Libyan premiere of the ZRS S-200VE "Vega".

On March 24, 1986, two hundred U.S. Navy deck planes shelled the waters of the Mediterranean Gulf of Sidra.

"VKO has already referred to U.S. Air Force and Navy Operation Eldorado Canyon 1986 (No. 4 (17) 2004). However, the first ever case of combat use of the S-200VE anti-aircraft missile system was not described in detail. The magazine fills this gap in the description of the combat operations of the anti-aircraft missile forces.

There are still debates about the effectiveness of the combat firing on March 24, 1986 and today. According to Soviet military experts, at least two deck planes of the U.S. Navy were hit by the anti-aircraft missile fire of the S-200VE. In Washington, the fact of losses is denied to the contrary.


Since March 22, 1986, the U.S. Navy leadership has signaled the start of another aerial strike force exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. The intensity of flight of the deck aviation has increased significantly. On March 23, the U.S. Navy AAS arrived in the Gulf of Sidra, approximately 200 km north of the 32°30' north latitude parallel.

A team of 4 ships with the flagship, the Atomic Cruiser Yorktown, maneuvered in the immediate vicinity of the Libyan coast. The ships maneuvered under the cover of deck aircrafts, the actions of which were provided from the barrage areas by the DRLO and U-2C "Hokai" aircraft.

On March 24, U.S. ships and aircraft crossed the 32°30 north latitude parallel declared by Libya in 1983 as the border of its territorial waters in the Gulf of Sidra. A Libyan group of S-200VE anti-aircraft missile divisions (starting position near Sirte) fired on three U.S. Navy deck planes. In response, the U.S. Air Force launched an attack on a group of S-200VE anti-aircraft missile battalions near the city of Sirte and Libyan Navy boats.

Events evolved as follows.

On March 24, 1986, from 1.00 a.m. the US Air Force began intensive flights in the Gulf of Sidra at a distance of 180-300 km from the shoreline and in the altitude range of 4-8 thousand meters. At times the deck planes approached the city of Sirte at a distance of 160 km. The 32°30' north latitude boundary of territorial waters established by the official Tripoli was 145 km from the Libyan coast.

By 13.00 individual groups of aircraft began to approach the range of 110-130 km from the city of Sirte (130-150 km from the position of 3PK S-200VE). At 13.46 from the command post of the air defense sector, the Zrdn S-200VE group received a command to detect a target consisting of two planes heading for the object Sirte (range - 160 km, azimuth - 12°, height - 4.5 km, speed - 160 m/s).

Target detection (as further evidenced by objective control materials) was carried out by the first and second aircraft according to rough target designation (from the radar "Defense-14") for 3.5 minutes. During this period, the Air Defense Command decided to destroy the U.S. Navy deck aircraft.

At 13.50 both divisions of C-200VE group by separately observed U.S. Navy aircraft (range - 115 km, azimuth - 12°, altitude - 4.5 km, speed - 160 m/s) with the rate of 8 seconds launched single missiles.

25-30 seconds after the launch of missiles, the target began the maneuver "dive" (without turning the course) and finished it at an altitude of 2-2.5 km. After 95 seconds of flight at intervals of 8 seconds there were meetings of missiles with the target (range - about 100 km).

This is not the end of the group's shooting. At 18.42 the first Zrdn C-200VE detected a target at a range of 120 km and a height of 3 km. At 18.44, the commander of the group AHD. Sirte (due to the absence of any connection with the air defense sector control at that time) independently decided to destroy the detected target with a single missile (range - 100 km, altitude - 3 km).

In 28-30 seconds after the launch of the missile, the target performed a similar maneuver "diving" to a height of 1.5 km. Meeting the target missile occurred at a range of 85 km and an altitude of 1.5 km with a flight time of the missile about 85 seconds.

Analysis of the firing of these three targets allows us to draw the following conclusions. The combat calculations of the S-200VE division group allowed for significant violations of the requirements of the Firing Regulations:

  • did not specify the ranges to the targets by target illumination radars (Target Lighting Radar) in the Phasocode Modulation Mode (PKM);
  • did not take into account the possibility of missile maneuvering by enemy aircraft, as a result of which missiles met their targets in the zone of reduced probability of destruction;
  • the firing was carried out at a low cost of ASDs.

There is one other circumstance that is of interest. It is difficult (and sometimes impossible) for the flight crews of the attack aviation to determine the fact and the moment of launch of the SAM by S-200VE divisions (due to the long range of missile launches). However, all three planes began maneuvering only 25-30 seconds after the launch of LLRS. This indicates that only the DRLO aircraft and the E-2C Hokai aircraft could provide them with relevant information.

The conditions of firing over the sea and at great distances from the shoreline did not provide reliable physical evidence of the destruction of targets.

Despite this, characteristic signs of their defeat on the screens of indicators ROC S-200 SAM system, target designation radar group Zrdn and radar RTV (as well as the results of subsequent modeling) allow us to believe that in three firing divisions S-200VE on March 24, 1986 shot down at least two aircraft deck aircraft of the U.S. 6th Fleet.

