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“That’s Not a Cluster Bomb” – The Differences Between OFAB 250-270s and RBK-500s

February 3, 2016

By Eliot Higgins

In December 2015 Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both published reports that included claims that Russia had used cluster munitions in its air campaign in Syria. The Russian Defence Ministry responded to those accusations by denying Russia had them at their airbase in Syria:

Concerning the suppositions on cluster bombs.

Russian aviation does not use them.

There are dozens of foreign journalists here who had been at the Hmeymim airbase and filmed the preparations for combat sorties, take-offs and landing for nearly 24 hours a day. No one even asked about this type of munitions.

That is because there are no such munitions at the Russian air base in Syria.

In response Bellingcat and the Conflict Investigation Team published images taken from RT (Russia Today), Sputnik, and even the Russian Defence Ministry’s own social media sites showing RBK series cluster munitions at the Hmeymim airbase, clearly contradicting the Russian Defence Ministry’s claims. Amnesty International also consulted a munitions expert about images from Hmeymim airbase who said “he was “confident” that many of them were indeed of Russian aircraft armed with RBK-500 cluster munitions” (page 4).

Despite these clear images and expert opinion, some have attempted to claim the bombs featured in the images were in fact OFAB 250-270 high explosive fragmentation bombs, not RBK series cluster bombs as claimed. However, it is possible to see clear differences between the RBK series cluster munitions featured in the images from Hmeymim, and the OFAB 250-270.

RBK series cluster munitions come in a selection of designs, depending on the submunition and size of the bomb. For example, the RBK-500 series cluster munitions, as seen on Russian jets in Syria, come in several varieties with differing external features. Examples include the RBK-500 ZAB-2.5MRBK-500 AO-2.5RT, RBK-500U, and RBK-500 PTAB-1M.

However, the OFAB 250-270 has distinct features that are clearly different from the RBK series bombs. OFAB 250-270s are featured in many of the videos from Hmeymim airbase, providing many reference images for comparison to RBK series cluster munitions. The most obvious difference is the rear of the bomb:

OFAB 250-270 tail fins

In the above image of the rear of an OFAB 250-270 at Hmeymim airbase (source) we can see a pair of “tail rings”, and that the rear of the main part of the bomb does not extend to the end of the tail section. In the below image (source) we see a RBK series cluster munition mounted on a jet in Hmeymim airbase where we can clearly see the differences:

RBK Rear

Only one “tail ring” is present, and the main section of the bomb extends fully to the end of the tail section. This can be seen more clearly in this photograph of a model of a RBK-500 ShOAB-0.5 cluster bomb at Ukraine’s State Aviation Museum (source):

RBK 500 ShOAB 0.5 Model CITeam

Another clear difference is the front of the OFAB 250-270, with a distinct ridge before the front of the bomb, a slight dome on the front, and a single large fuze (source)

OFAB 250-270 nose

In a Svoboda.org article on cluster bombs at Hmeymim airbase two images from the airbase show what are believed to be RBK-500 AO 2.5 RTM cluster munitions, clearly showing the front of these munitions are very different from those of the OFAB 250-270

RBK-500 AO2.5 RTM 1 RBK-500 AO2.5 RTM 2

No RBK-500 series cluster munition share the features of the OFAB 250-270s described above, therefore claims that the munitions featured in reports about Russian cluster bombs at Hmeymim airbase show OFAB 250-270 are clearly and demonstrably untrue.

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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304 Comments

  1. John Zenwirt

    The Guardian:

    “Russian media demonise the US, the UK and Germany. President Obama and Dr Merkel are under constant attack. Clearly the often obscene attacks against western leaders are aimed at weakening their public standing, and eroding western values and the cohesion and security of the European Union and its historical ties to the United States.”

    http://tinyurl.com/j6ndy7g

    Reply
    • Tony Wait

      Oh…..Any proof of this thing that Russian media demonise US, UK and Germany and so ones?

      Russians media just say about sanctions which were established by these countries.
      That’s all. That’s fact. And what is sad that’s enough for rising hate. It’s a problem.

