U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was destroyed in flight over central Russia. From more than 60,000 feet, Francis Gary Powers parachuted into captivity for two years, giving Moscow a huge propaganda victory over President Dwight Eisenhower, who pledged to stop all overflights.
The surface to air missile had arrived: the NATO alliance called it the SA-2 Guideline.
Though Powers’ U-2 was by far the best-known SA-2 kill, the missile already was combat proven. Deployed in 1957, a high-flying Nationalist Chinese RB-57 was downed over the Asian mainland two years later. The SAM returned to the world stage in October 1962 when a U.S. Air Force U-2 was downed over Cuba during the strategic missile crisis.
Like most Soviet weapon systems, the SA-2 was known by various designations. It began as the S-75 but more widely was called V-750. Its popular name was Dvina, named for the Russian river.
Developed between 1953 and 1957, the S-75 was the second Soviet SAM after the larger S-25 (SA-1) deployed around Moscow.
SA-2 is a two-stage missile: a booster with solid fuel propellant that rockets off the launcher for the first five seconds after launch. Then the liquid-fuel second stage ignites, providing power for the duration of the flight, achieving Mach 3 for 20 to 25 seconds. Its effective altitude usually is cited as more than 80,000 feet.
The 420-pound warhead kills by fragmentation, spewing lethal fragments 200 feet or more from point of explosion.
Guidance was achieved by two radars. NATO dubbed the early-warning set Spoon Rest, which could track a target as much as 170 miles distant, while the Fan Song tracked the target and directed the missile within the 30-mile terminal guidance phase. SA-2s were widely deployed in North Vietnam from 1965 onward. From a high of 5.7% success in 1965, kill figures steadily declined to less than 1 percent at the time of the 1968 bombing halt. Air Force “Wild Weasels” and Navy “Iron Hand” anti-SAM teams coupled with electronic jamming proved highly effective. When the air campaign resumed “up north” in 1972, the Vietnamese slightly improved on their previous record, downing at least 49 U.S. aircraft from more than 4,200 launches, or 1.15 percent. Clearly, the Wild Weasels and Iron Hands had mastered their enemy.
By Barrett Tillman
Read the article from the December 2014 issue of Flight Journal, click here.