ZSU-23-4

The ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" is a lightly armored, self-propelled, radar guided anti-aircraft weapon system (SPAAG). The acronym "ZSU" stands for Zenitnaya Samokhodnaya Ustanovka (Russian: Зенитная Самоходная Установка), meaning "anti-aircraft self-propelled mount"; the "23" signifies the bore diameter in millimeters; the "4" signifies the number of gun barrels. It is named after the Russian Shilka River. Afghan soldiers nicknamed it the "sewing machine" due to the sound of firing guns and because of the similarity of the name "Shilka" to the Russian word "Шилка". It is also referred to by its nickname of "Zeus."

ZSU-23-4
Class Vehicle
Type Self-Propelled artillery
Manufacturer MMZ
Production Period 1964 - 1982
Origin Russia (USSR)
Country Name Origin Year
Russia (USSR) 1962
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Russia (USSR) 1962 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
MMZ 1964 1982 6500 View

The previous Soviet self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG), the ZSU-57-2, was armed with two 57 mm autocannons; it was aimed optically using a basic tracking and lead calculating system. The ZSU-57-2 was not particularly successful despite its very powerful autocannons; it could only carry a relatively small amount of ammunition, was inaccurate as it lacked radar and could not fire while on the move.

The ZPU series armed with 14.5 mm heavy machine guns carried on a towed mount for stationary, point air defence had a much higher rate of fire. The 23 mm version of this weapon system was known as the ZU-23-2, a towed mount carrying two 23 mm cannons. However, these towed or improvised truck-mounted weapons had similar disadvantages.

The development of the ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" began in 1957 along with ZSU-37-2 "Yenisei" and the vehicle was brought into service in 1965, replacing all ZSU-57-2s in air defense units toward the beginning of the 1970s. The ZSU-23-4 was intended for AA defense of military facilities, troops, and mechanized columns on the march; originally, the more powerful guns of "Yenisei" were judged to be effective at covering the inner dead-zone of Soviet surface-to-air missile systems despite the increased weight of the vehicle, but commonality prevailed. Initially, tank regiments should have had the anti-aircraft artillery battalion of "Shilka" (consisting of two batteries, four ZSU-23-4s in each). At the end of the 1960s, one battery was equipped with ZSU-23-4s and the other with ZSU-57-2s. Motorized rifle and tank regiment standard anti-aircraft batteries consisted of two platoons later (one platoon was equipped with four ZSU-23-4s and another with four mobile surface-to-air missile systems 9K31 Strela-1 or 9K35 Strela-10). The ZSU-23-4 combined a proven radar system, the non-amphibious chassis based on GM-575 tracked vehicle, and four 23 mm autocannons. This delivered a highly effective combination of mobility with heavy firepower and considerable accuracy. The ZSU-23-4 outclassed all NATO anti-aircraft guns at the time, and it is still regarded as posing a major threat for low-flying fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

The system was widely fielded throughout the Warsaw Pact and among other pro-Soviet states. Around 2,500 ZSU-23-4s, of the total 6,500 produced, were exported to 23 countries. The Soviet Union's successor states continue to manufacture and supply variants of the ZSU-23-4, notably the Ukrainian "Donets" and Polish "Biala" variants.

ZSU-23-4 units saw active service in the Yom Kippur War (1973) and other Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), and the First Gulf War (1990). During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the system was particularly effective against the Israeli Air Force. Israeli pilots attempting to fly low in order to avoid SA-6 missiles were often shot down by ZSU-23-4s as in Operation Doogman 5. During the Soviet-Afghan War ZSU-23-4 units were used widely and to great effect against mujahideen positions in the mountains, the ZSU-23-4's guns being able to elevate much higher than the weapons on BMPs, BTRs, T-55s, or T-62s. They were also used to suppress defensive positions around the presidential palace during the initial coup in Kabul at the start of the Soviet-Afghan war. The Russian Army used the ZSU-23-4 for mountain combat in Chechnya.

