The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) used the nickname "Scud B" when referring to the Soviet-made, mobile, single-stage, single-warhead, liquid-fueled, short-range ballistic missile (originally designated by the Soviets as the R-17). Within the intelligence community, it also carried the designation SS-1c (SS for surface-to-surface). The Soviets developed this missile from an earlier version (Scud A) fielded in the 1950s, which they based in turn on the infamous German V-2 of World War II. The Scud B model first appeared with Soviet operational forces in 1962.[2]

The Soviet Union provided Iraq with Scuds mounted with conventional warheads during the 1970s and 1980s.[3] During its war with Iran, Iraq first developed modified or "stretched" Scuds, resulting in the Al Hussein model, with enough propellant and range to reach Iran’s capital of Tehran. Because Baghdad is closer to the Iran-Iraq border than Tehran, Iran was able to reach Baghdad from much closer range with their Scuds and did not need longer-range missiles. The Al Hussein closed the "missile gap." During the seven-week "war of the cities" in early 1988, Iraq’s Scuds rained terror on Tehran and other Iranian cities while Iran used unmodified Scud Bs against Baghdad and other targets in Iraq. Iraq’s missiles with high explosive warheads killed about 2,000 Iranians and injured 6,000. Over a quarter of the population of ten million fled Tehran. In April of 1988, Iran ended its Scud attacks on Iraq and subsequently negotiated for peace.[4] In the wake of his success with the modified Scud, Saddam Hussein sought further improvements with the Al Abbas and the Al Hijarah models.


Coalition forces knew the ballistic missiles that Iraq developed from Soviet Scud Bs as "Scuds," regardless of Iraq’s Arabic names for their longer-range variants. For this reason, we have used the same shorthand in this paper. Iraq fired mainly the Al Hussein model at the Kuwait theater of operations and Israel.

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Figure 1.  Scud missile components[5]

Figure 1[5] diagrams the basic components of Iraq’s Scuds. Regardless of the variants—original Scud B, Al Hussein, Al Abbas, or Al Hijarah—all of Iraq’s Scuds were liquid fueled, short-range ballistic missiles with a crude guidance system. Unsophisticated gyroscopes guided the missile only during powered flight—which lasted about 80 seconds for the Al Hussein variant.[6] Once the rocket motor shut down, the entire missile with the warhead attached coasted unguided to the target area.[7] Consequently, Scuds had notoriously poor accuracy, and the farther they flew, the more inaccurate they became.[8]

Table 1 reflects key data on Iraq’s ballistic missiles including the Scud B acquired from the USSR and the three variants produced by Iraq by modifying the original Scud configuration.

Table 1. Characteristics of Iraq’s selected missiles [9]


Scud B

Al Hussein

Al Abbas

Al Hijarah

Length (ft.)





Diameter (in.)





Warhead Wt (lbs.)




About 550

Max Range (mi.)




Iraq claimed 466

Accuracy (CEP)[10] (mi.)





Gulf War Involvement

None fired

All but 5 fired were this model

Development stopped in 1990 – none fired

Iraq claimed 5 fired

All of Iraq’s Scuds used kerosene as the fuel and some form of red fuming nitric acid, probbly inhibited red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA)[11] as the oxidizer. Iraq told the United Nations Special Commission inspectors after the war that they had not experimented with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH), a more powerful (and toxic) fuel than kerosene, for their Scuds, which would require engine redesign. However, inspectors subsequently uncovered evidence that Iraq did experiment with UDMH,[12] but this investigation found no evidence that Iraq switched to UDMH during the Gulf War.

To extend the Scud’s range, Iraq cut Scud Bs apart and inserted airframe sections from these missiles into other Scud Bs to increase the capacities of the fuel and oxidizer tanks from about 8,700 pounds to about 11,000 pounds.[13] Iraq also reduced warhead weight from 2,200 pounds to less than 1,100 pounds. (See Table 1 above.)

In 1991, Iraq had three kinds of mobile Scud launchers for its operational Scud models.[14] Other support vehicles included cranes, separate tanker trucks for fuel and oxidizer, command and control vans, and missile resupply vehicles.[15]

Iraq’s modifications to the Scud Bs created flight stability problems. Unlike more modern ballistic missile designs, the Scud’s warhead does not detach from the rest of the missile after the boost phase (the period when the rocket motor fires and accelerates the missile). The missile body reenters the atmosphere still attached to the warhead. The changes in the center of gravity and weight distribution between the modified warhead and missile body, plus the added speed and subsequent increase in atmospheric heating during reentry, made the missiles unstable and often caused them to disintegrate before impact. Such break-ups degraded accuracy by changing missile trajectory. Iranian reports about Al Hussein attacks during the Iran-Iraq war noted that the missiles frequently broke into pieces. Coalition and Israeli reports about Gulf War Scud attacks contained similar observations (see Section V below).

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