A comment brings us news about the RAF Hercules that was destroyed on election day in Iraq. (Thanks - you know who you are.) Apparently it is now thought that it met its end at the hands of a Soviet-made SA-4 Ganef SAM, in some modified form. That would explain some things - the engagement at unexpectedly high altitude (the maximum altitude is 43,200 feet - a serious problem if true) and the total destruction of the plane, for example. But, as an explanation, it contains some serious difficulties. Briefly, the SA-4 (which was one of the systems provided by the USSR to Egypt and North Vietnam, both of whom used them with considerabe success) is a large heavy-technology beast of a thing. The rocket itself is some 8.3 or 8.8 metres long depending on version, mounted in pairs atop an armoured, tracked vehicle the size of a tank. It beggars, or possibly buggers, credibility that these are simply wandering around Iraq under the noses of coalition forces.
Further, the complete set-up is far from unobtrusive. The "You will need.." list for the SA4 includes (deep breath) a Long Track target-acquisition radar truck with a parabolic aerial as wide as the truck is long and about 18 feet high, a Pat Hand fire-control radar mounted on the same kind of tank chassis as the rockets, and possibly also a Thin Skin height-finder radar on an articulated lorry. If you intend to fire off more than two rockets, you will need either another launcher or a huge articulated truck for the spare rockets and another six-wheel-drive wagon with a specially designed crane to help you reload. You'll also need a hundred or so mates.
It's even more excessive than a bunch of City investment bankers on a grouse shoot. They only need an extra Range Rover for the picnic and cocaine. Mind you, if you painted all those vehicles black and wore sunglasses, most people would probably take you for a really bizarre rock band's tour bus. But then, that ain't an option in Iraq.
So - surely they can't be using them? Well, there is an option that might let you dispense with the entourage - when the heroes of the scientific-technical intelligentsia down at the Lyulev Design Bureau thought this lot up, it was already becoming clear that electronic countermeasures - radar jamming - would be a serious problem. Further, one answer to the other side's radar is to use something that homes in on the radar transmissions themselves, so it can be useful to have the option of keeping the radars off until needed. So, they designed in an electro-optical tracking device as a back up. That is, a sight that the operators point at the target, wired to a computer that converts their movement into signals beamed to the rocket. Simple (as long as you can see the target). No radar, no jamming, no traffic jam required.
That leaves, of course, one problem with this theory - it still involves something as big as a tank with two huge rockets on top.