books by mike gruntman Mike's books

videos by mike gruntman Mike's videos on satellite orbits

Reviews of

Intercept 1961. The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense.

intercept 1961 by mike gruntman

Mike Gruntman

Intercept 1961. The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense.

AIAA, Reston, Va., 2015

Intercept 1961 on Amazon

Air et Cosmos, No. 2480, p. 39, 11 December 2015

Air et Cosmos (20,000 subscriptions worldwide) is the French equivalent
of Aviation Week and Space Technology

Air et Cosmos, No. 2480, 11 December 2015

Soviet missile intercepts remain to this day poorly known … to specialists. Professor of astronautics at the University of Southern California and member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics … Mike Gruntman has filled the gap. Rich in illustrations and schematics never published in open literature, his study describes origins of defense against ballistic missiles, providing details on persons of various involved design bureaus, characteristics of test ranges, technical details of missiles and their performance. The book is a true mine of information for enthusiasts …

Review by: PFM

Air Power History, 22 December 2015

Air Power History is the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation

Now, almost a quarter-century after publication of The Origins of SDI, 1944–1983 Don Baucom's acclaimed history of U.S. missile defense University of Southern California astronautics professor Mike Gruntman has narrated, for the first time in American English, the origins and early history of Soviet ballistic missile defense.

Professor Gruntman's Intercept 1961 takes historians, engineers, and other interested readers from the design of Soviet antiaircraft missiles, air defense systems, and work on a missile tracking radar in the late 1940s into the formulation of ballistic missile defense concepts in the 1950s. The book explains how, despite professional rivalries and "political scheming" among key individuals, chief designers, and top government officials in the totalitarian state, work on the missile defense system antimissiles, radars, computing power, and command capabilities progressed and was tested at Sary-Shagan in the Kazakhstan desert. Finally, on 4 March 1961, the Soviet Union successfully used a non-nuclear antimissile to intercept an intermediate range ballistic missile and destroy its warhead.

Gruntman reminds his audience that he could not have researched and written this incredibly detailed volume without the large quantity of Russian-language source material that became available after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Perusal of publication dates in his footnotes and bibliography, which contain citations for numerous memoirs and technical journals, confirms this. Access to declassified U.S. intelligence reports and photoreconnaissance imagery aerial and satellite enabled him to construct a narrative about what the United States knew that parallels the evolving Soviet story. This makes the unfolding tale especially intriguing. Inclusion of a brief history of "First U.S. Missile Intercepts" in Appendix A of Gruntman's volume adds additional context to his account of the quest for a Soviet missile defense capability.

Intercept 1961 even sets the stage for a follow-on study to convey in greater detail the evolution of the Soviet missile defense system into 21st-century Russia and to explore in equally great detail the relationship of that system to the pursuit of antisatellite weapons, ballistic missile early warning, and space-based weapons. Gruntman offers sufficient information to whet even the least curious reader's appetite for more. His introduction of the role played by "Soviet princelings" during the development of the Soviet missile defense system also leaves me wondering about the influence, for better or worse, of that phenomenon across all Soviet enterprises and the extent to which it has survived in today's Russia.

Thanks to Gruntman's scholarly diligence, analytical skills, masterful ability to translate Russian texts, and superb writing style, we have a technically dense but easily comprehensible account of the roots of a system that remains an active bulwark in Russia's defensive infrastructure. As he suggests early in his narrative, Soviet political and military leaders always recognized the "selective virtue of defense," and after more than a half-century, their successors remain cognizant of "the eternal competition between the sword and the shield." Intercept 1961 makes this unquestionably clear.

Review by:
Dr. Rick W. Sturdevant, Deputy Command Historian,
HQ Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado

AmazonAmazon    Amazon, 8 January 2016

Amazing level of detail supported by an absolutely huge number of historical documents and unique photos! Must read for anyone with even remote interest in rocket science, cold war and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. Very special overtones added by the fact that the author – he is a Professor of Astronautics at the USC – has grown up in Tyuratam (Baikonur) – that has been the main Soviet launchpad. Very unique and strongly recommended!

