Jeffrey LewisSyrian Missiles

Watching Arab governments collapse is always a nice opportunity to check out military hardware — particularly missiles.  Libya’s collapse resulted in some pretty nice shots of its remaining Scud-B missiles.

Syria has yet to collapse and unleash images of wrecked Scuds and whatnot, but here is a tantalizing first hint.

On Twitter, @lalithadithya said “FSA claims to have captured a Syrian army missile base, notice multiple [TELs] snaking out of the base.”

The video is pretty shaky, but those sure do look like Scud TELs at 00:01, 00:36,  00:47, and 2:48.  Earlier press reports describe the base as housing surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

Another video seems to show mostly SA-2 SAMs.  The film is so blurry —  the cameraman isn’t exactly Kazuo Miyagawa — that I can’t really tell.

I haven’t seen a lot of pictures of Syrian equipment, so this is novel to me at least.  No pictures yet of eiher the SS-21 or the Fateh 110.


  1. Andy (History)

    This site (I have no affiliation) has some pretty good info on Syrian weapons based on videos and photography, but nothing on Scuds unfortunately.

    While it’s nice to get a look at some of this stuff, the downside (besides the cost of war of course), is that a lot of this stuff goes walking. Libyan weapons, for example, ended up fueling instability in Mali and, more on the arms control front, the US is currently and quietly engaged in the “most extensive effort to combat the proliferation of MANPADS in U.S. history.” With Syria there are more and better weapons plus the added fun of chemical weapons.

  2. JFC Fuller (History)

    Lots of goodness here.

    1) The Syrian Free Army really needs to invest in some better cameras

    2) The SA-2 site could be the one that Defensetech is claiming was later bombed by the Syrian Air Force (743d Air Defence Battalion Apparently):

    They certainly look like SA-2s.

    3) I look forward to the usual crazy theories about how these weapons represent an existential threat to humankind now they are out of state control, they are always entertaining. Who wants to take bets on the following:

    a) Do they actually work?

    b) Does anyone actually know how to use them in a meaningful way?

    4) If air defence and ballistic missile units are defecting it suggests that the situation is worsening rapidly (yet Russia is supposedly supplying Hinds), along with todays events in Iraq (has purchased Abrams and F-16s) and the Libyan quagmire (France refurbishing Mirage F-1s) I am reminded of this line from the film Syriana:

    “You know what the business community thinks of you? They think that a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other’s heads off and that’s where you’ll be in another hundred years, so, yes, on behalf of my firm I accept your money.”

    • Jeffrey (History)

      By the way, the photograph of an SA-2 that adorns that Defense Tech post is, I believe, an Egyptian SA-2. Almost Syrian. UAR counts, right? 🙂

    • Andy (History)

      That is probably the Talbiseh SA-2 site if the reporting is correct, which is just north of Homs at: 34°50’0.64″N, 036°41’58.40″E.

    • John Schilling (History)

      A number of sources, e.g. , indicate that Scud missiles were in intermittent use in Afghanistan long after the final collapse of the Soviet-backed government and withdrawal of associated technical personnel. I cannot readily find anything that I would consider positive confirmation of this, but if the Taliban and/or various Afghan warlords could successfully light off the occasional Scud, I would not rule out Syrian rebels doing likewise.

    • Bradley Laing (History)

      —I read that many Russian Federation ships are still, on paper, “in commission,” even though they are not usable warships. The reason why is that to keep sailors employed, they leave the attached ships “in commission.”

      —Could it be that the ‘air defense’ unit was just “in commission” on paper, and the equipment was not operational? So when it was abandoned, it was *not* an “air defense unit” defecting but gaurds abandoning a movie set designed to look good to Israeli inelligence?

    • Malenki Sasha (History)

      Excellent point Bradley,

      On paper Syria has a daunting army; 500 combat aircraft, nearly 100 attack helicopters, over 10,000 tanks and armored fighting vehicles, a large ballistic missile force, and massive air defense network. On paper this would not only be the most well equipped army in the region but one of the best equipped army in the world.

      It also should be noted that the Syrian defense budget is a couple billion. Even with a line of credit with Russia, help from Iran, and hidden spending there is no way Syria can take care of even half of that equipment.

      With the mountains of all sorts of weapons this is potentially one of the worst proliferation disasters since the fall of the Soviet Union.

  3. Bjørn H Jespersen (History)

    Here is what I’ve come across on this subject:

    Compiled videos and the FSA statement about the defection from the Ghantoo air defence base:

    for a reasonably clear view of the missile-model; freeze a frame at 0:13 in the first video.
    The statement mentions SA-6. I see no sign of SA-6s, but the missile in the frame I suggested to look at matches the SA-2 design quite well. Unfortunately I’m no expert or specialist which make it impossible for me to exclude that another match exists, but it would surprise me.
    It seems strange however, that the personnel on an air defence base would confuse SA-6 with SA-2 or – if SA-6s were actually on the base, but just not filmed – failed to mention the latter.
    One slim possibility I see is that they of course knew what missiles they had but messed up the NATO reporting names.

    Question is if they got the SA-7 right, and – if so – how many of them were in the boxes they rushed off with.

    about SCUDs:

    and SA-3s:

  4. Bjørn H Jespersen (History)

    …It seems I managed to miss the point in my previous comment (for ridiculous reasons). Very interesting stuff!

    I just tried to see if I could determine if the TELs were actually carrying missiles or not.

    By comparing to an outline from a photo of a “loaded” TEL I tend to believe that the TELs at 0:47 and 2:48 are not carrying missiles.
    My reason for this is that around where the finns of the missile ought to push the cover upwards it seems to me the cover is actually sagging instead.

    I can’t get a useful view of the TEL at 0:01 but the one at 0:36 doesn’t seem to sag in the same way. So: inconclusive.

    I get the impression that the defection was planned and coordinated with the opposition forces, and they would definitely want to degrade the regime’s SCUD capacity. There would not have been time to load unloaded TELs, I think, but making sure not to leave any launchers for the regime to recapture would have been a priority. From that perspective a mix of TELs with and without missiles being taken away from the base makes would make sense.

    • bjørn h jespersen (History)

      I have become aware that the video embedded in this post is also uploaded somewhere else with a different title.

      That title makes it a video of SCUD movement on june 6. near Damascus. I can’t say which title – if any of them – is accurate, but in hindsight I find reason to think that the video is filmed from a hiding position. That would be more in accordance with the Damascus title. What could speak against it is its late upload-date (june 14.)

      search YouTube for “Movement of SCUDS near Damascus” to find the other upload.

  5. Bruno (History)

    The second missile on the second video is definitely an SA-2 (I tagged enough of these to be sure). But I cannot be so confident in the first one that shows (the aft fins look different and the bulk is not right but that is maybe because it is all shaky and blurry). As for the third, it is impossible to tell.

    • JFC Fuller (History)

      I was wondering whether there might be some SA-3s in the mix but the more I look at it the more they all look like SA-2s. The third missile is on its transporter and that is consistent with the standard SA-2 outfit whilst missile one probably looks “off” because of the angle it is being looked at from. Interestingly, the site looks like it has either been badly maintained or quasi-abandoned. Note the dusty windshield on the SA-2 transporter tractor unit and the angle it is parked at relative to its missile. The entire place looks overgrown.

  6. GKaplan (History)
    • Jeffrey (History)

      Nicely done.