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A “Poor Man’s” Volcano?

July 13, 2014

By Eliot Higgins

Among the weapons used in the Syrian conflict the Syrian military’s “Volcano” rocket has become one of the most notorious. Linked to chemical attacks, including the August 21st attacks in Damascus, and also coming in devastatingly powerful explosive variants, the Volcano rocket has become an increasingly visible weapon in the Syrian conflict.

At its most basic, the Volcano rocket is a standard artillery rocket with the warhead removed and a much larger warhead added.  The larger types of Volcano rockets seen in the conflict have followed a consistent design, and appear to be have been used by the Syrian military since late 2012.

Recently, the unexploded remains of a new type of rocket with a design similar to the Volcano rocket has begun appearing in Damascus, with two unexploded examples recorded by opposition members in May and June

While these follow the same basic concept of the Volcano rocket the details of the design are quite different from that of the types of Volcano rockets seen before.  Below we see the tail section of the rocket from the June video

Image 1

This appears to be a 122mm rocket, as fired by the BM-21 Grad, inserted into a tail fin assembly connected to the warhead.  Empty bolt holes are visible, and in the below image from the May video one of the bolts can be seen

Image 2

It’s unclear what the original position of the 122mm rocket would be.  In the below image the May rocket is shown on the left, with the June rocket on the right.

Image 3

It appears in the left hand image the tail fin assembly has become detached from the base of the warhead, so the tailfin assembly may have shifted down the rocket with the rocket remaining in place.  Or, it could be that the rocket and tailfin assembly have both moved together, with the part of the rocket visible original being inside the warhead.  This design, with the 122mm rocket extending into the warhead, would match that of other Volcano rockets.

On the other hand, the tailfins on the 122mm rocket appear as if they would be unable to deploy correctly if they were in between the tail fins on the tail fin assembly, so it could be the 122mm rocket’s tailfins sit behind those of the tailfin assembly.  The following image showing the remains of an exploded rocket of the same type suggest this might be case

Image 7

[source]

The base of the warhead in both videos also share a number of features

Image 4

On the side of the warhead is a short metal rod, something that’s also visible in the same position on the unexploded remains of explosive Volcano rockets previously recorded by opposition groups.  There’s also a metal plate attached to the base of the warhead with two metal bolts, the purpose of which is unclear.  In the May video three holes or depressions are visible on the base of the warhead, one on the metal plate, but in the June visible those same holes don’t appear to be visible.  What is visible is a short tubular section of metal in the same position as one of the holes in the May video.  As the below photograph of a chemical Volcano shows, holes in the base of the warhead is a feature shared with these new rockets

Image 5

Explosive Volcano rockets have one hole on the base of the warhead, and this appears to be used for a type of fuze, so it’s possible the same system is used in this new type of rocket. However, the images of these holes on the new type of rocket are currently not clear enough to ascertain their purpose.

The front of the warhead is only briefly visible

Image 6

Two lug holes attached to the end are being use to drag the rocket along the ground.  What their original purpose were is unclear, maybe they held something onto the front of the rocket, maybe they were used to position the rocket, but currently it’s unknown.  There’s also the assembly in the middle, which may possibly be the position of the fuze, but there’s not enough information to be certain of that.

It’s interesting that assuming the rocket motor used is 122mm then the width of the entire munition would be around 360mm, the same as the Volcano rockets based on the 122mm motor used previously by the Syrian military.  Could it be this is a new type of rocket designed to be fired from the same launchers as the Volcano rocket already used by the Syrian military?

Update August 10th 2014

The following photographs were posted online showing the rockets during their production, reportedly by groups in Aleppo

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These photos appear to confirm some of the features described above, and that the 122mm rockets are positioned so their tail fins are behind the additional tail fins welded to the rockets cover.

 

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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