Review by: VL

The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 160-161, 2016

The Journal of Slavic Military Studies investigates all aspects of security military affairs in the Slavic nations of central and eastern Europe in historical and geopolitical context. Until 1993, the journal was known as The Journal of Soviet Military Studies.

J Slavic Military Studies, v. 29, No.1, 2016

Mike Gruntman, who grew up on the Tyuratam (Baikonur) missile range and space launch base during the 1950s and early 1960s, is a professor of astronautics and founder of a space engineering program at the University of Southern California. In Intercept 1961, Gruntman covers the early years of Soviet air and missile defense programs but also a great deal more. He traces the Soviet strategic missile defense program from its beginnings through various stages of development, including the A-35, A-35M, and A-135 systems subsumed under PRO (Protivoraketnaya Oborona). Throughout, Gruntman explains the technical and scientific challenges facing anti-missile and air defense system developers who were confronted with the possibility of strategic air and missile attacks. This discussion is supported by a uniquely informative collection of supporting evidence, including photographic materials from US and Soviet sources. The author's interpretation, processing, and analyzing of these materials yields rich insights.

In addition to his grasp of technical and scientific issues, Professor Gruntman also considers the Soviet decision-making process related to the testing, development, and deployment of missile and air defenses. Politics enters into the choices by party and government leaders among design bureaus and their proposed technical systems. Design bureaus compete for political influence by coveting access to members of the Soviet nomenklatura in order to support their candidate missile and defense systems. For example, in the early 1960s, Vladimir Chelomei expanded his portfolio of missile defense, anti-satellite weapons, and space systems, among other activities, in part by employing Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. As one Soviet expert scientist specializing in missile defenses and quoted by Professor Gruntman noted with respect to the politicization of technical policy questions:

This was the way the decisions on missile defense were also made. When Khrushchev was the leader, then Chelomei was right with his (global national missile defense system) Taran. Khrushchev left (the leadership position, ousted in 1964), but (responsible for the defense industry in the CPSU) Ustinov remained, so Kisun'ko was now right with his deep modernization of the A-35, and volumes of the Taran proposal (and associated studies) went (figuratively) into the stove. (p. 223)

Politics notwithstanding, the Soviet missile defense effort eventually grew into a 'gigantic enterprise' with spillover research institutes, industrial plants, design bureaus, and military units. It also contributed to complementary efforts in military space systems (including anti-satellite weapons), air defense, and ballistic missile early warning systems. Even the end of the Soviet Union did not end Russian interest in strategic missile defense. Post-Soviet Russia deployed the new operational A-135 missile defense system for the protection of Moscow.

Despite the ambitious scientific and technical efforts by the Cold War Soviets and Americans to develop and deploy strategic missile defenses, the search for defenses that would be viable against expected threats and cost-effective at the margin proved insufficient to the challenge. But the end of the Cold War has seen continuing ballistic missile defense (BMD) research and development by the United States and Russia and the deployment by the United States of a national missile defense system (beginning in 2004) and American components of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) for the defense of NATO Europe. Even if technology falls short of providing preclusive national missile defenses for countries with large populations and territories, it seems feasible to deploy complexes of land- and sea-based and airborne systems, with supporting spacebased assets for command-control, communications, intelligence, and reconnaissance that could deflect light attacks and accidental or unsanctioned launches.

The Soviet missile defense story, as elegantly told by Gruntman, is one that shows the ingenuity and perseverance of scientists and engineers against tough odds and regardless of the inertial drag created by their political context. I strongly recommend this excellent book for students of Soviet national security and military history and for others interested in the relationships among policy, strategy, and science and technology in the behavior of great powers.

