Pilots and Tank Crews Hate This Missile Designer
You don’t know his name, but you know his weapons
You’ve probably never heard of Sergey Pavlovich Nepobedimy. A recent photo of him shows just another elderly Russian gentleman with a chestful of Soviet medals.
But many of you know of Sergey Pavlovich Nepobedimy’s handiwork.
If airport security is tighter now, it is because Nepobedimy developed the SA-7 Strela, the famous shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile that enables a terrorist to shoot down an airliner.
If you’re a tank crewman, you know to work closely with infantry and artillery, or else risk destruction by anti-tank missiles. Nepobedimy developed the wire-guided AT-3 Sagger and other anti-tank weapons.
Nepobedimy, who died last month at the age of 92, has a slew of missiles to his credit. There are about 20 missiles and variants listed on his Wikipedia biography page, while a Russian Website states there were 28 missiles.
These include the Sagger, the Strela and the more advanced SA-18 Grouse anti-aircraft missiles and the AT-6 Spiral and AT-9 Spiral-2 helicopter-launched anti-tank weapons. In addition, he also developed the Arena tank defense system, which detonates explosive charges to destroy incoming anti-tank rockets.
As is often the case with Soviet-era weapons developers, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of information about the life of Nepobedimy (which means “invincible” in Russian).
He was born in Ryazan, Russia in 1921, graduated from college at the end of World War II, and became the boss and chief designer of the Kolomna Mechanical Engineering Design Bureau from 1965 to 1989.
From his missileer’s workshop at Kolomna came a stream of weapons that helped transform warfare from the World War II era into the age of smart weapons.
Nepobedimy was not the only designer of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. There have been numerous such weapons, including the U.S. TOW and French Milan anti-tank rockets, and the U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missile.
But the massive destruction of Israeli armor by Sagger missiles in the 1973 October War was a wake-up call that the era of cheap but smart weapons that could destroy expensive tanks had arrived.
Israeli tank crews quickly learned to overcome these weapons by using combined arms tactics, but modern warfare had permanently changed. Today’s tanks sheathe themselves in thicker armor and more sophisticated defensive systems, and in the process have become much more costly.
Thanks to man-portable anti-aircraft weapons like the SA-7, aircraft and helicopters have become much careful about providing close air support, while giving the previously hapless infantry a means to defend themselves against threats from above.
One of the virtues of the A-10 Warthog attack plane is that it was expressly designed to survive hits from weapons like the Strela.
Unfortunately, shoulder-fired missiles also give any terrorist a chance to shoot down a civilian airliners and cargo planes with a single shot, as happened with the Air Rhodesia flight shot down by guerrillas in 1979, killing 59 people.
Nepobedimy leaves a mixed legacy. But he definitely made his mark on history.