Battlefront SA-8 Gecko SAM Platoon Review

Today Lee looks at one of the latest Red Thunder releases, the SA-8 Gecko self propelled Surface to Air Missile launcher.


The SA-8 Gecko was designed to provide the soviet forces with a mobile short range, low altitude SAM system, providing an additional layer of protection over the point-defence Strela system (SA-9 and SA-13).  It is broadly comparable to the Tracked Rapier in so far as it is a command guided missile, requiring the launcher to track the target and provide course corrections the the missile.  However, whereas Rapier required a separate vehicle to carry a search radar (although the launcher vehicle did have an optical tracer to allow for some autonomous capability) and could only command one missile at a time, the Soviets went the whole hog and combined all the search radars onto the launch and command vehicle *and* fitted a second tracking antenna so that two missiles could be commanded at the same time.

Needless to say, that much equipment was not going to go on a single MT-LB chassis, so a larger 6 wheeled chassis was adopted, impacting mobility over terrain.

The SA-8 was upgraded through its life, first upping the missile count from 4 missiles in the open to six in sealed transport/launch tubes and then adding various new systems such as IFF antenna.  The system was often teamed with additional radar vehicles (“Long Track”, “Flat Face” and “Thin Skin” Early warning, acquisition and height finding systems respectively), plus a missile reloader on a similar BAZ wheeled chassis.

The SA-8 was used by the Soviets (and still used by the  subsequent states), plus most Warsaw Pact members, and can also be found, still in-service, further a field in former Soviet client states.  It saw action in the Gulf War with Iraq, the 2011 Libyan war, and by both sides in the  2008 Russo-Georgian conflict and the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

The Model

The box comes with a half platoon (two TEL) and a Unit Card for the Soviet forces.  Sadly there is no East German card to add it to the existing Volksarmee options.

Each TEL comes as a resin hull and turret, plus six white metal road wheels, two launchers and the three parts of the search radar.

The resin components were cleanly cast except a casting oddity on the rear face of the front turret tower.  That was easily cleaned and is largely hidden by the surrounding missile canisters anyway.  The lines and detail were good for a non-CAD sculpted model.  I did like the sense of depth that was given to the the target and missile tracking radars without making them awkward free floating separate components.

Fine from the front

Bit of cleaning on the back

The hull looks good except it seems to have a slight droop towards the rear after the centre wheel (seen better in the side view below).

The metal components were a little disappointing.  The Road wheels were generally clean (as noted in the BRDM review, what happened to the integral cast resin wheels we saw on the Hail?) though two seemed to suffer from some excessive mould bleed.  Thankfully easily cleaned and not bad out of 12 wheels I guess.  The depth of the central hub was pleasing.

The missile canisters were the worse affected.  The two halves of the mould must have shifted so there was a small offset between top and bottom down the long axis of the tubes.  Given the ribbed launched box it was a sod to clean up on the sides although front and back was easier to clean.

All in all, assembly was pretty quick and straightforward , as one would expect for a resin and metal model.  The Road wheels were as fiddly as road wheels ever are (after assembling ten BRDM chassis – plus various jeeps and armoured cars in my Flames of War days, I’ve gotten used to it) but represent the sum total of assembly required for the hull.

The turret fixes the two launch canisters either side and largely sets the angle but there is some room for adjustment which made lining the two sets of tubes up a small task.  There’s plenty of contact area at least so it should be a strong bond once dried.

The search radar was a little fiddly but not hugely so.  I’m a little worried how well it will it fare in a figure case once on the turret.

Assembly was intuitive and conducted without much more than a few glances at the photos of the finished model.

It’s a big beast!  This is it next to a Battlefront plastic BMP-2!

The droop is most visible here.  On a flat surface the centre road wheels don’t make contact with the ground!  The ugly flash line on the canister is also visible.

The missile canisters are tricky to align, leaving mine slightly drooping.  Not sure why the turret looks skewed here,  Its not something I noticed at the time so I suspect some debris is throwing it off.

Again, the white metal parts were a little less cleanly cast than one would normally expect for a fresh model.  Resin detail such as the covers for the water propulsion are well captured generally but some aspects are a little soft or distorted.

In general, I like the model.  I have my normal comment that the lines could be crisper if Battlefront switched to a CAD sculpted master, and the awkward flash on the missile canisters is annoying,  but the Gecko is still very much “top of the game” when it comes to hand sculpted  examples and the model looks good as short and tabletop distances.  Its somewhat a shame that such a nice model will generally be stuck behind a wood/building/hill in a corner of the table really!

In the Game

The SA-8 packs a punch, providing all the hitting power of the British Rapier but with a longer range.  A full four gun battery will put out 12 shots and easily close down the airspace over a 6×4 table.  It is by far the hardest hitting of the Soviet SAM options and certainly more than capable pf making any A-10 that fails its save regret it.
But, and there is a but, its based on an unarmoured chassis of exceptionally poor mobility (other than it floats).  Now, the range and the way that air threat LOS works in Team Yankee means you likely won’t need to move (beyond moving on from reserves) and you should be able to stay out of view of ground threats, but it does pose a consideration in its fielding.

The real issue with the Gecko is cost.  Its a massive 2pts a launcher.  Compared to the 1pt Gopher and 0.5pt Gaskin, the Gecko is struggling to find a place in most 85pt tournament lists.  Its also somewhat inexplicably expensive compared to its NATO counterpart, the Rapier (1.5pt a model) which is bests only in thermal vision rally, range and road dash and does not have the benefits of a (lightly) armoured chassis nor a 3+ skill check! Range is useful but on a typical 6×4 board its of no great benefit over the Rapiers 64″.

If the Gecko came in at a Rapier equivalent 6pts for 4/3pts for 2 then it’d be easier to find a place for it in my tournament list, but a quartet of SA-13 Gopher for the same points as 2 Gecko more than suffices otherwise (more shots, but lower range and fire power).  In larger games, on larger tables, the Gecko and its long range will no-doubt shine.  Anyone who struggles making 4+ firepower checks may feel safer with the Gecko too.

The Damage

A box of two SA-8, complete with unit card, comes to £16.50, RRP or £8.25 a model.  This compares favourably with the only rival I could fine on the web, QRF which comes in at £9.50 a launcher.  Once can probably make an argument that a pair of Gecko is a good SAM investment for a Russian player on a budget compared to two boxes of Gophers!


To summarise, the Battlefront Gecko is probably going to struggle to find a place in most peoples day to day armies due to its high points cost compared to the ubiquitous Gaskin and Gophers, but I expect most Warsaw Pact players will still pick up at least a pair of what is a generally well executed realisation of a very unique looking SAM system.