Review by:
Dr. Stephen J. Cimbala, Distinguished Professor, Political Science,
Penn State University, Brandywine

AmazonAmazon    Amazon, 28 March 2016

Excellent account of the development of the USSR anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems from the 1940s through about the 1980s. The book title is actually a bit misleading. This is not just a dry story of an event that occurred one day in 1961. It's a detailed history of the entire background to what the Soviets did to accomplish that item. It discusses personalities involved, design bureaus, scientific research institutes, Ministries, political leaders and their roles, and industrial organizations. It includes much description of the old USSR industrial, research, and organizational structure that evolved to become the Military Industrial complex. In fact, the Soviets even had a formal government/industrial committee to carry out that function: the VPK (Military Industrial Committee). There is also extensive technical discussion of how the Soviets solved the theoretical, research, and engineering problems involved in developing the necessary missiles, tracking and scanning radars, communication systems, and computer systems. The book also includes the development of the Soviet missile testing and rocket launching facilities at Kasputin Yar in Russia and Tyuratam and Shary Shagan in modern day Kazakstan.There is also much information on what the Americans knew about all this by means of radio and telemetry eavesdropping from secret bases in Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. There are numerous photos from Amercian U-2 overflights from 1956-1960 and from the early spy satellites such as Corona and Big Bird. There is also information on related Soviet ICBM and IRBM missile programs and their associated organization leaders such as Yangel and Cholomei.

Review by: Bayard B.

The Russian Review, Vol. 75, No. 2, pp. 333, 334, April 2016

The Russian Review is a major academic journal of Russian studies. It publishes scholarly articles and book reviews in the areas of history, literature, film, fine arts, culture, society, and politics of the peoples of Russia.

The Russian Review, v. 75, No. 2, 2016

The history of American and Soviet nuclear armament is normally told in terms of two related developments: the nuclear weapons themselves and the offensive vehicles - missiles and bombers - that delivered those weapons. Conventional narratives give short shrift to the role of defenses, including radars, fighter interceptors, anti-aircraft weapons, and anti-ballistic missiles (ABM), prior to the 1980s. Then, President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, colloquially known as "Star Wars," destabilized nuclear deterrence and encouraged the Soviet Union to experiment with its own defenses, culminating in a failed 1987 attempt to orbit a Soviet space battle station.

Contrary to this summarized version of the nuclear arms race, both superpowers dedicated considerable effort to ABM defenses, limited only by an ABM Treaty signed in 1972 and abrogated thirty years later by the administration of George W. Bush. Given the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, the complexities of missile defense remain relevant even today.

This neglected field is the subject of Mike Gruntman's Intercept 1961. The founding professor of the space engineering program at the University of Southern California, Gruntman is a prolific writer on many aspects of space technology, especially the Soviet Union's efforts in this arena. He spent part of his childhood living on the Tyuratam (Baikonur) missile range, which helps explain his fascination with these topics.

At its most basic level, Intercept 1961 describes the technical details of how Soviet scientists mated radars, early computers, high-speed communications, and interceptor missiles during the 1950s and 1960s. Although many figures appear in this account, the protagonist is Grigorii Vasil'evich Kisun'ko (1918-98), designer of Moscow’s first ABM system. The author also traces the labyrinth of competing design agencies and programs involved in Soviet missile defense, including the construction of the vast Saryshagan test range in what is now Kazakhstan. The Soviet regime not only devoted extensive resources to this site, but, as part of realistic testing, detonated five nuclear warheads in the upper atmosphere above the range. It was at Saryshagan that Kisun'ko achieved the event referred to in the title, the first successful Soviet intercept of a ballistic missile warhead. The timing of this feat was important, because in 1959 the US had increased the threat to the USSR by fielding its first liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) design, the Atlas. Within a decade, however, both sides had added multiple warheads delivered by each ICBM booster, making missile defense far more complex and problematic.

