Israeli press reports on 19th January hinted that the Hezbollah insurgent group may have acquired 9K33 Osa (NATO reporting name ‘SA-8 Gecko’) short-range, radar-guided SAM systems.
The 9K33 is a self-propelled air defence system which includes organic radar. It is believed that the 9K33s may have been acquired fromSyria. The Syrian Army is thought to operate an unknown number of 9K33 systems. If Hezbollah has been successful in acquiring the 9K33, it could represent an important step-change in the organisations’ air defence capabilities. Hezbollah is known to have acquired MANPADS of Russian origin although at best these weapons can threaten aircraft only operating at low altitudes up to circa 10,000ft (3,048m). The 9K33, however, can deploy missiles with a range of up to 39,000ft (11,887m).
That said, this weapons system is a ‘known quantity’ as far as air defence suppression efforts are concerned. The Israeli Air and Space Force has encountered the 9K33 before in previous conflicts and has no doubt acquired a comprehensive knowledge regarding how this system’s radar can be jammed, or destroyed, with anti-radiation missiles. Moreover, the 9K33 has also been encountered by NATO forces in previous conflicts in the Balkans,Iraqand, most recently,Libya. Once again, Allied air forces with be highly familiar with this system, and its potential weaknesses. An added factor is that the vehicle-mounted 9K33 Osa has a distinctive appearance potentially making it easy to spot with air reconnaissance and thus easy to destroy with conventional laser and Global Positioning System (GPS) guided ordnance.
Hezbollah’s new weapons may give it the ability to target aircraft at a medium range, although this systems’ vulnerability may make its utility in any future conflict involving the insurgent group temporary at best.