The munition appeared to be a 107mm artillery rocket (as used by the widely deployed Type-63 multiple rocket launcher), with the warhead removed and replaced with a much larger DIY warhead with a simple impact fuze. These munitions, known as Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs), sacrifice range and accuracy for a massively increased payload. As John Ismay, a former United States Navy explosives ordnance disposal officer, told the New York Times' At War blog, these IRAMs appeared to be "conceptually identical to the IRAMs used by a particular group of insurgents fighting American forces in Iraq — Kataib Hezbollah". He goes onto the describe the use of the Iraqi IRAMs
The Iraqi IRAM was purpose-built for one thing: popping over T-walls and Hesco barriers at short ranges that prevented interception by C-RAM and creating mass casualties on-target.Obviously, in Syria, there was no need for either side to use the munition for this purpose, and there were some who doubted the Syrian government would used improvised weapons, especially inaccurate and powerful weapons in urban areas.
In the following months I continued to collect videos of IRAMs (see here), with the unexploded remains of the munitions showing up in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and elsewhere. While it was claimed by opposition members that these munitions were fired by government forces, it wasn't until recently that an increasing body of evidence began to appear showing definite proof that the IRAMs were being used by Syrian government forces.
In late August 2013 a number of images appeared online that confirmed the munitions were being used by Syrian government forces. First, the capture of a ammo depot in Khanasser featured this pile of IRAMs stored alongside other weapons, including IRAMs in storage crates
Around the same time Jabhat al-Nusra published images of a four-barrel IRAM launcher they claim to have captured from government forces, along with crates full of IRAMs
The final piece of proof was provided by the pro-Government Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA), who has rare access to the Syrian military, and regularly posts footage of the Syrian military in action on their YouTube channel. This video showing "A brief summary of the situation in Syria for 30 August 2013" provided the final proof that the Syrian military were using IRAMs, at 1m11s
The video shows an IRAM being loaded and fired from a single barrel launcher, and was the first video showing the Syrian military using IRAMs.
One thing I was very keen to find out was how these munitions were actually being used in combat. One report that piqued my interest was from the fighting in Qusayr in June 2013. Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, at that time a senior member of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, had travelled to Qusayr with reinforcements, and gave a very lengthy interview about his experiences. One part of the interview caught my eye
The enemy was applying a scorched earth policy by firing Iranian vacuum bombs, which caused whole building to fall down. This was forcing the fighters to retreat to another building.In my experience, "vacuum" is a prefix frequently used by members of the Syrian opposition to describe all kinds of powerful explosive weapons, and that description reminded me of something else that had emerged in Qusayr. Josh Wood, a journalist who met opposition fighters who had fought in Qusayr, sent me a gallery of photographs provided to him by the fighters he spoke to, showing a munition they claimed was being used by Hezbollah
He told me that according to the opposition fighters
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.At the time there was no more evidence of these munitions being used in Qusayr, and no way to confirm the story of the opposition fighters about how they were used.
This week, a video by the Syrian National Defence Force was posted online, showing fighting in Barzeh, north Damascus, with footage of a single barrel IRAM launcher being used at 1m17s
What's interesting about this is the launch tube is horizontal to the ground, suggesting it's being used for direct fire, not indirect fire, as in Iraq
The launch footage is then followed by footage showing the IRAMs hitting multiple targets. It appears, as described by the opposition fighters in Qusayr, that these munitions are being used for devastating effect against occupied buildings only hundreds of feet away from the launch site. It's not hard to imagine how devastating these munitions are, and difficult how (if not impossible) these munitions would be to defend against in an urban combat situation.
Reviewing the National Defence Force's Facebook page, it appears they don't only have access to the single barrel launchers, but also the type of truck mounted launchers Jabhat al-Nusra claimed to have captured
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