BUKM1 9K37 / SA-11 ”GADFLY”, Ilmatorjuntaohjus 96 (ItO-96)
The BUK system was developed in the Soviet Union and it was first fielded in 1979. It was developed to partially replace the older SA-4 9M8M1 “Ganef” system, which was developed in the early 1960s alongside the S-125 Pechora missile system. The appearance of the SA-4 missile was highly similar to the British English Electric Thunderbird missile, which also resides in our museum collections. The Thunderbird missile was offered to the Finnish Defense Forces in the late 1960s by the British, but political bickering among the government ministers and defense forces staff and foreign policy issues caused the deal to fall through. Only a small number of training equipment was purchased and used until the late 1970s. Real Anti-aircraft missile system procurements for Finland took until the late 1970s, when Strela MANPADS and the S-125 system were acquired for the AA troops.
As a missile system the BUK was very mobile and capable compared to the earlier S-125 system, or the contemporary systems in western armies. An aura of secrecy and misinformation surrounded the BUK system from the late 1970s until the early 1990s, as accurate information was hard to get, and the operational units were tightly guarded by the Soviets. It took until the collapse of the Soviet Union for western analysts and armies to gain extra information about the system and its capabilities.
BUK missiles were sold to Syria, Ukraine, India and Poland in small numbers, before in order to pay the massive Soviet era financial debts for Finnish government, the Russian state and the factories responsible for BUK missile production offered the most modern BUK M1 system for the Finnish government in 1994. Finland was the first country in the world, where Russians were willing to sell the whole modernized BUK M1 missile complex with radars, command centers, maintenance units and launchers, not just missiles or radar equipment separately. Due to the economic and domestic political issues in Russia of the early 1990s, the military industrial complex and weapons sales were undoubtedly important for the recently independent state, which was still suffering aftershocks from the collapse of the Soviet economy and government. Also at the same time, the Finnish defense forces were trying to upgrade the navy, land forces and air forces up to the 21st century level, as most of the equipment was from the 1960s or earlier. Budget was tight and all that was needed could not be acquired immediately. The lucrative and cheap trade deal with Russia on the other hand saved a lot of money and made possible to create a modern AA network to the country. In addition to BUK M1 system, Finland also purchased the French Crotale system (ItO 90) and Matra Mistral (ItO91) launchers for the navy ships. Both of these had been a heavy and expensive investment for the country at the grips of record depression and unemployment. In addition to the BUK and French purchases, later the ASRAD-R (ItO05) system was bought from Germany in 2004-2005. This made it possible for the AA units to cover all layers of air defense from automatic cannons to limited anti-ballistic missile interception for the foreseeable future, which in 1988-1989 was determined to be until 2025.
The BUK 9K37 system served the Finnish defense forces from 1996-2015 under the name ItO96. As the main missile system of the Helsinki Anti-aircraft Regiment (HELITR) the system served until 2006, when the independent regiment was disbanded and re-established in the Armored Brigade on January 1st 2007. The system served the Armored Brigade until 2012-2015, when the BUK system was gradually phased out from frontline use after the introduction of. the Norwegian NASAMS II system (ItO12). Some units remained in storage for war time use according to the media reports after 2014, when the long conflict in Ukraine first began.
In foreign countries the BUK M1 system and its Chinese copy HQ-16 is operated by several countries. The more modern M2 and M3 upgrades are also operated by many nations, including Russian Federation and the Ukraine, who both use the system in the current Russo-Ukrainian war as of 2023. The M3 system was begun to be fielded by the Russians just before the attack, and some units may have been captured by the Ukrainian defenders by now. Other operators of the various BUK systems and its Chinese HQ-16 clone include Algeria, Egypt, China, Iran, Georgia, India, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Belarus and Venezuela.
References: Lappi, Ahti Ilmatorjuntaohjukset Suomen Puolustusksessa Ilmatorjuntasäätiö 2009, Lappi, Ahti, Tossavainen, Keijo Tähtien Sotaa Ilmatorjuntasäätiö 2021, Palmu Pentti, Yön Yli Päivään – Suomen ilmatorjunnan vaiheita 1925–1990, Ilmatorjuntaupseeriyhdistys Ry, 1989; Archives of the Anti-Aircraft Museum