In this video posted online on February 22, 2013, a unit identified as part of the “Faroq” group, a prominent insurgent group fighting Syrian government troops in North Syria, is showing an important piece of military equipment: What appears to be the first documented complete SA-24 (Igla-S 9K338) MANPADS, the latest generation of Russian portable air defense missile system.
With the Assad’s regime still holding the air superiority, Man Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS) appear valuable to the insurgents. But those systems are capricious: In order to be operational, they have to be complete. A complete system consists of a launching tube, a BCU (Battery Coolant Unit), a missile, and a grip stock (containing the trigger mechanism). Even a complete system, if poorly stored, could prove inefficient.
Syrian insurgents have repeatedly appeared, on video published on YouTube, with complete or incomplete MANPADS of earlier generations. Those older systems, while deadly against civilian aircrafts, especially during their take off and landing phases, are much less efficient against modern military aircrafts, equipped with countermeasures. A problem that could be overcome by the SA-24.
Eliot Higgins, blogging under the name of Brown Moses, gathered at the end of 2012 several videos where incomplete SA-24 MANPADS were captured by the Syrian opposition, here, here and here. Some “Maket” — or training, demonstration — systems, painted in grey, not in green, were also captured, leading to the assumption that operation SA-24 systems could be present, as well.
This latest video seems to confirm that — note, nevertheless, that one would have to see the markings on the tubes in order to be sure. However, one little detail, in this video, needs more attention.
Matthew Schroeder, analyst at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and at the Small Arms Survey, notes that the gripstock attached to the SA-24 tube appears to be similar in its design to a SA-18 gripstock, less to a SA-24 one. But the absence of a detailed and thorough documentation of the equipment makes it impossible, so far, to be absolutely sure that we are in presence of a complete SA-24 system.
M. Schroeder also adds that while the exports of vehicle-mounted launchers and SA-24 missiles to Syria are well-documented, exports of SA-24 MANPADS “were just rumors”.
This SA-24 case, and this latest video, reminds us of the importance of field research when it comes to documenting armed conflicts. We are no big fan of the “YouTube arms spotting” beat, but we do recognize its importance, only if it is used to help a thoroughly documented field report, to help understanding the dynamics and the complexity of such conflicts.
So, is this latest video showing a complete SA-24 MANPADS, of some kind of mock-up inefficient hybrid system? “Had they showed the weapon being fired, we would be closer to answering that question”, says M. Schroeder. We’ll soon be back on the ground, looking for answers.
More background on MANPADS can be obtained here, and here.
Edit Feb 26, 2013: Apologies for having taken the pictures down. We thought they would not help the readers comparing the different models of MANPADS and the compatibility and specificities of the gripstocks.