Friday, 20 July 2012

A Beginner's Guide To Identifying UXO In Syria

I'm frequently asked for help identifying a number of different UXO found in the towns and cities of Syria, and with this guide I hope to assist those of you trying to identify some of these finds, and also hopefully discourage the unnecessary handling of the various UXO found in Syria.  I should stress that any UXO should always be left alone as it's impossible to know how safe something is, and that knowing every little detail about a particular piece of UXO is never worth the life of an individual.

These two pictures were posted online, and show the remains of a 23mm HE-I round fired by anti-aircraft guns, such as the ZU-23-2

A wide variety of artillery shells are used in Syria, and you can generally tell them from unexploded mortar shells as one end has a gentler taper than mortars, as can be seen in these two examples
It should go without saying that you should never handle unexploded artillery rounds.

Cluster bombs
So far only one cluster bomb has been filmed in Syria, the RBK 250-275 dropped in Jabal Shehshebo region I blogged about when the video first appeared.  Activists made this video show the bomblets and bomb casing (more details here)
It should be noted that in moving these cluster bomblets to create this display the activists took a massive risk, and provided no additional information that couldn't have been provided in a far safer manner.  None of the new information relates to the bomblets themselves, just the information given by the men in the video.

Unlike a conventional bomb, a cluster bomb breaks open in flight scattering the bomblets, which means the bomb casing will always be left behind, so if a cluster bomb is dropped there should always be a bomb casing left somewhere.  However, it's also highly likely unexploded bomblets will be left in the area, and I would strongly advise anyone in the area to avoid the area the bomblets were dropped.

Grenade Rounds
Grenade cartridges, used in underbarrel grenade lauchers are quite rare, and in the below example we see the remains of a VOG round used with Russian weaponry

Much like artillery, mortars in Syria come in a great range of sizes, all the way up to the massive 240mm mortars first identified as being used in Homs in February.  Generally all that remains are tail fins, which generally look about the same no matter what the size.  Here's a couple of example, one small and one from the 240mm mortar shell
So you can see that despite the huge size difference they are similar in many ways.  You've got a flat base, a number of curving fins, and holes punched into the stem.  For more examples this gallery has a whole range of mortars shell remains.  Here are two examples of unexploded mortar shells that have had their tails snapped off, and can be mixed up with unexploded artillery shells.  The first is a 240mm mortar shell, much larger than any artillery shell, the second a smaller mortar shell, which has the sharply tapering end that distinguishes it from a artillery shell

OFABs are a range of bombs dropped from Hind helicopters, with only OFAB 250-270s being recorded as being dropped in Syria at the moment.  I've collected a large number of videos of them here, and the below video shows the most complete example
It should be stressed that as with handling any UXO the people in this video took an incredible risk moving this bomb from the crater it landed in, and UXO should always be left alone as it's impossible to know how safe they could be.

A variety of RPG rockets are used in Syria, and generally they leave two distinct types of remains.  This first video shows the low explosive cartridges used to propel the rockets out of their launch tubes
You can see an example of the complete rocket with low explosive cartridge attached here.
Then we have the remains of the rockets, which are being pointed to in the below picture (taken from this video)
These are generally quite easy to spot as they are quite thin, and have many holes stamped into them, a clear example of which can be seen on image (source)
Another example of a badly bent RPG motor is shown below, along with another mortar tail fin

S-5 Rockets
The S-5 rocket is a common sight in many videos from Syria, launched from Hinds armed with rocket pods.  They also featured heavily in the Libyan Civil War, generally fired from rocket pods welded to the backs of pick up trucks.

They have a very distinctive long thin body, usually a light metallic colour, with black stabliser fins at the rear.  The actual explosive charge it only at the very end of the missile, the rest of the body being used to hold propellant.  Other examples are here, here, and here.

If you come across any other examples you think aren't mentioned on this page please send them to me and I will attempt to identify them and add them to this page.  It should again be stressed that UXO should never be handled as they present a very high risk to the person handling them and anyone nearby.

Related posts
Two Examples Of Filming Unexploded S-5 Rockets (Updated With Bonus Child Endangerment)
Two More Examples Of How Not To Handle UXO From Syria
How Not To Handle Unexploded Ordnance - A Syrian Top Ten

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


  1. I thought I'd point out a small but systematic terminological error that is nagging on me: mortar is the weapon that is used to fire shells, or mortar shells, or mortar bombs. The terms vary. But the shells themselves are not called mortars. Think of your ordinary kitchen mortar, that's what the ancient mortars actually looked like. The 'pestle' fired from the mortar is not a mortar, it's a mortar shell.

    I should also thank you for the continued excellent coverage of the events!

    1. Thanks, I've updated the post accordingly. I find the constant description of any armoured vehicle as a "tank", be it a BMP or T-72 a bit annoying, so I get where you're coming from.


  3. is tabitha. friend me up or follow me ? always looking for new friends :)