Open Briefing | 1

Intelligence brief | 15 July 2014
The use of barrel bombs by the Syrian government


1. Barrel bombs are a type of improvise e!plosive evi"e #$%&' "onsisting of a
suitably(si)e "ontainer fille *ith an e!plosive payloa an shrapnel+ "hemi"als+
oil or other "ontent to in"rease its estru"tive "apa"ity+ *hi"h are roppe from
a heli"opter or "argo air"raft.
2. Barrel bombs have been *iely use by the Syrian military sin"e the uprising
began in 2011. %volving esigns an ta"ti"s have resulte in barrel bombs of
greater estru"tive po*er being roppe inis"riminately on populate areas.
,. There are a number of possible motives for the Syrian government-s use of
barrel bombs+ but it is likely that their role as an effe"tive *eapon of terror is
riving the ongoing *iesprea eployment of these *eapons.
4. Barrel bombs are a simple esign that "an be mae from easily(obtainable
"omponents+ *hi"h ma.es them more attra"tive than "onventional bombs for
use as a *eapon of terror+ as they "an be *iely eploye at a lo* "ost.
5. Barrel bombs are being roppe from Soviet/0ussian(mae 1il 1i(2/13 #4ip'
transport heli"opters an 1i(24/25 #4in' atta". heli"opters in the ma5ority of
"ases ientifie in Syria.
6. Spare parts for these heli"opters are almost certainly "oming from e!isting
stores or being "annibalise from unservi"eable air"raft. $t is also highly likely
that they are "oming from Oboronprom an other 0ussian suppliers.
3. $t is likely that the Syrian government is able to pur"hase spare parts from
"ommer"ial suppliers in former 7arsa* 8a"t "ountries *ithout fa"ing san"tions+
or from "orrupt 7estern "ompanies *illing to evae san"tions. $t is also possible
that it is able to obtain spare parts from frienly "ountries that have their o*n
fleet of 1il heli"opters+ su"h as $ran+ or "ountries that prou"e 1il heli"opters
uner li"ense+ su"h as 9hina.
2. :lthough Syria is .no*n to possess a number of ;ren"h(mae :<rospatiale S:(
,42s #=a)elle' an possibly some >S(mae Bell 4uey(type heli"opters #from
$ran'+ the =a)elle-s are not able to "arry barrel bombs an there are no .no*n
in"ien"es of 4ueys being use to rop barrel bombs.
?. $t is therefore unlikely that targeting heli"opter manufa"turers or spare(part
suppliers *ill be an effe"tive avo"a"y strategy for international non(
governmental organisations *ishing to put pressure on the Syrian government
to en its use of barrel bombs.
Open Briefing | 2
$ntrou"tion
Barrel bombs are a type of improvise e!plosive evi"e #$%&' roppe from the e!ternal pos or "argo bay
of a heli"opter or rolle out of an air"raft@s rear "argo oor. They are mae by filling a barrel or other
suitably(si)e "ontainer *ith an e!plosive payloa an aing shrapnel+ "hemi"als+ oil or other items to
in"rease its estru"tive "apa"ity.
The first .no*n use of barrel bombs *as in Suan+ *here they *ere eploye against rebels an "ivilians
in &arfur in the 1??0s. Ahartoum has sin"e use them *hen the Suan Biberation :rmy an the Justi"e an
%Cuality 1ovement rebelle in early 200,+ an again in late 2011 after the su""ession of South Suan.
The for"es of Syrian 8resient Bashar al(:ssa have further refine the *eapon an the ta"ti"s use *hen
eploying it. The earliest re"ore use of barrel bombs in Syria *as in :ugust 2012.
1
Their use *as then
"onfirme by a lea.e vieo from O"tober 2012 sho*ing members of the Syrian military ropping barrel
bombs from a 1il 1i(2/13 #4ip' heli"opter.
2

%volving ta"ti"s have mae the use of barrel bombs far more angerous for "ivilians. 7hen barrel bombs
*ere first eploye by Syrian government for"es+ they *ere roppe from heli"opters at lo* altitue+
proviing a level of a""ura"y that allo*e spe"ifi" targets to be bombe. 4o*ever+ on"e the rebels
a"Cuire shouler(laun"he surfa"e(to(air missiles #S:1s'+ they *ere able to target these lo*(flying
heli"opters. This for"e the pilots to fly at mu"h higher altitues+ *hi"h resulte in greatly(reu"e
a""ura"y. This "hange in ta"ti"s meant that the government *as no longer able to bomb spe"ifi" targets+
an barrel bombs are no* use to atta". large urban areas.
,

