To Kill a Pantsir

Destroyed Pantsir system
The wreckage of a Russian 96K6 Pantsir short-range air defence system lies smouldering in Ukraine. Electronic warfare has played an instrumental role in helping hunt down and engage these short-range air defence systems.

Armada has been briefed on some of the tactics used to engage and defeat the 96K6 Pantsir-S1 series SHORAD system.

The 96K6 Pantsir-S1 (NATO reporting name SA-22 Greyhound) series Short-Range Air Defence (SHORAD) system is deployed extensively with the Russian armed forces and has been exported to twelve nations. The 96K6 has been used operationally supporting Russia’s ongoing deployment in Syria to bolster the regime of President Bashir al-Assad, the country’s leader. 96K6s have also been supplied to Syria’s armed forces. The system has been deployed to Libya where it has served with Libyan National Army (LNA) forces loyal to warlord Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Recently, Russian forces have deployed 96K6 systems to support their ongoing occupation of Ukrainian territory.

In Russian military service, the Russian Aerospace Forces typically deploy three 96K6s with each S-400 (SA-21 Growler) high-altitude/long-range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) battalion. Two S-400 battalions form an anti-aircraft missile regiment with between two and five regiments forming an air defence division. The 96K6’s role is to provide SHORAD for the S-400 batteries. This is to protect the batteries against aircraft, Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and anti-radiation missiles seeking to exploit blind spots in the low-altitude coverage of the S-400’s 91N6A/E (Big Bird) S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) and 96L6E (Cheese Board) C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) ground-based air surveillance radars.


The 96K6 uses a combination of 57E6 semi-active radar homing/optically guided SAMs with a range of 9.7 nautical miles/nm (18 kilometres) and a maximum altitude of 49,000 feet/ft (14,935 metres/m). The missiles are joined by two 2A38M 30mm autocannons with a maximum altitude of 9,842ft (3,000m) and range of 2.2nm (four kilometres). Target detection is provided by the system’s 2RL80 S-band radar with a range of circa 27nm (50km). Once a target is detected, engagement is managed using the system’s 1RS2-1 X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz)/Ku-band (13.4GHz to 14GHz/15.7GHz to 17.7GHz) radar. The 1RS2-1 has a 15nm (28km) range.

Sources familiar with Pantsir’s deployment to Ukraine shared with Armada that the system’s presence in previous warzones such as Libya and Syria have proved useful. Significant Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) pertaining to the Pantsir’s radars has been gathered by key North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) nations during these deployments. This bedrock of ELINT has been used to programme Electronic Support Measures (ESM) to recognise and exploit Pantsir radar signals. The ELINT has proved similarly useful for programming electronic attack systems so that the 96K6’s radars can be jammed.

Pantsir in Ukraine

Ukrainian forces claim to have captured several 96K6s, one of which has been used to develop and test ESM and electronic attack system performance against the Pantsir’s radars. One tactic pioneered by the Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri (Turkish Armed Forces) has been to use Aselsan’s Koral electronic warfare system against the Pantsir’s radars. Koral is a ground-based ESM used by the Türk Kara Kuvvetleri (TKK/Turkish Land Forces). Koral is thought capable of detecting, locating, identifying and jamming radio frequency signals across a waveband of two gigahertz to 18GHz. Recent enhancements to the system are believed to have increased this waveband to 40GHz.

Koral was used by the TKK to provide a ‘lane’ of jamming directed against the Pantsir’s radars. With the radars blinded, the system was unable to detect and track incoming Baykar Bayraktar TB-2 UAVs which would then attack the 96K6 kinetically. Although Russian radar engineers did work to adapt the Pantsir’s radar waveforms to outflank the jamming, this has often proved unsuccessful. The continued collection of ELINT regarding the Pantsir threat in the Ukrainian, Syrian and Libyan theatres means that the adaptation of jamming waveforms for use against the 96K6’s radars has been quick. In some cases, it is possible to develop a new jamming waveform for employment against a new Pantsir radar waveform within hours. In addition to using systems like Koral, UAVs have been incorporated in the fight. Some UAVs are outfitted with ESMs to find the Pantsir. Once located, other UAVs begin jamming the radars before the 96K6 is attacked kinetically.

One measure taken by Russian air defenders has been to ring fence Pantsir deployments with 1L122 Garmon L-band (1.2GHz – 1.8GHz/1.67GHz – 1.71GHz) ground-based air surveillance radars. The radars are deployed to provide early warning of incoming hostile UAVs. Nonetheless, emissions from these radars are relatively easy to detect and jam. Moreover, detection of a Garmon radar may indicate that a lucrative Pantsir target is nearby.

The 96K6 had a fearsome reputation when it entered Russian military service in 2012 although successive conflicts in Syria, Libya and Ukraine have betrayed its vulnerabilities. The open source oryxspioenkop website which documents equipment losses in the ongoing Ukraine war has said that Russia may have lost up to 19 96K6s as of September 2023. It is all but inevitable that electronic warfare will have played a prominent part in the destruction of these, and other, 96K6 platforms.

by Dr. Thomas Withington