Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Syria's Sarin Attacks - Grasping At 140mm Straws (And Why Size Matters)

Since the UN report into the sarin attacks on August 21st linked two munitions to the attack, there's been various claims made about who could have been responsible.  The New York Times summarises a number of key pieces of information that points towards the Syrian military being responsible here, and for my own part, I've stated I've never seen either of the munitions used, the M14 140mm artillery rocket, and the munition I named the UMLACA, in the hands of the Syrian opposition.

In response to that statement a number of people and organisations have claimed that the opposition actually does have 140mm rockets.  One example is from this piece from Press TV, 5 lies invented to spin UN report on Syria
Chemical weapons were delivered with munitions not used by rebels: This claim includes referencing "Syria watcher" Eliot Higgins also known as "Brown Moses," a UK-based armchair observer of the Syrian crisis who has been documenting weapons used throughout the conflict on his blog.
While Higgins explains these particularly larger diameter rockets (140mm and 330mm) have not been seen (by him) in the hands of terrorists operating within and along Syria's borders, older posts of his show rockets similar in construction and operation, but smaller, most certainly in the hands of the militants. 
Despite what the author may have been told in the past, size does matter, especially when it comes to IDing munitions.  He no doubts refers to the sort of videos now being used to prove the opposition have 140mm artillery rockets, and here's a couple of the examples I've been sent

These, and similar videos, have been cited by a number of people as evidence that the opposition could have launched 140mm rockets.  The problem with this theory is, neither of these are the types of launchers that could fire 140mm rockets.  The top video shows the Type-63 multiple rocket launcher, which launches 107mm rockets, and the bottom video shows the Croatian RAK-12 multiple rocket launcher, which fires 128mm rockets.  There's also been a number of DIY rocket launchers shown in opposition videos, but I've never seen evidence of 140mm rockets fired from those either.  One thing that would stand out right way about 140mm rockets is the number of nozzles on the rear of the rocket.  Unlike many other types of rockets, they have 10 nozzles, so they are pretty easy to spot.  Evidence may exist, and if it does I'd love to see it, but I've yet to see any.

So, to say the presence of 107mm and 128mm rockets in the opposition's arsenal means they also have 140mm rockets is deeply flawed logic.  It's also important to note that the BM-14 launcher looks quite different from the above launchers.  The main difference is four more barrels

Something that's pretty easy to spot.

I'd also highly recommend watching the following video, published before the report, discussing the munitions used, in particular the M14 140mm artillery rocket.

In particular I recommend watching the section on the "179" marking found on the remains in Damascus, from 6:18 onwards, which details it's origin in the former Soviet Union.  More details of the origin of the munitions in Siberia can be found here.

More posted on the subject of the August 21st attacks can be found here, and other posts on chemical weapons and Syria, including extremely informative interviews with chemical weapon specialists, can be found here.

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


  1. I think it's pretty clear the M14 inspected by the UN was shot by SAA. It's just that it has no reliable links to chemicals. The UN report shows huge differences between the sarin markers found in the vicinity of the M14 and those found near the UMLACA. The report also gives a great explanation why the rocket body was found intact.
    The fact that the M14 has an optional chemical warhead is meaningless as it was the standard for artillery from that period.
    I think we should all stop associating the M14 with chemical attacks until we find at least another rocket body in a suspect location.

    1. Sasa, you're discounting the testimony the UN team received that the people living in the house where that rocket motor was found died of chemical injuries on Aug. 21. Not saying that necessarily needs to be taken as gospel truth, but an identifiable part of an expended chemical-capable munition, with chemical markers found all around it, in a house where people allegedly died from a chemical attack, is still at least potentially relevant to the question at hand.

    2. Sasa, you're discounting the testimony the UN team received that the people living in the house where that rocket motor was found died of chemical injuries on Aug. 21. Not saying that necessarily needs to be taken as gospel truth, but an identifiable part of an expended chemical-capable munition, with chemical markers found all around it, in a house where people allegedly died from a chemical attack, is still at least potentially relevant to the question at hand.

    3. Bruce_R,

      The report says "in and around this building". Given how weak the sarin markers were compared to the vicinity of the UMLACA , the connection between the M14 and chemicals is very weak.

      For the UMLACA we have dozens of associations with chemical attacks. For the M14 we have just one, which is very weak. If the M14 was used for CW, we should have found much more evidence.

    4. "I think it's pretty clear the M14 inspected by the UN was shot by SAA."

      Why? Are there any videos of the SAA using the system? If there are no videos of the insurgents using them, maybe same deal with the regime's official army.

      What are the Russian soldiers who are fighting in Syria using? It is not just the opposition that has lots of tourists helping or making things worse.

  2. The opposition don't need launchers to fire M14 rockets. A stone or breezeblock is more than enough. However 30 minutes with a welder and some angle-iron would provide a much more useful launcher.

