Following are two more safety sheets I produced for the RRMA, as part of a package provided to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to support their ongoing efforts in Syria. The content of these is drawn largely from previous posts here. There are one-sheets for the ZAB-2.5 incendiary and Sakr Type B submunitions, as well as a general sheet (above) outlining the four different submunitions identified at the time of publication. We have since observed the presence of ShOAB-0.5 submunitions as well, which I will discuss briefly below.
Ammunition & Ordnance
Recently, Sakr 122mm cargo rockets and their submunitions have been observed within Syria. This family of 122mm rockets is designed for use with the Russian BM-21 multiple rocket launcher (the so-called ‘Grad’, or ‘hail’) and other 122mm systems such as the Chinese Type 81 SPRL and Egyptian RL-21 and RC-21 launch vehicles. These surface-to-surface multiple rocket launcher systems are not designed for precise fires, but instead target wide areas; this effect is, of course, even more pronounced when firing submunition-dispensing rockets from these systems. Despite multiple reports to the contrary, these munitions are not Iranian, but were produced in Egypt at the Sakr Factory for Development Industries, a subsidiary of the Egyptian Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI). The AOI logo can be seen very clearly on the rocket in the video below, and the full name along with ‘Sakr Factory’ can be seen printed on the rockets in Arabic in the images at the bottom of this article.
This piece is adapted from an article appearing in Volume 5, Number 1 of the Small Arms Defence Journal.
In September 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Lithgow (New South Wales, Australia) at the invitation of Thales Australia in order to conduct a Test and Evaluation (T&E) of their Enhanced F88 Assault Rifle. This weapon is being developed for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) under the Land 125 Phase 3C program. Pending the results of Department of Defence testing, this rifle will be in the early stages of manufacturing in 2014. A version of the EF88, with several minor differences, is being marketed globally by Thales as the F90, drawing directly on the Australian small arms experience. The EF88 is the latest iteration of the long-serving F88 Austeyr; this updated weapon has been designed and produced more than 20 years after the first F88 rifles entered service in Australia, and over 35 years since the Steyr AUG on which it is based was first designed in Austria. Fundamentally, the EF88 remains much the same as its predecessors: a bullpup-configuration selective fire weapon, chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge, short-stroke piston operated and firing from a closed bolt.
Despite core similarities, the EF88 features a number of improvements designed to make the weapon more user-friendly and more combat effective. Many of these changes were inspired by a combination of operational user input and Defence specifications, whilst others were entirely Thales Australia’s own concepts. In fact, Thales Australia made a corporate decision to exceed the specifications laid out by Defence in Land 125, and have upgraded their operations at Lithgow from ‘build-to-print’ manufacturing to encompass a true Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) capability.
A 9M79-1 missile being fired in Kazakhstan during exercise Combat Commonwealth 2011. Credit: Grigoriy Bedenko.
The 9K79 Tochka (Точка; ‘point’) tactical ballistic missile launcher has been identified in a recent video from Syria, seen below. Whilst the YouTube video misidentifies the system as a ‘Scud’, it is almost certainly a 9K79, also referred to as the OTR-21 (OTR: оперативно-тактический ракетный комплекс, or ‘Tactical-operational Missile Complex’), or by its NATO reporting name, the SS-21 Scarab. This Soviet-produced system has a maximum range of 70km, and a Circular Error Probable (CEP) of approximately 150m. An updated version, the 9K79-1 Tochka-U (Scarab-B), was introduced in the 1980s with a maximum range of 120km and a CEP of approximately 92m. Syria is thought to possess both iterations, having received its first deliveries of the earlier 9K79 (Scarab-A) systems from the USSR in 1983. Syria is suspected of supplying 9K79s to North Korea to be reverse-engineered for use in their domestic missile development program.
Two 9K79 or 9K79-1 tactical ballistic missile systems operating in Syria.
In recent weeks, incendiary weapons have been used with increasing frequency in the Syrian conflict. Aside from ZAB-2.5 incendiary submunitions, and white phosphorus (WP) projectiles, ZAB-100-105 incendiary free-fall bombs have also been observed within Syria.
ZAB-100-105 incendiary bomb, as seen by Human Rights Watch in Syria. Note that the bomb casing has been cut open, possibly so that rebel fighters could retrieve and reuse the incendiary composition. The white markings indicate the munition’s ballistic data.
