My eye was drawn to the markings, with "M220" possibly referring to part of an BGM-71 TOW, a type of US wire-guided missile, or the M220 propelling cartridge for M889A1/M889A2/M821A2 81mm high explosive mortar bombs. However, it wasn't clear how either would relate to this munition, so this device remained a mystery.
Thanks to the freelance journalist Josh Wood I now have much more information on these items, including a gallery of photographs, and details of how they were actually used. Josh told me this about his interview with the opposition fighter who provided the images
This weapon was used by Hezbollah forces in Qusayr. He described them as 107mm rockets fitted to something with a higher payload, with the 107mm propelling everything. He said the max range on these was about 1 km, but most of the time they were simply fired across the street horizontally at extremely close range. By his description, one of these could do significant damage to a small house. He said that these rockets really helped Hezbollah shift the tide in parts of that front-line.The description of the damage it did to buildings reminded me of something Colonel Aqidi of the Free Syrian Army said in his interview about the situation he encountered in Qusayr
The enemy was applying a scorched earth policy by firing Iranian vacuum bombs, which caused whole building to fall down.He may not be referring to these devices, as there was a lot of ordnance being used, but I'd assume he'd know the bombs dropped by the air-force are all Soviet. So what is this device?
I believe what we have here is what's know as an IRAM, an Improvised Rocket Assisted Mortar/Munition. In it's most basic form it's a barrel of explosives with a rocket motor attached (commonly from 107mm rockets), which allows an oversized payload to be launched a short range. It's a weapon used extensively in Iraq, as former United States Navy explosives ordnance disposal officer John Ismay told the New York Times
These weapons were solely used by Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) Special Groups, which were the Shia fighting groups trained/funded/financed/equipped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds Force.Kataib Hezbollah shouldn't been mistaken for Lebanon's Hezbollah, but they do have some obvious things in common with each other.
If I’m not mistaken, only one group was really tied to the IRAM, and that was Kataib Hezbollah.
As the above New York Times article points out, this isn't the first time IRAMs have been spotted in Syria, with around a dozen videos posted so far. What is interesting about this IRAM is the design is very different from the others used so far, as appears to have a much larger warhead.
Both types use 107mm rockets, but in the earlier IRAMs the warhead appears to be generally smaller than the rocket, while in the above example it seems larger. CJ Chivers had this to say on the warhead
The point re: the M220 is not that the warhead originated from either a TOW or a mortar round; that's not especially important, because obviously it is not either. It's that someone may have repurposed a munitions storage case instead of using a large pipe, water tank, small barrel etc for a DIY projectile.I spoke to John Ismay, and asked him about the design of the IRAM:
I was wondering if this looks like a design you've encountered before?
The design in the photographs doesn't look like the ones we encountered in Iraq. Those generally used an acetylene tank for a warhead section. The fuzes were a pyrotechnic time-delay and were generally all of the same design.
The tail section is very different from what we've seen in previous IRAMs, what are your thoughts on it's design?
The tail section shown in the photographs is curious, and probably is one of several reasons this weapon failed to function as designed. The Fadjr-1 is an Iranian copy of the Chinese Type 63 artillery rocket. These rockets have six canted venturi nozzles that impart instantaneous stabilizing spin to the weapon, thus freeing it from needing a rifled launcher. Check this page for some diagrams.
Thus, the added tail section is superfluous, and only adds weight to the tail. I suppose it's possible that the designer thought the addition would better help it fit into a cylindrical launcher, but this is really a cosmetic change at best and an additional destabilizing mod (on an already non-aerodynamic system) at worst.
As John highlights, the rocket used is Iranian in origin, with it's markings visible in this picture
Here we can see the rockets were manufactured in 2007, which is co-incidentally the same date on a cargo of smuggled 107mm rockets from Iran intercepted by the Israelis in 2009.
Possibly also related to these IRAMs is this video, which claims to be leaked from Hezbollah fighters
At the start of the video there's a truck mounted multiple barreled rocket launcher of a type I've not seen before. The rocket tubes seem to be very large, far larger than any system I've seen mounted on a truck, but possibly the correct size for the above IRAMs. The video quality is very poor, so it's hard to be certain, but this might be a first look at the system used to launch these IRAMs.
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