;urthermore+ the barrel bombs being use in Syria have evelope from simple versions using a burning
*i". fuse+ *hi"h *ere poorly mae an baly esigne+ to more("omple! munitions using an impa"t fuse
an "ontaining 2+000 pouns of e!plosive or more.
This "ombination of inis"riminate use an greater estru"tive po*er has resulte in more(*iesprea
urban estru"tion an higher numbers of "ivilian "asualties.
$n neighbouring $raC+ 8rime 1inister Douri al(1ali.i seems to have ta.en his "ue from :ssa. The $raCi
:rmy is thought to have use barrel bombs against tribal militia an fighters from the $slami" State of $raC
an the Bevant #$S$S' in ;allu5ah in 201,(14 an against $S$S fighters in 1osul+ Ti.rit an Bai5i in mi(2014.
This is a further *orrying evelopment in the state use of lo*(a""ura"y+ high(lethality $%&s.


1
httpE//bro*n(moses.blogspot."o.u./2012/02/the(mystery(of(syrian(barrel(bombs.html
2
httpE//bro*n(moses.blogspot."o.u./2012/10/"lear(evien"e(of(iy(barrel(bombs.html
,
httpE//bro*n(moses.blogspot."o.u./201,/12/syrias(barrel(bomb(te"hnology(relative.html
Open Briefing | 3
7hy is the Syrian government using improvise barrel bombsF
:lthough the Syrian government "ontinues to eny that they are using barrel bombs+ there is "onsierable
evien"e to suggest the "ontrary. >ser(generate vieo hosting sites+ su"h as GouTube+ are a*ash *ith
footage of Syrian military heli"opters ropping "rue evi"es on rebel(hel areas+
4
an numerous
photographs of une!ploe barrel bombs are "ir"ulating on the internet.
5
4uman rights monitors in these
areas have also "ollate "onsierable eye(*itness an forensi" evien"e.
6
$t is estimate that bet*een
5+000 an 6+000 barrel bombs have been roppe sin"e the uprising in Syria began in 1ar"h 2011+ *ith the
bombing "ampaign fo"usse on rebel(hel areas of :leppo.
3
The opposition Syrian Dational 9oun"il "laims
that at least 20+000 people have been .ille as a result.
2

$t shoul be note+ ho*ever+ that there have been many atta".s in Syria that have been mista.enly
attribute by "ivilians an the international meia to barrel bombs+ *hen they *ere more li.ely ue to
"onventional bombs+ *hi"h have a "onsierably higher reliability an estru"tive po*er than improvise
ornan"e.
?
$n short+ barrel bombs are being use in addition to "onventional bombs+ not instead of.
But the Cuestion remains as to *hy the Syrian government has resorte to the *iesprea use of an
improvise evi"e+ an barrel bombs in parti"ularF :lthough it is impossible to as"ertain from open
sour"es the e!a"t reasons for the :ssa regime-s e"ision to supplement its "onventional arsenal *ith
barrel bombs+ it is possible to ientify an assess several realisti" possible motives behin their useE
1. Bo* supply of "onventional *eapons
2. 4igh losses among "onventional laun"h platforms
,. &efe"tions by pilots
4. %ffe"tive *eapon of terror
5. Simple esign+ easy manufa"ture an rapi eployment
6. %asily(obtaine "omponents
Low supply of conventional weapons: =iven the la". of a""ura"y an potentially high une!ploe(
ornan"e rate+ barrel bombs are not the *eapon of "hoi"e for state militaries. The Syrian military
maintains an arsenal of far more estru"tive Soviet/0ussian air(to(surfa"e missiles+ high(e!plosive bombs+
blast bombs+ "luster bombs+ in"eniary bombs an fuel(air bombs.
10
$t is possible that they are eploying
barrel bombs *hen these "onventional munitions are unavailable+ sto".s are running lo* or there are
"on"erns over resupply. 4o*ever+ the "ontinue *iesprea use of "onventional munitions by the Syrian
military emonstrates a healthy inventory. Syria "an also almost "ertainly obtain *eapons from 0ussia an
possibly $ran. Thus+ a shortage of "onventional ornan"e is unli.ely to be a signifi"ant fa"tor riving the
government-s use of barrel bombs.