    Given the amount of ordnance the opposition have captured it would be highly highly unlikely they don't have any of the M14 rockets.

    1. M14s are not widely stocked or used. They are a special purpose weapon saved for special occasions. I doubt any of Assad's regular bases would carry it.

    2. Since the shell was produced in 1967 so it´s complitely outdated ammo, 46 years old and out of Assad´s army stocks.

    3. The insurgents will have captured anything the regime is using down range.

      Armenian soldiers for e.g. who can see Islamists approaching are more likely to decommission themselves rather than the equipment. I don't think Alawites have it much better.

      It is the Syrian army that may have difficulty getting hold of obsolete weapons, not the insurgents. It is not easy to issue material that officially does not exist.

    4. Reply to Khalid: Review sources and then consider your claim. It's entirely erroneous. M14s were very widely used - primarily with explosive and incendiary warheads, and also with a chemical weapons warhead - the data is openly available. They were the mainstay of the BM-14 multiple rocket launcher platform. They were manufactured en masse by Soviet Union and distributed widely as part of the package - BUT NOT with chemical weapons warheads. Those Russia kept for itself. Libya, for instance, retained a significant stock of M14s in its arsenal until the end. It appears, however, according to Wikipedia sources, that both BM-14 and M14 munitions had been phased out by the Syrian military, to be replaced with the newer, modern platform 122 mm BM-21 Grad. It is questionable whether the SAA would have any M14s at all, let alone ones with chemical warheads, in its arsenal.

  3. The NYT article picks up the analysis from HRW:

    1. I am very disappointed by HRW's work in Syria. The language of the opposition in Syria is reminiscent of the Hutu use of “cockroach” to describe Tutsis prior to the genocide.

      The insurgent attack at Jobar was like something out of the crusades, with some of the Arab media urging on the opposition assault from Jobar toward Abbassiyiin Square and the terrified Christians begging 'their' army to hold firm.

      This is important, because the circumstances for genocide are being actively sought by the insurgents, the first mention of poisoning, in fact the only mention of it, came from the insurgents.

      A replay of pre-Assad Aleppo when thugs drove through the city shouting “Ya Arman maskiin, tahat as-skiin!”. The battle at Homs was a sectarian headhunt.

  4. It must be remembered at all times that the Russian government has a budget for not just misinformation, but a related tactic of trying to drown the opposition in torrents of utter codswallop.

    Firing M14 rockets off stones makes them go somewhere or other, but I'd want something a lot more predictable for a sarin strike. The Taliban do this, but they usually have a timer on the firing circuit and are safely over the hills and miles away before the rockets fire. The object is to make the enemy shoot back and waste ammunition, it's a considerable bonus if any hits are obtained.

    1. The Taliban are middle of the road moderates compared to what we have liberating Syria. The primary lobby in Russia directing the diplomacy of President Putin is the Orthodox Church.

      Syria's war(s) has religion as a catalyst. The language of 'a regime controlled area' to one person is to another person, a two thousand year old Christian village being put to the knife. Nobody fights wars for democracy in the middle-east.

      Wars are waged by Islamists against secular regimes, against Israel by everybody, or by Shiites against Sunnis and vice versa. The defeat of Assad will not lead to democracy, but to the mass-murder of Christians, Alawites and Shiites.

      Turkey and the two Wahhabi monarchies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are stirring up trouble, Turkey gets a new province to add to the Syrian real estate it has already stolen, and Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a new Caliphate ally with the rest. It is that simple.

  5. Ref; Video: Assessing Syrian Chemical Weapons Use. Well that didn't take to long, good info. Even a blind squirrel(me)finds an acorn once in awhile. Hint, there are more little bits of info in these blogs that will point you in the right direction.
    My very first post on BM blogs - "Quote: Also the photos/videos certainly appear to be of a M14 rocket motor. The marking should tell the tail on the rocket motor maybe all the way to what ammunition plant manufactured it. Quote"

  6. US spending on information operations (propaganda)dropped to $202 million last year.Russian military reconnaissance satellites images when handed over to the UN Security Council will no doubt filter out sources of codswallop in particular Human Rights Watch.If the US Government had hard evidence of the Syrian regime being responsible for the chemical attacks around Damascus the evidence would have been viewed by congress and Syria would have been bombed already.

    1. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough
      US proven link of Assad gas attack lacking.
      (UN Inspectors prohibited from placing blame..)

    2. Would President Assad be able to truthfully say, he's done an audit, and his army do not have any 140mm rocket weapons?

      In Syria, anything the regime has, will be captured by the insurgents. If the insurgents are not using the 140mm could the regime perhaps not be (officially at least) using the 140mm either? It is such a dollar store weapon it is not going to be difficult to capture or find if it exists. Could the 140mm be off the books.