Recently, both sides involved in the fighting in Syria have accused the other of chemical weapons (CW) use. Remnants of similar items were found in two alleged chemical attacks in Saraqeb, Idlib and Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo. Eliot Higgins has gone into a little more detail on the items in question. Whilst the munitions can not be conclusively identified, they do not appear to match any known CW delivery devices, including known smaller devices intended for special operations. Less than an hour ago, Jeffry Ruigendijk published a series of photos on his website, showing a fighter from the Al-Nusra Front (an Al Qaeda-associated rebel group in Syria) with what appears to be one of the grenades in question.
Arms & Munitions ID
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.
This screenshot, a frame taken from the YouTube video seen below, shows a fighter of the Mouvement pour le Tawhîd et du Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) in Mali holding a 9K32 or 9K32M Man Portable Air Defence System (MANPADS). From the blurry video it is difficult to determine whether this is a 9K32 (NATO reproting name: SA-7a) or 9K32M (SA-7b) system, both produced in the former Soviet Union, or a foreign variant. It is clear, however, that both the gripstock and Battery Coolant Unit (BCU) are present. MUJAO are associated with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, and Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s brigade, and are listed on the United Nations Al-Qaida Sanctions List.
The rest of the video contains little of interest in terms of materiel, with MUJOA fighters seen armed with a typical assortment of AK-pattern assault rifles (including at least two Chinese Type 56-2 rifles), DShKM heavy machine guns, and so on. The video also shows MUJAO fighters using a handful of Soviet-era armoured vehicles, including a BRDM-2 and a BTR-60, both equipped with 14.5×114 KPVT heavy machine guns
My thanks to Aris Roussinos for spotting this video.
Anza Mk-II Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) have been observed in Libya. A source working with an NGO in Libya, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent me the images featured in this piece. These images were taken in 2011 at arms depots wrested from government control by rebel forces. The Anza Mk-II, developed at the Dr A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta, is a derivative of the Chinese QW-1, first developed in the early 1990s. It was introduced to Pakistan’s armed forces in 1994, and features a slant range of approximately 5km, a maximum engagement altitude of around 4km, and a missile speed of approximately 600m/s. The Anza Mk-II missile features a solid-fuel booster and solid-fuel sustainer motor, weighs 10.68kg, and contains around 550g of High Explosive (HE).
The Anza Mk-II constitutes a greater threat than the SA-7b systems that make up the bulk of MANPADS identified in Libya. Nonetheless, it poses only a moderate danger to modern fighter aircraft. How these missiles ended up in Libya is not clear, with Malaysia being the only known export customer of the system. Anza Mk-I missiles have, however, been recovered by the Indian military from militants in Kashmir.
Anza Mk-II missile launch tubes are seen alongside 9K32M (SA-7b) and 9K338 (SA-24) tubes in a captured arms depot.
The Federation of American Scientists has some more information, here.
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.
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.