4
httpE//***.youtube."om/resultsFsear"hHCueryIsyriaJbarrelJbombs
5
httpE//bro*n(moses.blogspot."o.u./201,/12/syrias(barrel(bomb(te"hnology(relative.html
6
httpE//***.hr*.org/ne*s/2014/04/22/syria(ne*(barrel(bombs(hit(aleppo
3
httpE//***."hannel4."om/ne*s/syria(anniversary(barrel(bombs(*ar("rime(*ar(russia(u.raine
2
httpE//***.ft."om/intl/"ms/s/0/fe?""f"(?5a1(11e,(2,31(00144feab3e.html
?
httpE//bro*n(moses.blogspot."o.u./201,/12/syrias(barrel(bomb(te"hnology(relative.html
10
httpE//bro*n(moses.blogspot."o.u./2012/0?/the(*eapons(of(syrian(air(for"e.html
Open Briefing | 4
High losses among conventional launch platforms: The Syrian military is eCuippe *ith very "apable
Soviet/0ussian atta". air"raft in the form of the Su(22 #;itter'+ Su(24 #;en"er'+ 1i=(21 #;ishbe'+ 1i=(2,
#;logger'+ 1i=(25 #;o!bat' an the 1i=(2? #;ul"rum'. They also have the 1i(2 #4oplite'+ 1i(6 #4oo.' an
1i(2/13 #4ip' transport heli"opters an the 1i(24/25 #4in' an S:(,42 #=a)elle' atta". heli"opters.
11

4o*ever+ a signifi"ant fa"tor is that atta". 5ets nee to fly at lo* altitues in orer to rop unguie
bombs a""urately+ as o atta". heli"opters in orer to use their ro".ets an missiles. This ma.es them
vulnerable to S:1s an groun(base anti(air"raft an small(arms fire. One estimate is that the Syrian
rebels have shot o*n more than 40 military air"raft sin"e the start of the "onfli"t.
12
This situation has
been e!a"erbate by air"raft lost in a""ients+ estroye in rebel atta".s on airbases or groune by a la".
of spare parts. 7hile ata on the e!a"t number of operational air"raft "urrently in Syria-s inventory is
iffi"ult to obtain+ it is believe that Syria ha bet*een 450 an 350 fi!e(*ing air"raft an 130 to 210
heli"opters at the start of the "onfli"t.
1,
%ven a""ounting for the sele"tive reporting of losses an the
un.no*n number of air"raft estroye on the groun or neeing repair+ it is still reasonable to believe
that the Syrian military maintains a "onsierable number of air"raft in operational use.
Defections by pilots: &efe"tions among pilots+ espe"ially atta".(5et pilots+ is another important fa"tor.
The loss of s.ille pilots an their air"raft is "ompoune by a gro*ing fear *ithin the Syrian government
that more *ill follo*+ haning publi" relation vi"tories to the rebels an further unermining the Syrian
military-s strength. : Syrian efe"tor reporte that t*o(thirs of bomber pilots have been groune ue
to a la". of trust by "ommaners an fears that more might efe"t *ith their air"raft.
14
$n this situation+
barrel bombs be"ome an attra"tive option be"ause they "an be easily eploye from transport heli"opters
hovering high over the target.
Effective weapon of terror: Being unguie an having no a""urate aiming system ma.es barrel bombs
inherently inis"riminate an thus a highly potent *eapon of terror. The *iesprea use of these
*eapons against "ivilian targets+ su"h as s"hools+ mosCues an resiential areas+ means that even the
soun of an overhea heli"opter no* provo.es "onsierable fear among a to*n-s inhabitants+ *ithout
that heli"opter even having to rop a bomb. Barrel bombs sprea fear among non("ombatants in rebel(
hel areas+ *hi"h may lea to the in"reasing alienation of the rebels from the "ivilian popula"e. &espite
the unanimous passing on 22 ;ebruary 2014 of >D Se"urity 9oun"il 0esolution 12,? "alling for all parties
in Syria to stop using inis"riminate *eapons #in"luing barrel bombs' in populate areas+
15
the use of
barrel bombs "ontinues to be san"tione by the Syrian leaership *ith ongoing impunity. 4uman 0ights
7at"h an the British foreign se"retary have "alle their use a *ar "rime. $t is assesse that the most li.ely
reason for the ongoing *iesprea eployment of barrel bombs by the Syrian government is their use as
an effe"tive *eapon of terror.

