Monday, 28 July 2014

The spoils of Regiment 121, captured by the Islamic State

After two succesful operations by the Islamic State last week, Assad's footgrip in Nothern Syria weakened even further, losing two bases of vital importance. Division 17 located near Raqqa and Regiment 121 located near Al-Hasakah both fell to fighters of the Islamic State. The capture of these two bases were conducted in quick succession to each other with the Islamic State suffering minor losses, this in sharp contrast to earlier operations in Syria, in which the Islamic State often suffered far more casualties. A development worth keeping an eye on. Some of the fighters were also seen with U.S. made M16 rifles captured in Iraq, another sign of the arms tranfers between the two battlefields.

Given this, another important Assadist base is now under even more threat than ever before. Kweres, the main training base of the Syrian Arab Air Force before the revolution is already surrounded and falls under occasional heavy mortar fire by the Islamic State. With the capture of Division 17 and Regiment 121 freeing up forces, Kweres has much to fear.

Regiment 121, an artillery and storage base contained huge amounts of weaponry and munitions, enabling the Islamic State to further intensify the attacks on various groups opposed to them in Nothern Syria. The most important weaponry captured are obviously the 130mm M-46 field guns and 122 BM-21 Grads MRLs, a quantum leap forward in Northern Syria.

Below, an overview of some of the weapons captured:

130mm M-46s field guns, at least twelve of which were captured with associated ammunition and towing trucks.

BM-21s, at least seven of which were captured. Some BM-21s are showing burn marks, indicating heavy usage in the past couple of weeks.

T-55s, of which at least three were captured at Regiment 121. More tanks of this type were captured at Division 17.

9K115-2 Metis-M anti-tank missile systems. Three 9M113 anti-tank missiles together with another box showing '1ПН86ВИ' or 1PBN86VI, the thermal sight used with the launcher, can be seen below.
This indicates the Islamic State not only captured the missiles, but also the 9P151 launchers required to operate the missile.

The final destination of these 9K115-2 Metis-Ms will most likely be Iraq due to a heavier armour threat being present there.

More anti-tank missiles were also captured at Division 17, including various types of Malyutka missiles. Under which a few Iranian I-RAADs. These are also likely to be transferred to the Iraqi front.

Various trucks and jeeps, apart from the MAZ-6317s and GAZ-66s most of them in derilict condition. Also captured were Soviet ZiL-130s, ZiL-131s, ZiL-157s and UAZ-469s, Belarussian MAZ-6317s, Czechoslovak Praga V3S's and Tatra 148s and one lone Russian GAZ Sobol and a lone British Land Rover.

Apart from munition for the 130mm M-46s and 122mm BM-21 Grads, Regiment 121 also held various other munitions such as tens of thousands small arms rounds and hundreds of PG-7V rocket-propelled grenades for the RPG-7. The reason for the large cache of weapons and munitions is that regiment 121 did not only hold ammunition for troops stationed on this base, but was one of the main weapon depots in the Al-Hasakah Governorate.

An overview of the weapons and munitions stored in one of the depots of the base.

- Sixty-two automatic rifles (AKs)
- Eight Polish rifles (Mosin-Nagants)
- Two Degtyaryov machine guns (RPDs)
- Three B-10 recoilless rifle
- One Austrian sniper rifle (Steyr SSG 69)
- Forty attack grenades
- One-hundred and twenty defensive grenades
- One sniper rifle scope
- Three Optical devices
- Twenty boxes of rifle accessories
- Seventy-five NATO Belgian bullets
- Two-hundred and sixty-four high explosive incendiary rounds
- Fifteen armour piercing bullets
- Twelve smoke gun rounds
- Thirty-six illumination rounds
- Fifteen RPG grenades

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Thursday, 3 July 2014

North Korean anti-tank missiles in the Middle East

North Korea, well known for its ballistic missile programme, depends on its foreign relations to provide currency that allows the regime to maintain control over the country. Exports of ballistic missile and even nuclear technology to countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran and Myanmar have been much reported and draw a lot of attention from international observers. However, aside from delivering both conventional and strategic weaponry to sovereign states around the world, it appears North Korean anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) are now also showing up in the hands of what have been branded as terrorist organizations by the USA, a development which shows a broadening involvement of the DPRK in the arms trafficking market.