      Actually I have seen some programs kinda this demonising things but it was in section of mediums’ prophecies and incredible hidden investigations of Atlantis. So in section for housewifes and maybe the bottom-bottom of TV programs, which just half-minded will take seriously.

      Reply
    • wayne

      So, if they are cluster bomb’s, which is highly unlikely, where are the calls of war crimes against America and Israel, two countries known to manufacture, use and sell cluster bombs.
      This site is nothing more than a propaganda bullhorn for the fascist british state, constantly fear mongering, spreading falsehoods without evidence.
      Any investigation end with defining the culprit, here it seems to be blame Russia and then make grainy and blurry images, unsubstantiated eye witness accounts and government lies fit the profile of the crime.
      Try some real investigative work, like finding all the paedophile’s in Westminster, or how Tony Blair has avoided war crimes charges.

      Reply
  2. Randy Dread

    https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/08/russia/syria-daily-cluster-munition-attacks

    New HRW report cites the cat strangler directly.

    “However, the Conflict Intelligence Team open-source research organization has identified cluster munitions in photographs and video taken at Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Syria by Russian media and the Russian Defense Ministry since the beginning of Russia’s air campaign. ”

    So we can put that controversy to bed. The cat strangler is indeed their ‘expert’.

    Reply
    • bellingcatadmin

      Seems you skipped the bit later on:
      “Based on an analysis of the distinctive physical characteristics of the weapons, Human Rights Watch has confirmed the identification of RBK series cluster bombs being loaded onto aircraft taking off from the base. On November 14, 2015, the Russian Ministry of Defense published a photo from its Syria operation that shows an Su-25 in flight with its munition visible. A Human Rights Watch weapons expert identified the munition as an RBK-500 ShOAB-0.5 cluster bomb.”

      Reply
        • Andrea

          ask them…
          who am i to say who is he…or she…
          but from the way they speak about it it rather seems somebody working for them (not an outside expert who were just asked a couple of questions) …

          Reply
          • Randy Dread

            But experts normally say their names so that we know they are experts.

          • Randy Dread

            i replied to your other comment by the way but it got moderated for some reason.

    • Andrea

      Cool…
      All those putting any kind of blame on RU MoD are dangerous criminals ^.^

      Ps: Randy can u answer in the previous page…

      Reply
      • Andrea

        Don’t hide RANDY … i need your reply … in the comment about kalibr missiles … after your video …

        Reply
    • Mad Dog

      Boy, all I can say is Bullocks. A few tweets about these guys is not very convincing. If I posted the same thing about you here, what would you say. Where is the evidence, right? So, why do you believe this tweet? Where is the proof? Besides, this is the same kind of tactic Putin used to steal property, accusing the rightful owner of fraud. Very convincing. You as an ex-law student are well aware that the tweets mean zilch. A bit of double standards I guess, eh whot?

      Reply
  3. Randy Dread

    Andrea – February 8th, 2016

    “they call them all Kalibrs” *source needed…
    cause i can see only one missile (and his variants) called 3M-54 Kalibr with a precise shape and pretty well visible wings and your Kh101-Kh55 being different… have even different NATO nicknames …
    And i read in many topics about this great new “kalibr class” of missiles…

    Dude, stop pestering me with this nonsense.

    The missiles with the prominent wings have been around since the 80s. You can clearly see that is the missile being launched from the Tupolev as I posted above.

    There is a new style missile which is supposedly stealthy and does not have prominient wings or an external engine.

    They have launched a few but the great majority of launches have been the old style ones.

    Really, it’s not complicated.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      In russian state news they kept saying they were trying out their new great missles…
      So either you or russian news are wrong…

      and i qoted you a MoD staff saying that in november they shot at least 18 (not less than 18.000.000 us$)

      You were saying that this war is almost free for russia…well, if it was just for those 18 millions…it seems you are quite wrong 😉

      Reply
      • Randy Dread

        they did try some new ones out..

        but most launched were the old ones.

        what dont you understand about that?