11
httpE//***.globalse"urity.org/military/*orl/syria/airfor"e(eCuipment.htm an
httpE//***.airfor"e(te"hnology."om/features/featurerussia(*ith(*eaponry(syrias(air(for"e/
12
httpE//***.e5e"tion(history.org.u./9OD;B$9TS/SG0$:H2011H2012/SyrianH9onfli"t.htm
1,
httpE//***.globalse"urity.org/military/*orl/syria/airfor"e(eCuipment.htm
14
httpE//***.thenational.ae/ne*s/*orl/mile(east/syrian(fighter(pilot(efe"ts(to(rebel("ause(atta".ing(assa(loyalists
15
httpE//***.un.org/en/ga/sear"h/vie*Ho".aspFsymbolIS/0%S/21,?#2014'
Open Briefing |
!imple "esign# easy manufacture an" rapi" "eployment: Barrel bombs follo* a simple esign that
allo*s for basi" "onstru"tion an mass prou"tion. : high e!plosive+ su"h as trinitrotoluene #TDT' or an
etgylene o!ie(base "ompoun+ is house in a suitable metal rum or "ontainer+ together *ith shrapnel
an sometimes oil for an in"eniary effe"t or "hlorine to ma.e a "hemi"al *eapon. This "reates a
estru"tive effe"t in "ontrast to their ruimentary esign. The Syrian military have s*it"he from using
unreliable *i". fuses to impa"t fuses+ an have ae fins to the barrel to ensure that the impa"t fuse on
the base hits the groun first. This esign is "onstantly evolving as the military see.s to reu"e the failure
rate. The unsophisti"ate esign an basi" "omponents of barrel bombs #espe"ially those using *i". fuses'
allo*s for mass manufa"ture by relatively uns.ille labour in simple lo"al *or.shops. This allo*s them to
be rapily eploye as operational assets.
Easily$obtaine" components: :nother avantage of barrel bombs is that their improvise nature means
that "omponents "annot be effe"tively stoppe by international san"tions. The materials are *iely
available from multiple sour"es *ithin Syria+ an there is no realisti" *ay of preventing the military from
obtaining them. %ven inspe"tions by international monitors *oul not be effe"tive. This+ "ombine *ith
their simple esign an rapi eployment+ ma.es barrel bombs more attra"tive than "onventional bombs
as a *eapon of terror+ as it allo*s for their mass eployment at a lo* "ost.
7hi"h "ountries are the heli"opters an their spare parts "oming fromF
:""urate ientifi"ation of the spe"ifi" variant of heli"opter type being use to eploy barrel bombs is
ne"essary in orer to as"ertain *ith "ertainty *hi"h "ountry or "ountries the heli"opters+ an potentially
their spare parts+ have been supplie by. This is be"ause ifferent variants of the same heli"opter type are
often evelope for omesti" an e!port mar.ets+ *ith spe"ifi" ientifiable variants in servi"e *ith
ifferent militaries aroun the *orl. 4o*ever+ imagery analysis of the heli"opters use to eploy barrel
bombs in Syria has been in"on"lusive+ as the available photographs an vieo footage is not of high
enough resolution to allo* a""urate ientifi"ation of the variants of air"raft being use. 9on"lusions "an+
ho*ever+ still be ra*n on the type of heli"opters use.
:n analysis of the "olle"te footage reveals four ientifiable types of heli"opter being use to eploy
barrel bombs in SyriaE the 1i(2 #4oplite'+ 1i(6 #4oo.'+ 1i(2/13 #4ip' an 1i(24/25 #4in'. The ma5ority of
missions appear to be using the 4ip an 4in platforms. These are all Soviet/0ussian heli"opter types+
*hi"h is unsurprising given that pre(*ar Syria *as the largest importer of 0ussian(built *eapons an
*eapons platforms in the 1ile %ast. These heli"opters *oul have been mae in the Soviet >nion or
0ussia by the 1il 1os"o* 4eli"opter 8lant+ *hi"h has been part of the ma5ority state(o*ne Oboronprom
9orporation sin"e 2004.
: "hronology "ompile from the ates of the "olle"te footage suggests that barrel bombs are being
in"reasingly laun"he via the e!ternal pos of heli"opters. ;rom this it "an be inferre that impa"t(fuse