ZAB stands for Zazhygatelnaya Aviatsionnaya Bomba, or ‘incendiary aircraft bomb’, with such weapons being used to engage a wide range of target structures, especially those housing combustible materials such as fuel and ammunition depots. Personnel, and other materiel and structures, are also potential targets for such weapons. The Soviet/Russian-produced ZAB-100-105 was introduced into the Soviet Air Forces in 1959, and has been sold and distributed to various Soviet client states, and Russian allies and trading partners in the years following. Still in service with the Russian Air Force, the ZAB-100-105 is a simple, robust free-fall incendiary weapon.
Whilst many observers and media sources have been mistaking ZAB-2.5 incendiary submunitions for white phosphorus (WP) munitions, it appears that one incident showcasing limited use of WP has gone largely overlooked. On the 13th of November, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Merkava Mark IV tanks engaged “Syrian mobile artillery units”, in response to mortar rounds fired by Syrian government forces impacting near an Israeli military position, according to an IDF spokesman.
One of our readers pointed out the photograph seen above, taken by photographer Ariel Schalit, which appears to show the explosion of a unitary white phosphorus projectile. Unlike cargo projectiles like the M825A1 projectile (described in this piece), unitary (conventional) WP projectiles contain a solid mass of WP and a central bursting charge. They are typically employed with a point detonating fuze, which functions upon contact with the target. The fuze detonates the central burster, dispersing the WP filler. The video below shows the detonation and dispersal pattern of a conventional WP artillery projectile, in this case a US-made 155mm M110A1 shell.
There have been a number of claims, both from the ground in Syria and from media abroad, that Syrian government forces have been using white phosphorus (WP) munitions to target rebel positions or civilian populations. Unfortunately, these reports appear to be confusing the appearance of ZAB series cluster bomb submunitions (likely ZAB-2.5 submunitions) with that of certain WP munitions. To date, I have seen no evidence of WP use by either side in the Syrian conflict. Update16/12/2012: I have observed what is likely limited use of WP munitions in Syria. More here. Note that many sources are still misidentifying ZAB-2.5 subs (and possibly ZAB series conventional bombs) as WP.
This Al Jazeera report is typical of the claims of WP use I have seen to date. Note that the still image at the end of the report appears to show a WP munition, though this is likely a file photo. If someone knows this not to be the case, please get in touch with me.
RBK-250 cluster bombs, containing ZAB-2.5 submunitions, have recently been identified in Syria. There has been a lot of confusion surrounding both the cluster munitions themselves, and the submunitions, with contrasting and conflicting claims. First and foremost, it is important to note that the RBK-250 ZAB-2.5 250kg cluster bomb, as sighted in Syria, contains three different variations of ZAB-2.5 submunitions: one with an incendiary (thermite) composition, one with a thermite + high explosive composition, and one with a thermite + jellied incendiary composition.
ZAB (Zazhygatelnaya Aviatsionnaya Bomba; incendiary aircraft bomb) series weapons include a range of unitary incendiary bombs as well as submunitions (AKA ‘bomblets’). The RBK-250 ZAB-2.5 cluster bomb contains 48 submunitions in total, with 16 ZAB-2.5 variation 1 submunitions, 16 ZAB-2.5 var.2 submunitions, and 16 ZAB-2.5 var.3 submunitions. The bomb itself will be marked ‘RBK-250 ZAB-2,5’ as seen in the image below (rotated for ease of viewing). Its nominal weight is 250kg (hence the ‘-250’ designation), with an actual ready weight of approximately 194kg. The bomb is 1467-1492mm in length, has a body diameter of 325mm and a wingspan diameter of 410mm, and contains a 0.7kg explosive separation/ignition charge.
When I visited Thales Australia to conduct a T&E of the EF88 assault rifle and ML40AUS grenade launcher in September, I took a few basic photos of the (relatively) new F1A1 ammunition. The cartridge differs from the earlier standard F1 cartridge in several ways, featuring green painted tips, modified case wall thickness, a new propellant AR2210V01, new primer cup design, and a projectile with modified boat tail length and meplat (tip diameter). Some information is available in this Thales presentation.
As part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness of the threat of UXO in Syria, I have recently designed two information sheets on the two varieties of cluster bomb submunitions identified in Syria to date. These are being published under the auspices of the Responsible Researchers of Munitions & Arms (RRMA), a group of which I am a proud founding member. It is our aim to contribute accurate and timely information about arms and ordnance safety, identification, and tracing which is relevant to current conflicts.