One of the fascinating aspects of Gruntman's account is the role of "Soviet Princelings," the privileged children of senior government officials who were able to allocate or deny scientific resources. Gruntman begins, for example, with Sergo Lavrentievich Beria, son of Joseph Stalin's security chief and enforcer. After defending a master's project plagiarized from a German rocket system, in 1947 the twenty-three-year-old Sergo became director of a new armaments agency created just for him, Special Bureau No. 1 (SB-1, later KB-1). This new bureau got its choice of both Soviet scientists and abducted German technicians, initiating a number of early missile projects including the S-75 anti-aircraft missile that later shot down the U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers. Meanwhile, Sergo achieved both levels of scientific doctorate on an accelerated schedule, only to be reassigned when his father was arrested after Stalin's death.

Thereafter, KB-1 went through a bewildering series of bureaucratic reorganizations, acquiring a number of competing designers. When G. I. Kisun'ko, one of these designers, received control of the Moscow missile defense project, a more senior designer, A. I. Mints, attempted to take over that effort, and hindered Kisun'ko when the latter declined to work for him. To further complicate matters, one of Kisun'ko's subordinates refused to hire the son of Soviet First Secretary N. S. Khrushchev. Their ABM project encountered numerous bureaucratic obstacles as a result. Belatedly learning of his subordinate’s mistake, Kisun'ko fumed: "Are you an idiot or a provocateur? - I asked Elizarenkov. - Don't you understand that your stunt became known to Nikita Sergeevich [Khrushchev] as originating not from you personally but from me, the Chief Engineer? ... don't you understand that all turbulence suffered by our organization [including ferocious administrative fights with competing Chief Designers] are the direct consequence of your idiotic stunt?" (p. 246)

In 1963 the Soviet government reduced Kisun'ko's resources and assigned the next stage of missile defense to V. N. Chelomei, creator of the SS-11 missile. After Khrushchev was deposed the next year, Chelomei lost his backing and Kisun'ko’s program resumed. Kisun'ko became the scientific deputy head of the Central Scientific-Industrial Association in 1970, only to be forced out in another reorganization five years later. Such unpredictable political changes not only hampered Soviet weapons developments but almost stymied U.S. intelligence efforts to predict those developments.

This is a fascinating book, although the author changes topic frequently, often without transition sentences. It is unclear whether these abrupt shifts in direction are due to composition issues or simply to the racing mind of an expert who is very familiar with his subject. In either event, such writing sometimes makes it difficult for the reader to follow Professor Gruntman through a complex field of study. Nonetheless, those who persevere in seeking to understand Intercept 1961 will reap the rewards of a fuller grasp of both the science and the bureaucracy of Soviet missile defense.

Review by:
Jonathan M. House
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

Secret Projects Forum,

Other Resources => Bookshelf & Marketplace => Topic started by: SOC on July 09, 2016, 11:01:26 pm

Secret Projects Forum is a major online forum focused on unbuilt projects, military and aerospace technology.
"The Online Mos Eisley Cantina for Aerospace Geeks"  –  Bill Sweetman, Aviation Week and Space Technology

secret projects forum

Full title is Intercept 1961 - The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense. By Mike Gruntman, a hardcover AIAA publication. Picked this up today, thanks to the awesome power of Amazon's same day delivery service.

This is basically the story leading up to the 1961 ABM tests out of Sary Shagan. There's some discussion of follow-on work like the S-225 and System A-135, but most of it deals with the personalities and programs that led to the first ABM intercept in 1961 and the deployment of System A-35 around Moscow.

An early chapter also covers the deployment of the S-25 around Moscow as well; its inclusion relates later to the overall Moscow air defense network, including the forthcoming System A-35.

There are a ton of great declassified satellite photos and CIA site diagrams.

If it has one fault, it's that there's not enough attention given to the development of the A-350 interceptor for System A-35, it basically gets a sentence. Also, while Dal is mentioned in a few places in context with air defense developments, it would've been nice to see it deconflicted with the V-1000 ABM interceptor used in the 1961 test, as the two are often confused in many other publications. Basically I think this could've been a significantly larger volume, but for what it is it's very well done.