Imagery of a fighter loyal to the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, shows him operating an indigenous variant of the 9K111 Fagot, designated the Bulsae-2 in North Korean service. The al-Qassam Brigades is likely to have received the missiles from North Korea via Iran through an elaborate network of smugglers and backdoor channels ranging from Sudan to the Gaza Strip. This likely happens in a similar fashion to how this is done with other transports: after delivery to Port Sudan, the weaponry is transported overland to the Gaza Strip via Egypt, as was supposed to be done with the the delivery onboard the Klos C, which was intercepted by the Israeli navy near the coast of Sudan in the Red Sea.

More launchers and missiles have popped up in the inventory of the Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, which seceded from Hamas because of political differences. It is unknown whether other conventional armament was delivered alongside the ATGMs, but North Korea is also known as a major producer of MANPADS and rocket-propelled grenades, making it plausible some of these were exported as well.

To further support this theory: in December 2009, a North Korean arms shipment aboard an Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane was discovered and seized by the Thai authorities immediately after landing in Bangkok. The cargo, which was marked as consisting of oil-drilling equipment, contained thirty-five tons worth of rockets, surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and other weaponry. Another similar shipment was impounded in the United Arab Emirates a few months earlier (July 2009). A large quantity of shipments to both Hamas and Hizbullah is believed to have been transferred unnoticed. With North Korea being a lead player in the arms trafficking business, ways of transport and smuggle routes are always evolving.

North Korea’s role is thus limited to being the manufacturer of the systems. Yet, even though both Iran and North Korea maintain the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy, it can be assumed North Korea has full knowledge of the destination of the Bulsae-2s. But with North Korea’s sole interest in this deal being the money, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The 9M111 wire-guided missile uses semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) to make its way to the target and can penetrate up to 460mm of armour, depending on the variant and target. Upgraded variants, including the 9M113 missile used by the 9K111-1 Konkurs system, can also be fired by the same launcher (with the exception of the earliest variant), providing cross-platform compatibility for both the 9M111 and 9M113 missile series. The DPRK is known to have received the 9K111 system from the Soviet Union first in 1988, a deal which supposedly continued with the Russian Federation until 2010 and entailed the delivery of some 4500 systems. Due to the interchangeable nature of the missiles, it can’t be said for certain whether or not only the 9K111 Fagot or also the 9K111-1 Konkurs was delivered. However, there is no known Korean designation for the 9K111-1 Konkurs, and the Bulsae-3 is most likely an unrelated system.

The North Korean launchers differ in a few key areas. Most notably, the optics have been extensively modified. While the operator’s scope of the 9P135 (the lower scope in above picture) is similar to the operator’s scope on the Bulsae-2, the scope auto-tracking the missile (the upper scope in above picture) has been swapped for two separate smaller optics. The way this works is unknown, as is whether or not it constitutes an up- or downgrade over the original design. Lastely North Korea appears to manufacture their own distinctly shaped batteries, which likely does not affect the quality of the system.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Iranian Su-25s in Iraq

After receiving the first Russian Su-25s just days ago, Iraq's air power is now further bolstered by seven Iranian Su-25s operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force (IRGCAF).

Most of the Iranian Su-25s arrived on the 1st of July 2014, increasing the number of Su-25s in Iraq to twelve. Ironically, some of the Su-25s now transferred by Iran are former Iraqi mounts, evecuated by the Iraqi Air Force in 1991 to escape Coalition airstrikes.

The Su-25s, landing one at a time, will be flown by ten Iranian IRGCAF pilots and four Iraqi Air Force (IQAF) pilots, further increasing the already large Iranian influence within the Iraqi military. The transfer of these Su-25s will also see Iranian maintenance personnel travelling to Iraq to support the Su-25s.

The batch of seven Su-25s includes both single seaters and dual seaters, easing the training of future Iraqi pilots on the type.

This unorthodox transfer greatly increases the combat effectiveness of the IQAF, not only due to the additional seven Su-25s, but also because of the ten experienced Iranian pilots flying the aircraft.

The Su-25s will mainly be armed with unguided rockets, bombs or a mix of them. Although guided weaponry was never supplied to the IRGCAF's Su-25 fleet, the Bina laser-guided missile was recently unveiled and might equip the Iraqi Su-25s in the future, increasing their effectiveness against the fighters of the Islamic State.

Other ex-Iraqi planes now in Iran also seem to be on the Iraqi's wishlist. A deal in which Iran would overhaul the ex-Iraqi Su-22s and return them to Iraq in exchange for the six SU-30Ks ordered by Iraq has also been reported. This would circumvent the arms embargo currently imposed on Iran.

Special thanks to IIAF-JSF and ACIG.

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