It’s an internal spacer from the RBK series of Soviet-era, cluster-munitions dispensers.
Huh? Basically, it fits within a long hollow steel cylinder that amounts to the main body of an unguided air-dropped bomb, and it holds one end of 14 submunitions in place during transport and flight.
There is a lot that could be said about this item, if we had time to riff. This is in part because from the standpoint of industrial history, it’s an interesting find and it suggests an interesting story. The shaped metal plates you see, for example, are mounted on a circular piece of wood that appears to have been machined by jigsaw. You can readily imagine Soviet arms-plant workers, in the last years of Lenin’s failed experiment, cutting pieces from wood to pack into some of the most fearsome conventional weapons to be delivered by MiGs. Don’t let your imagination deceive you. Like many Soviet systems, it’s fairly crude. But that’s no measure. It’s also effective — and well matched to a densely forested nation that happened to be engaged in an arms race.
How does it all fit together? Ultimately, once an entire RBK dispenser is released from an aircraft, and a charge breaks the weapon open and ejects the bomblets within, this spacer, like the tail fin package, and the main body, and the ATK-EB nose fuze, and the obdurator, and more, falls to earth and lands at or near the area struck by the bomblets. And there it can be found.
In other words, what you see above is not just a Cold War curio.
It’s also evidence.
More soon, on the NYT.
Aleppo’s Slide Toward Despair.
Now live on the NYT, with photos by @TylerHicksPhoto and a video produced by Ben Solomon. Here.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH
School desks, stripped. By the author. Aleppo. Last week. More in the video and in Tyler’s slide show.
Arms-Trade Data Sharing: Aleppo, December 2012.
Tyler Hicks and I recently completed a trip into Aleppo, focusing on civilian conditions as winter arrives in Syria’s largest city, which is now bisected by a winding, urban front that separates neighborhoods under Syrian army control from areas where rebels have pushed the government out. The first story will publish shortly, with photographs and video. We’ll link to it when it posts.
Meanwhile, as I am working tonight with the hard drive of fresh images, it’s time to start sharing many of the photographs of arms in circulation in the battle that we bagged as we moved. These can can help, in their accumulation, to track the international arms trade, and to open lines of inquiry into various sources of supply for the government of Bashar al-Assad, and those who seek to topple him.
Back then to Arms-Trade Data Sharing, using this blog and Pinterest to publish images useful for other researchers and for collaboration between far-flung arms spotters and trackers. In this case, a detailed view of RPG-7 launcher. This is for Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, and anyone else.
Nic has been tallying sightings of RPG-7 projectiles and launchers in photographs taken from the conflict. We try to keep him fed.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH
With the Al Tawhid Brigade, in eastern Aleppo. By the author. Late last week. (Lately I’ve been carrying a SONY DSC-RX100, a tiny little beast that has a wonderfully fast macro feature for quick close-up snatches of factory markings and stamps.)
Aleppo, a City Descending Into Disaster.
Soon on the NYT, with pics by @TylerHicksPhoto and a video produced by Ben Solomon from Syria’s largest city, engulfed by a battle entering its sixth month.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH
People wander the trash and the rubble, risking shelling, to stand in bread lines each day. Scene en route to the bakeries and front lines. By the author. Last week. (Don’t worry, Tyler’s pics are, as ever, immeasurably better, as you will soon see.)
Syrian Rebel Commander Issues Demands for Release of Nine Lebanese Hostages.
Amar al-Dadikhi, the commander of the North Storm brigade, who has been holding nine Lebanese citizens hostage since late May, outlines his demands for their release in an interview with The New York Times. On the NYT.
Mr. Dadikhi accuses the men of being members of Hezbollah, which the detained men deny.
With interviews with two of the detained men, photographs by Tyler Hicks, and a video produced by Ben Solomon.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH
Ali Tormas, L, and Ali Abbass, R. Detained in Syria since May. Yesterday. By the author. Bab al-Salam, Syria.
How to Use a Heat-Seeking, Shoulder-Fired Missile. (The Short Course.)
