OTR-21 Tochka is a Soviet-era tactical ballistic missile. It’s been in service with many different countries since 1976, but the most popular version Tockha-U has been used since 1989. While Russia insists that it is not using its Tochka-U systems anymore, Ukraine considers them to be very important weapons.
Tochka, which is called Scarab by NATO, is transported on a 9P129 vehicle, which is 6×6 and has some impressive off-road capabilities. This means that the Tochka-U missile can be launched very quickly and can evade the enemy’s eyes. Tochka-U is just a tactical missile, which means that it doesn’t fly very far. Tochka-U has a range of 120 km and its circular error probable (basically, accuracy) is estimated to be less than 95 meters.
Ukrainian Tochka-U in a military parade in 2018. Image credit: VoidWanderer via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
A lot has been said about HIMARS and M270 – impressive modern multiple launch rocket systems that are used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. These machines are incredibly accurate, and mobile and caused a lot of damage to Russian military infrastructure in the occupied territories of Ukraine. However, the way Ukraine is using its old Tochka-U systems also requires quite a lot of praise.
Russian amphibious assault ship “Saratov” in occupied Berdyansk was reported as destroyed by a Ukrainian attack on 24 March. Later on, Russian sources said that the ship will be repaired, but the damage was significant. And this strike was performed by Tochka-U missiles. At that time Ukraine didn’t have HIMARS. But even this system with standard missiles has a range of 70 km. ATACMS missiles can extend it to 300 km, but the transfer of these weapons to Ukraine is still being discussed. This means that Tochka-U for Ukraine was the weapon of choice to destroy ships and warehouses deep behind the enemy’s lines.
How many Tochka-U systems does Ukraine have? Well, that number is not public, but it is estimated that before the 2022 Russian invasion Ukraine had 40-90 launchers and up to 500 missiles. Russia has them as well and used them against Ukraine.
Tochka-U grid fin, found after a Russian-fired missile was grounded in Ukraine in 2022. Image credit: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)
Interestingly, while Russia is openly using a lot of older weapons, it is denying that it still has Tochka-U in service. This is, of course, not true – open source intelligence has shown multiple times that Russia is using Tochka-U against Ukraine. Furthermore, Ukraine has collected many pieces from exploded Russian-fired Tochka-U missiles. Belarus had 36 Tochka-U launchers and they were likely transferred to Russian forces at the beginning of the invasion. On the other hand, no visual data confirms that Ukraine has destroyed any of the Russian Tochka-U launchers.
Ukraine is likely to use Tochka-U less and less, as this system will be replaced by newer Western weapons. Meanwhile, Russia may start pulling more of these missiles out of storage as the arsenal of other weapons gets depleted.