Soviet doctrine supplied the vehicle since 1965 in an anti-aircraft artillery battalion of two, four-vehicle platoons for anti-aircraft defence of motor rifle and tank regiments. At the end of the 1960s one platoon was equipped with ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs while another one was still equipped with ZSU-57-2 SPAAGs. ZSU-57-2 was completely replaced with ZSU-23-4 by the beginning of the 1970s. In the 1970s, Soviet motor rifle and tank regiments were equipped with an anti-aircraft missile artillery battery consisting of two platoons, one equipped with four ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs and the other with four 9K31 Strela-1 (SA-9 Gaskin) or later with four 9K35 Strela-10 (SA-13 Gopher) short-range surface-to-air missile systems which cover the dead zones of 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful) surface-to-air missile systems belonging to the divisional level. Since the 1980s Soviet motor rifle and tank regiments were equipped with an anti-aircraft artillery battalion of three batteries (one was equipped with ZSU-23-4 or 9K22 Tunguska SPAAGs, the second one was equipped with 9K35 Strela-10 (SA-13 Gopher) short-range surface-to-air missile systems and the third battery with 9K38 Igla man-portable surface-to-air missiles on IFVs or APCs.

The ZSU-23-4 is very vulnerable to enemy anti-tank missiles, cannons and heavy machine guns; the armour is thin (not exceeding 15 mm) and the exposed wheels, tracks, radar, and gun barrels can easily be damaged in combat. Firing positions of ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs are typically placed near the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) but behind the main forces, usually 600–1000 m behind objectives when on the defensive or 400–600 m behind the leading tanks on the offensive. ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs are divided evenly along the troop columns on the march.

At first each ZSU-23-4 operated in combat autonomously, without target marking from regimental or divisional air defence. In 1978, the PPRU-1 (mobile reconnaissance and control post) was passed into service of the Soviet Army. The PPRU-1 ("Ovod-M-SV") vehicle is based on MT-LBu armoured tracked chassis and it was intended for control of motor rifle or tank regimental anti-aircraft unit equipped with ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs and 9K31 "Strela-1M" mobile surface-to-air missile systems. The PPRU-1 is equipped with "Luk-23" radar and an automatic fire control system associated with the divisional air defence system.

The guns are useful against low-flying aircraft and lightly protected ground targets. Due to its effectiveness against ground targets, ZSU-23-4s have been used in urban environments (e.g., Afghanistan, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Syria and Lebanon). This is primarily because the guns can elevate much higher than a tank or APC cannon, enabling armored units equipped with ZSU-23-4s to return fire against ambushes from above.

A small number of ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs are still in use by the Russian Naval Infantry (specifically the 61st and 175th brigades of the Northern Fleet and the 336th brigade of the Baltic Fleet).

Type Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun
Place of origin  Soviet Union
Service history
In service 1962 – present
Used by See Operators
Wars See Combat history
Production history
Designed 1957 – 1962
Manufacturer Mytishchi Engineering Works (MMZ)
Produced 1964 – 1982
Number built About 6,500
Specifications
Weight 19 tonnes
Length 6.535 m
Width 3.125 m
Height 2.576 m (3.572 m with elevated radar)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, radar operator)
Armor welded steel, 9.2 mm turret, up to 15 mm hull
Main
armament
4 × 23 mm 2A7 autocannons (AZP-23 "Amur" quad automatic anti-aircraft gun), ammunition 2,000 rounds
Engine V-6R, 6-cylinder 4-stroke airless-injection water-cooled 20 litre diesel
280 hp (209 kW) at 2,000 rpm
Power/weight 14.7 hp/tonne (11.0 kW/tonne)
Suspension individual torsion bar with hydraulic shock absorbers of 1st, 5th left and 6th right road wheels
Ground clearance 375 mm
Fuel capacity 515 l
Operational
range
450 km (road), 300 km (off-road)
Speed 50 km/h (road), 30 km/h (off-road)

End notes