Seriously recommended; while you can get a lot more information and backstory out of many Russian language sources, this is a must-read if you're restricted to the English language. Plus, most of the great Russian material is used as reference material by the author, so a lot of the big points are mentioned.

Review by:
Senior Member
July 09, 2016, 11:01:26 pm

Bulletin of Israel Society of Aeronautics & Astronautics (BIAF)  –  Israel Aerospace Magazine

Founded in 1951, Israel Society of Aeronautics & Astronautics is the main professional organization of aerospace specialists in Israel

BIAF bulletin

(Translation of excerpts from the review by a colleague of mine  –  thank you!)

The excellent book series of the American organization AIAA deals with important development programs, technologies and flight and space sciences. It published last year a unique book about the beginnings of the defense system against ballistic missiles in the Soviet Union …

The book contains a detailed review of the decision process that led to development of the active defense system around Moscow, the technological history of the program, development of necessary technologies, and internal conflicts among various Soviet research and development organizations. In parallel, the author describes the information gathering efforts of different branches of the American intelligence community about the Soviet Union [related to air and missile defense] …

The variety of details in the book is breathtaking, and it is recommended to anyone interested in the history of military technology in general and active defense in particular.

The book contains a large number of interesting photographs of Soviet defense systems and also photographs of the Soviet [air and missile defense] facilities taken from U-2 planes and American surveillance satellites. The appendix summarizes the [early] American effort to develop technologies for missile interception that later led to the development and deployment of the Safeguard system.

Review by:
Uzi Rubin
Head of Israel's Missile Defense Organization from 1991–1999
March, 2016

Aerospace  –  magazine of the Royal Aeronautical Society

Established in 1866, The Royal Aeronautical Society has been at the forefront of developments in aerospace, seeking to promote the highest professional standards and provide a central forum for sharing the main professional organization of aerospace specialists in Israel

Aerospace October 2016

Intercept 1961. The Birth of Soviet Missile Defense

… The book concentrates on the development of the Russian Missile Defense systems that were to protect Moscow, briefy mentioning (in an Annex) that the US missile defense approach was more for the protection of deployed forces …

… [T]he Russian approach was to develop the almost impossible – to "hit a bullet with a bullet". The advantages are clearly set out, along with extensive description of the test infrastructure necessary to develop and demonstrate the capability, a non-nuclear option. Coupled with declassifed imagery from CIA-sponsored U-2 spy-plane fights and reconnaissance satellites, the Russian Test Range in Kazakhstan is assembled and the resultant defense shield is installed around the Russian capital…

The twists and turns of the political situation, including the ousting of Nikita Khrushchev at a critical time, are described, as well as the developmental path that led, through the A-35 system, to the A-135 system currently protecting Moscow … This book maps out this amazing achievement [of a successful missile engagement with a non-nuclear warhead of an incoming ICBM on 4 March 1961] and, in places, makes compelling reading. As necessary in a comprehensive historical account though, there are passages of detail less easy to digest.

This book is essential reading for the reader/scholar who wishes to understand not only the political landscape of the late 1950s/early 1960 against which the Russian missile defense system prevailed but also the system infrastructure and incredible advances in digital computing on a distributed network that was made possible at the time. The author who was born and raised on a Soviet Cosmodrome related to the test infrastructure in Kazakhstan and his current position as a Professor of Aeronautics has impeccable qualifications to tell this story from a position of strength and personal knowledge.

This story has not been told as comprehensively as this before.

Review by:
Tim Marshall
October, 2016

New reviews will be posted as become available

rocket equation coffee mug for rocket scientists    rocket equation mousepad for rocket scientists    rocket equation T-shirt for rocket scientists    baikonur launch site tyuratam missile range coffee mug    missile defense coffee mug    saryshagan missile defense test site sticket

other space and rocket science stuff