Country of origin
400 mm of RHA
Range of fire
2.5 / 3 km
Cold War the Soviet
9K11 Malyutka (Russian: the small one), known to the West as
the AT-3 Sagger, was the most prolific anti-tank guided missile in
the world. Although age and the enduring reputation of the American
not to mention today’s newer and more capable ATGMs, have diminished
its status considerably, it remains a stubborn second-generation
system with a half-century old death trail behind it.
The Malyutka’s Cold War origins are an enigma wrapped in
mystery. What can be gleaned from available sources is feverish
Soviet R&D on anti-tank missiles was undertaken by the KBM plant in
Moscow during the late 1950s and early 1960s and these efforts paid
off with scary new weapons. After the modest success of the Shmel
(AT-1 Snapper) and Fleyta (AT-2 Swatter), which had to be borne on
vehicles, a better ATGM was introduced for motorized infantry units.
And therein lies another conundrum. The exact date of the
Malyutka’s initial production and entry into service are unknown.
Unverifiable accounts of the Sagger’s testing phase cite 1961 and
adoption followed by 1963. Another source puts its first public
sighting during the Victory Day Parade on May 9, 1965, in Moscow. If
this is accurate then the Soviet Army had already adopted it by the
mid-1960s and exports to its allies quickly followed.
The Malyutka is recognizable for its distinctive 9M14
missile, which has a pointed nose containing a HEAT warhead and
oversized fins, that is stored inside the 9K11 portable fiberglass
launcher. The Malyutka’s best attribute compared to other anti-tank
missiles is its ease of use. While earlier systems deserved their
reputation as crude and unwieldy the arrival of the Malyutka marked
a serious breakthrough for the Soviet Army.
Carried in its suitcase, the Malyutka is assembled and ready
to fire in under a minute. A proper Sagger unit, however, required a
three-man team of two soldiers for carrying the missiles and a third
“senior operator” carrying the 9S415 control panel and its monocular
The Soviets designed their Malyutka to protect the operator,
who can launch the missile while concealed in a trench, foxhole or a
bunker. When fired the missile’s course is guided from a control
panel with a joystick and a periscope sight for accurate navigating
beyond 1 000 meters. A red tail light emitted from the rocket motor
serves as a visual guide to the operator before the missile impacts.
With an effective range of three kilometers and reliable Manual
Command Line of Sight (MCLOS) guidance it’s not surprising how the
Malyutka pulled off a smashing debut.
What NATO came to fear as the Sagger missile drew first blood
on April 23, 1972, when North Vietnamese Army units clashed with
South Vietnamese tanks in Quang Tri Province near the 17th Parallel.
The resulting engagement knocked out an American-made M48A3, a kill
that didn’t bode well for Western tanks.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) learned about the Sagger’s
effectiveness a year later when Egyptian and Syrian combined arms
offensives launched the Yom Kippur War. The prolific use of Sagger
missiles by Egyptian infantry wrecked the IDF’s early
counteroffensives in the Sinai and battered its tank fleet. These
disasters proved how British-made Centurions and American-made
tanks faced an existential threat against Sagger missiles, whose
maximum effective range of 2 500 meters at the hands of a
well-trained operator was far more accurate than Western 105 mm
guns. The Sagger could penetrate 430 mm (17 inches) of steel armor
and there was nothing that could blunt its explosive force.
Examining Soviet accounts reveals the IDF lost hundreds of tanks to
Sagger missiles within a few days.
Israel and NATO spent years trying to formulate an effective
doctrine against Sagger missiles. In the case of the former an ad
hoc tactic was steering the tank away from the incoming missile and
perhaps confuse the Sagger operator with a dust cloud or erratic
accelerated driving. It wasn’t until the
advent of explosive reactive armor and active protection systems
that the Sagger threat diminished.
Although the Soviets would field better ATGMs in the 1970s
and 1980s the Sagger was indispensable for the Warsaw Pact. When
deployed on vehicles like the
infantry fighting vehicle, which carried four missiles, the
airborne combat vehicle. There were dedicated tank hunters, based on BRDM-1 and
recce cars. The Sagger’s production volume ballooned to the tens of
thousands. An often cited ballpark figure of the Sagger at the
height of its fame was 25 000 a year until it was supplanted by the
(AT-5 Spandrel) during the 1970s onwards. Like the ubiquitous
missile, special mounts for Saggers on helicopters like the Mi-2,
Mi-8, and the
Mi-24 were available. The Sagger missile was also license-produced in
Bulgaria, Romania, the former Yugoslavia and was later
cloned in China as the HJ-73.
In a strange twist, Taiwan’s Chungshan Institute managed to
reverse engineer the Sagger and produce the Kun Wu. Archival photos
and documents of this rare system are difficult to find, thereby
consigning the Kun Wu to mythical obscura.
Though deemed obsolete by today’s standards the Sagger’s use
hasn’t ebbed. It’s a familiar sight in the Middle East’s most active
war zones and untold numbers remain stockpiled in various countries.
Its production hasn’t ended either. China, North Korea, Serbia, and
Iran manufacture their own variants of this longevity blessed ATGM.
(Western reporting name AT-3A) – Original production model. It had a
maximum range of 2.5 kilometers.
9M14M (AT-3B) – Improved version with a modified warhead and
improved flight time.
9M14P (AT-3C) – Introduced in 1969-1970. This was a Sagger model
modified for semi-automatic (SACLOS) guidance and greater armor penetration.
9M14-2 or Malyutka-2 (AT-3D) – Introduced in the 1992 it is a
significantly improved version. The Malyutka-2 is a larger 130 mm
missile with new warhead. It featured a
faster flight time of 130 meters-per-second. Tandem HEAT and thermobaric
warheads were available. It can penetrate 800 mm of rolled
homogenous armor. This new missile can be launched from older
HJ-73 – Chinese copy of the original 9M14 (AT-3A).
Iranian copy of the Sagger.
Yugoimport Malyutka-2M – Serbian variant of the 9M14-2
(AT-3D). It uses 9M142M (HEAT), 9M142F (thermobaric) and 9M142T
(with tandem HEAT warhead capable of defeating 1
000 mm of rolled homogenous armor).
9P122 is a
Soviet anti-tank missile carrier, armed with Malyutka missiles,
based on the
BRDM-2 armored car chassis.
BOV-1 or M83
Polo is an anti-tank missile carrier, developed in the former
Yugoslavia. It is armed with license-produced version of Malyutka
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