bombs are being favoure over the *i".(fuse moels prone to premature etonation+ as *i".(fuse moels
"annot be roppe from e!ternal pos. This also means that the Syrian military "an utilise their 4in fleet
more+ as that heli"opter has e!ternal pos *hile la".ing a rear "argo oor+ thus in"reasing the pool of
available laun"h platforms for barrel bomb operations.
Open Briefing | %
$t is almost "ertain that spare parts for these heli"opters are "oming from e!isting stores or being
"annibalise from unservi"eable air"raft. $t is also highly li.ely that spare parts *ill be "oming from
Oboronprom an other 0ussian suppliers. Syria may also be able to obtain spare parts from frienly
"ountries that have their o*n fleet of 1il heli"opters+ su"h as $ran+ or "ountries that prou"e 1il
heli"opters uner li"ense+ su"h as 9hina+ *hi"h prou"es the 1i(2/13 #4ip' at its Si"huan Bantian 4eli"opter
9ompany Bt prou"tion fa"ility. The government may also be able to pur"hase spare parts from
"ommer"ial suppliers in former 7arsa* 8a"t "ountries *ithout fa"ing san"tions+ or from "orrupt 7estern
"ompanies *illing to evae san"tions. $t is *orth noting that there are passenger(heli"opter variants of the
4ip for "ivil airline use+ *hi"h may ma.e it an easier platform to obtain spare parts for than the military(
only 4in atta". heli"opter.
Do substantive "laims have been mae suggesting that heli"opters sour"e directly from 7estern
suppliers are being use by the Syrian government to rop barrel bombs. :lthough Syria is .no*n to
possess about ,0 ;ren"h(manufa"ture :<rospatiale S:(,42s #=a)elle'+
16
these are light utility heli"opters
an are not able to "arry barrel bombs.
There is some evien"e of other 7estern(mae heli"opters in use in Syria. ;ootage release in Dovember
2012 "laims to sho* >S(mae Bell >4(1 $roCuois #K4uey-' heli"opters flying over Syria.
13
$f verifie+ this
*oul suggest that a number of heli"opters in use by the Syrian military may have "ome from $ran+ as $ran
has a >4(1 erivative+ the Bell 214+ in its inventory+ an is the only "ountry *illing an able to supply
meium(lift 7estern heli"opters to Syria. $t shoul be note that su"h heli"opters *ill be at least ,5 years
ol+ as they *ere elivere to the Shah-s regime prior to the 1?3? $ranian revolution. 4o*ever+ there have
been no reports of these platforms being use to rop barrel bombs.
Ta.ing the above fa"tors into a""ount+ it is unli.ely that targeting heli"opter manufa"turers or spare(part
suppliers *ill be an effe"tive avo"a"y strategy for international non(governmental organisations *ishing
to put pressure on the Syrian government to en its use of barrel bombs.
Open Briefing is the *orl-s first "ivil so"iety intelligen"e agen"y. 7e prou"e a"tionable an prei"tive
intelligen"e. 7e tell you *hat has happene an *hat is li.ely to happen ne!t. 1ost importantly+ *e tell
you *hy.
7e o this so that better informe "iti)ens "an more effe"tively engage in pea"e an se"urity ebates an
"ivil so"iety organisations "an ma.e the right avo"a"y "hoi"es. Together+ *e "an then influen"e positive
efen"e+ se"urity an foreign poli"y e"isions by our governments.
Open Briefing is a bol an ambitious not(for(profit so"ial enterprise. 7e are a uniCue "ollaboration of
intelligen"e+ military+ la* enfor"ement an government professionals from aroun the *orl.
9hallenge the status Cuo. Ta.e intelligen"e into your o*n hans.
www&openbriefing&org


16
httpE//***.globalse"urity.org/military/*orl/syria/airfor"e(eCuipment.htm
13
httpE//***.youtube."om/*at"hFvIoDSJG16ub: an httpE//***.youtube."om/*at"hFvI:3.s4%)eL2..

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