The same was indirectly evidenced by the immediately organized in the area of meetings of missiles with targets search and rescue helicopters of the U.S. Navy. They were taken by the Americans immediately after the firing was over. This suggests that at that time crews of the affected aircraft were searching and climbing from the water.

From 20.25 on March 24, the first and second aircraft of the C-200VE accompanied a group of targets at a distance of 150-180 km, under the azimuth of 0-20°. At this time, the aircraft flights were covered by active noise interference of medium and low intensity for radars P-14, P-35, P-18, and on radars "Defense-14" and PRV-17 almost no interference.

At 20.47-20.50 the interference production was stopped. At a range of 60 and 80 km two new targets were detected by the target designation radar. The commander of the group of divisions set the second Zrd S-200VE target detection task at a distance of 80 km. At this time, the first ASD continued to accompany the target at a range of 160 km.

The second division turned off full power and began to work on the target designation manually. At this time, from the closest aircraft of the U.S. Navy (range - 60 km) on the first zrdn was launched two radar missiles "Harm".

The first Kharm rocket exploded at a distance of 8 m and a height of 9 m from the center of the base of the cockpit K-1 (antenna post S-200VE SAM), the second - flew over the starting position at low altitude and crashed when falling 10-11 m from the standpoint K-1.

After the Kharm rocket hit, all equipment of the S-200VE group was immediately shut down. There are reasons to believe that the next plane, which was located at a distance of 80 km, should have struck the second zrdn. Since the full power of the transmitting devices was switched off, the strike did not take place. Both targets after 1 minute went out of range of the "Defense-14" radar.

The main, densest flow of fragments of the first Kharm missile's combat unit fell on the antenna system and under the base of the K-1 cabin. The antenna system and the cockpit waveguides, the cable between the K-1 and K-2 cabs, four antenna trailers that were at the base of the antenna post were disabled. The electronic part of the equipment of the K-1 and K-2 cabins was practically unaffected.

According to experts, such damage should have been considered average. In military conditions, the combat equipment could be restored with the reserve elements of antenna systems, cables and waveguides.

It should be assumed that the results of the events of March 24-25 were taken into account by the U.S. command in the development and preparation of the subsequent operation - "Canyon Eldorado".

In Libya's air defense forces, as further events have shown, from the fact and results of the use of "Harm" missiles on March 24, 1986 there was no proper analysis and correct conclusions in the planning and preparation for the reflection of subsequent attacks of the U.S. Air Force and Navy.


Back on January 7, 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered all American citizens to leave Libya. All ties between the two countries were practically severed. At that time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff was analyzing possible options for military action against Libya. The White House had long suspected Tripoli of organizing terrorist activities.

The strike aircraft carrier "America" left Norfolk in early March 1986, one month earlier than planned. He soon joined the Coral C and Saratoga aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea. The next phase of the Freedom of Navigation (FON) exercise in the Western Mediterranean was planned for the Gulf of Sidra. The Gulf of Sidra had previously been considered international waters. However, Libya declared its maritime areas south of 32°30' North latitude as its inland waters. From 1973 onwards, the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet conducted FON exercises in the area. Previously, they had no incidents. This time, the collision was inevitable.

On March 24, 1986, acting in close proximity to the Libyan coast, at noon, three U.S. warships crossed the 32°30' parallel, a line that the charismatic leader of the Libyan revolution, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi called the "Line of Death.

Libya immediately launched two ground-to-air missiles on deck F-14A Tomkat fighters of the VF-102 squadron. Both missiles, according to American estimates, fell into the water. A little later, another Libyan Zrdn fired on another American plane. But this missile also passed the target and also fell into the waters of the Gulf of Sidra.

That same day, Libyan Navy patrol boats approached a detachment of U.S. Navy 6th Fleet warships deployed in the Gulf of Sidra. The Libyan Navy vessels were attacked and destroyed by two A-6E deck attack aircraft. "The Intruders were the first to use AGM-84 Harpoon missiles. Muammar Gaddafi's boats were launched by the Americans to the bottom of the bay within seconds.

Two hours later, the Libyans fired the SA-5 missiles again. The "Products" flew past the American F-14 fighter decks again and fell into the water.

But the misfortunes for the Libyans did not end there. In the afternoon, U.S. Navy deck fighters hit two Libyan MiG-25 fighter planes over the disputed waters of Sidra Bay. Later at night, two A-7E Corsar II deck planes of the U.S. Navy attacked the starting position of the S-200VE SAM system near Sirte using Harm missiles.

In total, three Libyan patrol boats, two airplanes and a S-200VE radar were hit by US Navy aviation during these incidents, according to the American experts' conclusions.

President Ronald Reagan categorically denied any losses on the American side.

In other words, the opinions of the participants of the events on the effectiveness of the S-200VE SAMs fired over the waters of the Mediterranean Gulf of Sidra differed diametrically among the participants of the events. Apparently, the wreckage of deck planes raised from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea would have put an end to this issue.


Информационно-аналитический журнал "ВОЗДУШНО-КОСМИЧЕСКАЯ ОБОРОНА".