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.
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.
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.
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.
I am currently reading Peter Birchall’s The Longest Walk, a fascinating look at the world of EOD and related work in the British Army. It is a little dated (1997), but full of rich history, solid research, and amusing anecdotes nonetheless. One such anecdote highlights the importance of following basic safety principles, regardless of an operator’s experience.
A salutary story recounted by a member of the trade, who served in North Africa long after the end of the Second World War; one of his tasks was to make safe any old German equipment reported by the wandering nomads. One such reported a tank complete with the remains of its long deceased crew.
No one in the team was really keen to enter the tomb to remove the unused ammunition, so a few incendiary grenades dropped through the open hatch seemed to be an acceptable solution. The team then retired to the top of a nearby sand dune to watch the result. Most spectacular, until to their horror they realised there may have been one up the spout and their vantage point was in a direct line with the gun barrel… How it missed none can tell…
Photo copyright Time Life