Bellingcat

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

DIY Weapons In Syria - Hezbollah Deploys IRAMs In Qusayr

A few weeks ago I was sent a photograph of a unidentified munition recovered by fighters in Qusayr, reportedly fired by government forces


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.
If I’m not mistaken, only one group was really tied to the IRAM, and that was Kataib Hezbollah.
Kataib Hezbollah shouldn't been mistaken for Lebanon's Hezbollah, but they do have some obvious things in common with each other.

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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You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com

7 comments:

  1. Also of note, the tail fin on the rocket seems to sport a similar design characteristic to that mystery "SAA" rocket that you posted earlier. Notice the metallic ring around the base of the fins? Very similar to that earlier vid.

    Hezbollah has been known to possess DIY rockets in addition to their more powerful factory made rockets, and have used them against Israel in the past. Perhaps they brought some of their DIY rocket stock into Syria as well.

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  2. So these weapons are employed as somewhat like an RPO to clear rooms and what not?

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  3. It's about the same volume inside the warhead as a WW2 Petard mortar (aka "flying dustbin") which was a large squash-head charge fired from a modified tank to destroy concrete obstacles and fortifications. This is longer and smaller in diameter, though, so would be less efficient as a squash head, but might fly a bit better.

    It might be a fuel-air explosive, or incendiary, because the one that's fired in the video doesn't seem to generate the almighty crash of the ordinary recoilless rifle that is fired repeatedly afterwards.

    If the acceleration is much milder than with normal weight warheads, it becomes possible to use commercial mining explosives, or homemade explosives. The Blacker Bombard of 1941 used shells with a filling of Nobel 808, which is a nitroglycerine-based explosive. You'd only use that type of filling with something that traveled at sedate speeds, and the big launch tubes hardly move at all when the weapon is fired.

    The launch tubes look as if they might come from one-shot tubes for a largish anti-tank missile? If these are used once for their normal purpose and are then going begging, this would seem to be a very low stress way of re-using them.

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  4. The launch tubes might be the disposable transport/launch cannister used for the Roland SAM, last made in the nineties, but sold to Iraq, as well as Argentina, Nigeria, etc. Re: my comment above, they re a little too big for anti-tank missiles, but not big enough for an anti-ship missile or a long-range SAM.

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  6. Your video is not from Hezbollah fighter but from Liwa abu Fadhl al Abbass fighters in Damascus. And it's leaked from nothing. The video was just downloaded by FSA activist from a Pro-Shia channel and they put their logo in the video...

    You can easily find the video without the FSA logo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qlhvdP29bY

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    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swGG4NiC_Qs

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