As the rebel resistance against Syria’s government intensifies, onlookers and combatants alike are picking apart the regime’s weapon choices. The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti and Bjørn Holst Jespersen break down Syria’s tools of violent counterrevolution.
Bjørn Holst Jespersen (@bjoernen_dk on Twitter) is a long time contributor of The Aviationist. He has helped me preparing the daily reports about the Libya Air War and has provided valuable analysis of the images of the US stealthy drone captured in Iran, to determine, using perspective drawing techniques, both the size and the orientation of the building where the RQ-170 was showcased.
This time, based on the article he has posted on his blog, the Danish architect has offered the readers of this website an interesting analysis of some (if not all) the weapons used by the Assad forces in Syria based on the images and footage he has collected in the last two weeks.
240mm mortar — either M240 or 2S4
They seems to be stems of large calibre mortar rounds. And by comparing to the size of the persons carrying the ordnance-parts they appear to be more than 200 mm.
Wikipedia has a list of heavy mortars. It is not long, and the only “active” mortar listed of a calibre of this size is the Russian made towed 240 mm mortar M240 or the later self-propelled 2S4 (also 240 mm calibre).
The shell (or grenade) is about 1.5m long and has a weight of 130kg with 32kg of explosives.
Bjørn says this is the largest calibre mortar still being used worldwide. And even if it is said to have some accuracy in this context he believes it can be categorised as an “indiscriminate weapon”. Probably aiming at terrorising the people in the besieged areas through general destruction.
122mm howitzer — 2A18 (D-30)
Image: US Department of State
On February 10, 2012, the US Department of State published a series of satellite images showing artillery deployed by the Syrian regime against different cities. The image above is one of two related to Homs.
According to the image presented as identifying the type of artillery deployed it is a Russian 122mm howitzer.
Howitzers are characterised by having a muzzle velocity of the projectile that is slower than other cannons. They fire their projectiles (shells) at a higher angle which makes the projectiles hit at a steeper angle. This makes a Howitzer capable of hitting targets where the direct line of fire is blocked — in this case — by buildings.
By looking at Wikipedia’s list of howitzers it appears that they are made in three sizes: 155/152.4mm, 122mm and 105mm, with the 105mm size being less common.
The image above shows a fragment of a stabiliser-stem from an artillery shell. For comparison purposes, a drawing of an example of a 122mm grenade is on the left on the same illustration. But please notice that the specific weapon it was fired has not been identified.
Bjørn comments: “I haven’t seen any certain photo-documentation of 122mm grenade fragments found inside Homs.”
About artillery shells
Artillery shells are NOT just oversized rifle projectiles: as can be seen in the illustration above, they are complex objects launched by a cannon using an explosive charge. For easier understanding they could be called cannon-bombs.
Just to give readers a basic idea, a typical shell carries an amount of high explosives (maybe 25 per cent of total weight) that is detonated at impact by a fuse-mechanism. When the shell explodes the steel case is blown apart — fragmented — into melting hot pieces of shrapnel. And the purpose of the shrapnel is to kill or wound persons, which it does. The blast itself will also kill or wound people, but within a smaller radius compared to the shrapnel. Primarily it will cause material damage were it hits.
Image credit: US Department of State
According to the photo above, the weapons deployed here is the Russian made multiple rocket launcher BM-21. It launches the 122 mm so-called Grad missile. Here is a link to a video showing how it is operated.
Grad missiles are a continuation of a rocket type Russia/ Soviet Union began producing during WWII. Back then the Soviets nick-named it Katyusha which is still sometimes being used. Generally speaking, Grads are relatively powerful, cheap to produce, fast to fire, slow to load and inaccurate.
Today’s Russian Grads are about 3m long and weight about 70kg. They have a range of up to 40km (Iran has made models with range up to 75km). Typically they will explode and fragment on impact (see description of shells above), but they can also be used to carry cluster bombs, mines or chemicals.
“To my knowledge, firing Grads into a city can only be described as an indiscriminate attack,” Bjorn says who also adds “I haven’t seen any photo-documentation of Grad missile fragments found inside Homs, but Katyusha rockets have been mentioned in reports.
73 mm rocket, RPG-7 and more
The image above is a screenshot from France 24, February 22/23. A group of Syrian opposition fighters/defenders in Homs showed some of the ordnance fragments they have collected.
Here’s Bjorn explaination of what A, B, C, D and E could be:
A: I’m quite sure this part is from a munition like the one in the image below. If so, then it’s a 73mm grenade. Here is a link to a Pakistani version. I have also noticed that that the Russian made BMP-1 (an infantry fighting vehicle) has a 73mm gun. And since the BMP-1 have been in several videos I believe those are the ones that have been firing them.
B: Stabiliser from a RPG-7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade, mainly used against tanks and other armoured vehicles).
C: Don’t know.
D: Don’t know.
E: This one has an unusual colour. It seems to me like it is some kind of tube with holes that have been cracked and partly flattened. The original diameter of this part can not have been more than about 5cm. I don’t expect to be able to id this one, but I believe it is from the rear-end of either a mortar shell or a small missile/rocket.
Image credit: Pakistan Ordnance Factories
Screenshots from this video on syriapioneer’s channel
Two frames stitched together showing a series of explosions said to be from the same shell or rocket. Although some believe that cluster bombs could have caused them, according toHolst Jespersen this video linked by @ArabSpringFF seems to show that the number of sub-munitions is lower and more separate than usual cluster bombs.
107mm rockets and more
Photo tweeted by @ArabSpringFF on February 8 for identification.
Here’s Bjorn explaination of what A, B, C and D could be:
A: These are parts of a mortar stem, and judging from the images I’ve seen it’s a type of shell that is used very often in this conflict.In another photo, I believe I have been able to measure the size of the fins to be more than 100mm and less than 130mm. And to my knowledge this will make it a shell for a 120mm mortar. That is the largest calibre among the modern infantry mortars in Wikipedia’s list and it could look something like this.I have not been able to determine the specific shell-type but here is an example.
C: These two parts seems to match a 107mm rocket that have been identified by New York Times journalist CJ Chivers in this blog post. And here is a video to get an idea of how it works. And another that I just couldn’t resist linking to.
Apart from flying in the general direction it is pointed, this weapon has no precision, which will make it an indiscriminate weapon in this context.
D: When comparing this to the one marked “C” there is no doubt this is of a larger calibre. To my knowledge there are only two to choose from (more or less): 122mm and 152.4mm. And since I believe the step up to the 152.4mm to be too large I’m leaning towards this being from some kind of 122mm calibre shell or rocket.
The following video was sent to The Aviationist from another source. It shows what look like S-5K rockets. These rockets could come from the Mi-24 Hind helicopters seen overflying the area of the clashes, even if this is just speculation since no video of aerial attack has emerged so far.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist and is republished here with express permission.