll buy that too.

    There is nothing in the official Ministry of Defense statement linked to in Jeffrey’s article that denies using the Iskander in Georgia. They only denied using it in South Ossetia and declared that it isn’t in the 58th Army OOB. Neither of those statements exclude it’s use in Georgia.

    It is not lying. But it is a deliberately misleading and dishonest statement on it’s face.

  19. Allen Thomson

    For Russian readers, there’s a useful discussion of this going on at ., BTW, is a worthy site for Russian military matters in general.

  20. user_hostile (History)

    Your are correct, LTR. In fact, I used some web tool that checks to see which sites are filtered in the PRC from the US and ACW was not (which I expected)…but this is Russia, which always means a riddle wrapped in a mystery…etc.

  21. J House (History)

    NRO DSP platforms can detect the plumes of the Russian SS missiles on launch. DIA knows they were used in the conflict. Early warning doesn’t give policy makers much options anyway.Flight time of tactical missiles is much less than ICBMs.

  22. Ikje

    The way the Russian missile tanks look on the pictures make me feel very uneasy. The ruptures in their tanks (picture 15,16 and 17 above) seem to indicate an advanced process of iron degradation due to interaction with the high pressure propellant inside. I would not advise to shoot these things at any target, since their likelyhood of backfiring is at least 50%.

  23. ikje

    And furthermore,
    both the Iskander and the Tochka seem to suffer from the same problem (corroded fuel tanks). The warhead has been removed before the pictures were taken, since it was not armed yet.
    Does not seem to empower Russia with this type of flying crap.