Friday, 14 February 2014

Evidence Of The Syrian Military Deploying BM-30 Smerch Launched Cluster Munitions

On February 12th 2014, the following video from Kafr Zita, Hama, was uploaded to YouTube, showing what was claimed to be the remains of a cluster munition

The munition has broken into two sections, the first section is shown below, in an image stitched together from two video stills

The nose cone section is shown below

The remains of the rocket were much larger than any air-dropped cluster munitions used by the Syrian air force, so I took at a look at the multiple rocket launchers used by the Syrian military.  The BM-27 Uragan is the largest multiple rocket launcher system I could find that open source information suggested was being used by the Syrian military, but the 220mm calibre of the rockets seemed far too small for what was seen in the above images.  I compared the foot in the top left corner of the above image to the width of the rocket, and from that it was clear the rocket was closer to 27-30cm wide than the BM-27's 22cm calibre.

I reviewed large rocket systems, and from my investigations it appears the best match is the BM-30 Smerch, a Soviet multiple rocket launcher system, which entered service in the Soviet Army in 1989.  It launches several types of rockets, including cluster munitions designated 9M55K, 9M55K1, and 9M55K4.  While there's not a great amount of detail on the rockets online, I did come across the following image (source)

This shows the 9M55K rocket on the top, and the 9M55F (high explosive fragmentation) rocket on the bottom.  They share a number of design features, some of which I've highlighted below

Based on this, and other images, it seems certain the remains of the rocket in the video is from the 9M55K range of cluster munition rockets, launched by the BM-30 Smerch.  While there's no open source information that suggests the Syrian military has this system, it seems unlikely that the rocket could have come from any other source.  With a range of 90km, it not possible to know what the point of origin was, but it does appear to be the first evidence that the Syrian military are using BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launchers in the conflict.

Thank to Chris Kabusk for help with this article.

Also thanks to Bente Aika Scheller, author of The Wisdom of Syria's Waiting Game. Foreign Policy under the Assads, whose donation to last years Indiegogo campaign helped keep this blog going.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at


  1. The photos in this post do, indeed, show the munition in question closely resembling the Soviet BM-30. The use of the video/photo information is impressive.

    However, if the issue is the diameter of the munition in question, the Wikipedia article on Equipment of the Syrian Army includes information on at least three rockets possessed by the Syrian Arab Army that appear to be possibilities.

    Fajr-5 manufactured by Iran. Per Wikipedia article on the Fajr-5, this rocket has a diameter of 333 millimeters, a range of 68-75 kilometers, and is possessed by Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad (as well as Syria).

    Falaq-2 manufactured by Iran. Per Wikipedia article on Falaq-2, this rocket has a diameter of 333 millimeters, range of 10.8 kilometers, and is possessed by Hezbollah (as well as Syria).

    Khaibar or Khaibar-1 manufactured by Syria and China (sounds like Syria manufactures it with technology from China). Per the Wikipedia article on the Khaibar, this rocket has a diameter of 302 millimeters, a range of 100 kilometers, and is possessed by Hezbollah (as well as Syria). China refers to this missile as the WS-1 as it is made by Weishi. There is also a WS-1B with a 180 kilometer range.

    It is particularly interesting that Hezbollah possesses these three rockets. It raises the possibility that the munition in question was fired by Hezbollah. Depending upon the location in Syria where the munition in question impacted, the long ranges of the Fajr-5 and Khaibar rockets raise the possibility of a launch from a site in Lebanon.

    1. This video, posted yesterday, shows the submunitions for the 9M55K series of rockets recovered from the same area as the above video

  2. The submunition in the video appears to be a 9N235 Frag bomblet. The fuze is impact (instantaneous) with a 110 second delay self-destruct backup. The 9N235 submunition is used in the 300mm Smerch 9M55K warhead.

    The 220mm 9M27K Uragan uses the 9N210 Frag bomblet with the same basic impact fuze but it has a shorter self destruct of about 60 seconds.