October 16, 2012

Syrian air force cluster munitions reliability issues

RBK-250 Cluster bomb unit pieces and unexploded sub-munitions

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov's protestations to the contrary - "There is no confirmation to this..." - the Syrian air force is dropping Soviet/Russian-made cluster bombs on cities across Syria. The photographs are clear and detailed - these cluster bombs are the RBK-250.

The weapons are being used against civilian homes, which is not the best use of a cluster bomb. A cluster bomb is basically a canister filled with bomblets, sub-munitions that scatter over a wide area to kill large formations of troops and tanks.

Here is what a cluster bomb strike on a house looks like. Total misuse of the weapon.

Over the last few weeks, the Syrians have used an increasing amount of these munitions. Prior to that, we primarily saw the use of the FAB-250 250-kilogram general purpose bomb. Either the Syrians believe the cluster bombs will be more effective against the rebel-held urban areas, or they are running short of the general purpose bombs.

Additionally, there appear to be problems with the RBK-250 cluster munitions in the Syrian inventory. There are dozens of videos on YouTube the show issues with the units. Some of the canisters failed to open and disperse the sub-munitions, and others have opened, but many of the bomblets did not detonate.

Here in the video are examples of both issues. This is in Ma'ar Shurayn, about two miles northeast of the key chokepoint at Ma'arat al-Nu'aman, located at 35 40 05N 36 43 38E on the Homs-Aleppo highway.

The narrator says the first one (he called it a missile) was dropped from an aircraft and did not explode - members of the Free Syrian Army are removing it, fearing it will detonate and harm the civilian population. The second one also did not detonate - he said he believed it to be a cluster munition (it is) dropped from a MiG, and pointed out the sub-munitions.

It appears to me that the Syrians are really going after that area of Idlib governorate around Ma'arat al-Nu'man. The rebels took it earlier this week - it cuts the road from Damascus and Homs to Aleppo. The are bombing all these towns around that city - Jarjanaz, Ma'ar Shamshah, etc. It is critical to the regime to reopen the main resupply route from Damascus to Aleppo.

The numbers of unexploded cluster and general purpose bombs indicate a problem with either the maintenance of the weapons - are they expired or just not cared for? - or is there an issue with the fuses for the bombs? In any case, it is a serious issue for the Syrian air force. Nothing damages morale more among pilots than to have to fly into harm's way and deliver a weapon that does not function.

Of course, I hope they continue to have these issues.