For several months, several researchers have documented what can be seen publicly of the drip-by-drip accumulation of anti-aircraft weapons in the hands of fighters seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. The sightings are almost certainly not a full accounting of what rebels possess, and some of the on-line presentations by rebels appear to have been intended to deceive, as when rebels hold up inert training or sales models as opposed to functional systems. These opposing tendencies create opposing pressures. Some rebel behaviors could lead to underestimations and others to overestimations of the rebel holdings.
But one trend is undeniable. In recent weeks, since the capture of Base 46, west of Aleppo, and the confiscation of its arms, the number of credible sightings and the apparent use of this class of weapon has irrefutably turned upward.
Which leads to this video, one of the many that have appeared on Youtube of late.
The brief clip above shows a young man with an SA-7 MANPADS, which as readers of this blog know is an older heat-seeking system of Soviet design. The gentleman is using his weapon in the service of providing instruction to his like-minded colleagues on-line. That’s nothing new. One the many uses of the Internet, beyond its role in strange forms of anti-social addiction or its enduring utility for misanthropes as the ultimate bathroom wall, is as a martial classroom.
What makes this video interesting is not any of that. It is a single word, which you can hear your instructor utter at about second number five: Cobra. He is calling his SA-7 a Cobra.
Those who follow the arms trade will nod ruefully at both the problems and the answers this presents. The SA-7 is known in Russian as a Strela, or arrow. And it is commonly labeled among fighters worldwide as an SAM-7, an erroneous acronym and shorthand that while not true to trade name is nonetheless close enough to be descriptively useful. (When someone says “SAM-7,” you can be reasonably certain that you know what he means.) SA-7’s are also often called, colloquially, “Stingers,” and while they are not Stingers at all, this misnomer at least puts them in the right class of weapon. But Cobra? Cobra is one of those labels that can undermine the value of word-of-mouth.
Why? Because Cobra, a word commonly associated with MANPADS in Syria, is also the trade name of a particular type of shoulder-fired projectile, manufactured as one of Egypt’s contributions to the global RPG-7 line. (A quick discussion by Nic R. Jenzen-Jones is here.)
To the uninitiated, RPGs and MANPADS can seem superficially similar. Both are readily portable. Both fire projectiles with warheads from reusable shoulder launchers. Both have been common elements of battlefield kit and guerrilla poses since the 1960s (though RPGs are immeasurably more abundant). And this is where matters diverge. The RPG is typically an anti-vehicular or anti-personnel weapon (depending on the warhead) that is often pressed into service (as in Afghanistan by the Taliban) against very low-flying aircraft. It has a short range and is unguided. The SA-7 is a heat-seeking missile system that alters its path in flight, and is designed to lock on an aircraft and pursue it through modest course adjustments to an elevation far beyond what any RPG could ever reach.
Thus the confusion in Syria in discussions about arms transfers and rebel anti-air capability, and regional risks. For many months, in interviews in person and over Skype, rebels have been talking about Cobras as one of the weapons they have, and one of the weapons they want more of. Sometimes this label has been used to describe the ground weapon, and follow-up questions reveal that they are discussing RPGs. More often the name was meant to signify an anti-aircraft weapon, and follow-up questions with experienced fighters indicated that they meant portable heat-seeking missiles.
And so the video above is in this way instructive and useful for arms trackers. The specimen weapon described by this instructor as a Cobra is unmistakably an SA-7. This doesn’t mean any of us can annotate our field notes, or assume that when someone said “Cobra” they meant SA-7. What it does mean is that we can add Cobra to the list of words that can be generally indicative. The use of “Cobra,” it happens, is like when rebels and commentators worldwide say “Grad” or “Katyusha.” They often do not necessarily mean Grad or Katyusha. They just mean “big-ass rocket.” And when someone says Cobra, you should perk up, because they just might be talking about MANPADS, a weapon that matters, and that you will almost be certainly hearing more about throughout and after this war.
We’ll be back shortly with another SA-7 video that is interesting as well.
[With thanks to Hwaida Saad.]