A new series of videos, probably leaked from crew members of Syrian Air Force helicopters, show the famous DIY barrel bombs being dropped by Mil Mi-8/17 Hip gunships.
Barrel bombs are oil barrels, turned into explosive devices that are dropped over rebel forces across Syria by Assad’s choppers. They are believed to contain about 200 kg of TNT explosive and capable to destroy any building and surrounding area.
More details about such weapons can be found on many informative posts on Brown Moses and Bjørn Holst Jespersen’s blogs.
Noteworthy, for the first time such DIY barrel bombs can be seen being thrown almost at random, from medium/high-altitude, by the open rear door of a Syrian Arab Air Force helicopter.
The amount of explosive being carried by each helicopter involved in attack missions could explain the huge mid-air explosion of a Hip hit (most probably by a MANPADS) in the skies over Idlib on Oct. 17.
- Video: Syrian rebels down another helicopter gunship outside Damascus (theaviationist.com)
- Impressive footage: Syrian gunship helicopter hit by the rebel fire, spins and then explodes mid-air (theaviationist.com)
- Video of Su-22 releasing flares during attack shows Syrian pilots are becoming concerned of surface to air missiles (theaviationist.com)
- Syria has tested chemical weapons systems using tanks and helicopters. (theaviationist.com)
- [Map] Syrian planes and helicopters downed by rebels since the beginning of the uprising (theaviationist.com)
- Video: Assad’s gunship helicopter shot down by rebel forces in Damascus, Syria (theaviationist.com)
the town being bombed is al-Dabaa, just north east of al-Qusayr
Did I see that correctly?
Were they lighting a fuze on the bomb cannister with a cigarette?
Not that I’m trying to defend a brutal regime, but the fact that the Syrian Air Force is employing these improvised bombs is not necessarily proof that they are using the Hips to “randomly bomb” towns. Judging from the video, it appears that the Hip is at a complete or near hover upon weapon release. Additionally, the “bombardier” clearly waits for the pilot to give the signal to drop the weapon, rather than just tossing it out randomly. The pilot and another crew member appear to be looking through the bottom nose of the hip as an improvised bomb site. All of this gives the impression that they are at least trying to hit a specific target.
It should also be remembered that the Lebanese Air Force was able to employ its Huey helicopter in a similiar bombing role during fighting in 2007. They used commercial GPS devices to guide the helicopters over their intended targets, and then dropped Mk-80 bombs that had been gerry-rigged onto the Hueys. This tactic was claimed by the Lebanese to be fairly accurate ( you couldn’t put a bomb through a window, but you could put the bomb on top of the building you were trying to destroy…or at least close enough to significantly damage it.) It was also credited by commanders as being critical to removing heavily fortified insurgent bunkers and buildings during the fighting.
Therefore, I believe that the Syrians may be utilizing their Hips in the bomber role in an attempt to more accurately hit rebel positions, as well as enabling them to use their Hips as significant force multipliers without the need for major modifications to the aircraft. While I certainly don’t claim that these weapons are more accurate than proper guided bombs and missiles, I do believe that this method would be more accurate than trying to hit rebel positions with dumb bombs dropped from fast jets like the Mig-21 and 23.
I would also like to mention that the Syrian crews are undertaking this bombing role at great peril to themselves. Hovering or flying very slow over their intended targets makes them fairly easy prey to experienced rebel AAA gunners, especially those employing the ZU-23. This risk is further heightened by the fact that these helicopters likely have to make multiple passes over their intended target to gaurantee a hit (especiially if they normally drop such small devices as shown in the video). I therefore believe that the decision to operate their Hips in the bomber roll has directly contributed to the spike in successful helicopter shoot downs.
The bomb in this video is most certainly not made from an oil drum but from an 80 liter gas cylinder, as the dimensions match the latter much better. The total mass (80 liters of TNT + cylinder) would be about 200kg. A gas cylinder makes for a better bomb casing too, since it allows pressure to build up inside it before bursting, something the thin walls of a standard oil drum would not withstand. Higher pressure build up before bursting means more destructive power from the same amount of explosive.
Of course a 55-gallon drum would become a very destructive bomb as well, as it would hold about 330kg of TNT. I guess the Syrian regime is building bombs out of every handy container they get their hands at.
This is a tactic I believe has also been used by The RAF.