        Reply
        • Andrea

          I understand your claim (even if unsupported by proofs…),

          I’m just showing you that this war isn’t free…as you claimed earlier…

          Reply
          • Andrea

            But probably it was one of your blank shots …
            As it seems you don’t even remember having written it less than 24hrs ago 😉

          • Randy Dread

            the old missiles were in effect free since they are verging on obsolescence.

        • Mad Dog

          Why don’t you understand what the MoD has stated?? Just ignore it? There is not free ride, not even in Fantasy Land. Your understanding of warfare is a bit wanting. None of this is really free to Putin, it all costs. Fuel may be inexpensive, but the normal maintenance on a fighter bomber is pretty expensive and gets worse as the aircraft is stressed over many sorties. Putin must be having a hard time sleeping these days as the costs mount and mount and Russia’s income continues to fall.

          Reply
          • Randy Dread

            what dont you understand about the fact that the KH55 missile has been around since the 1980s?

            Those are the ones with the big wings. Old kit. May as well use it up. Cost effectively free as the missiles were just sitting in storage.

            as for maintenance, we’re o nly talking about 40 or so planes. this remains a small mission. and planes get maintained anyway.

            the mission will continue untill the terrorists have been defeated.

  4. Mad Dog

    Planes get regular maintenance except in Russia where a lot of aircraft just sit and rust. However, lord expert, maintenance at home and maintenance in a combat situation are two different cats. A pilot will also be much more aware of the type of care he is receiving, so going by the book is in order in most cases, much more expensive than diddling around at home. And as mentioned above, everything costs more just to ship from Rodina to Syria. Your logistical expertise is severely lacking as I mentioned before.

    Reply
    • John Zenwirt

      Yes, but one must remember …aircraft down to attrition rates, soaring during intense use. Lots of things break down, and need expensive maintenance. The sand and dust of the ME are hell on jet engines, with their precision turbo-fan blades…it’s a very tough operating environment for Russia.

      Reply
      • Randy Dread

        you’re forgetting the Russians/Soviets already had extensive experience in the harsh environment of Afghanistan for a decade.

        the fact is, the tempo of operations remains very intense and is way better than NATO managed in Libya.

        anyway, Latakia where the aircraft are based is not a desert, so sand and dust are not a big problem.

        Reply
        • John Zenwirt

          Randy:

          “the fact is, the tempo of operations remains very intense…”

          Well, that is exactly what I said… and it’s the first reason for expensive maintenance, which I guess you now also agree to, as it’s the obvious corollary…

          The heightened tempo of operations on the USS Forrestal (Vietnam) aircraft-carrier caused massive fires & explosions & deaths, all down to so many more launches….

          Reply
          • Randy Dread

            yeah that was john mccain crashing his jet wasnt it?

            he should never have been a pilot.

    • Andrea

      I’m pretty sure i heard somewhere they have already built in Syria a facility to service their engines …

      Reply
  5. Randy Dread

    what a laugh, nobody cares any more.

    Russia and the USA are now joint charmen of a taskforce to sort out Syria.

    Reply
  6. Rostislav

    Why is it so kid in the USA. watch’s YouTube now knows all about what we have?.

    Reply
  7. Justin Hossborn

    I would have to disagree with this article… As an “expert” in Russian equipment, I have seen MULTIPLE photos from various media outlets with Su-25SM and Su-24M2 aircraft loaded with “single ring” bombs, but the Cyrillic stenciled on them read “РБК-500 АО-2.5РТ” So please verify the stenciling on the bomb before releasing information. Thank you

    Reply
    • mack

      The way I read the article it says exactly what you have seen “from various media outlets”, i.e. “single ring” bombs are all sorts of RBK bombs.

      Reply
  8. Francois Labelle

    Rasputin and his BFF “Assad the Impaler” should be brought to the Hague Court of Justice and made to answer for these bastardly acts…and Crimea, East Ukraine and MH17 disaster…

    Reply

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