30 June 2012

A Belgian tank killer in Douma?

Blindicide RL-83 – tank killer – anti tank grenade launcher. Syria. Video sources analysed.
Please notice: this is a layman's post. If you read it please don't skip the notes during and at the bottom. Also before you decide what to think of my writings: please read through my latest post (plead added 03/06/2014).

Frame from video uploaded 27/06/2012 to  ktaeb alfaroq's YouTube channel. (via )
* note: the video from which I originally took the above frame has been taken down. Another version can be found here.
(latest updated: July 17, 2012).
The image above is a frame from a video that was tweeted to me by @troublejee a few days ago. The title of the video says that the men presenting their arms before rolling out in their pickups are the brigade of the Martyrs of Douma, and the fact that this parade of opposition to the regime took place at a distance of about 10 km from Damascus seemed the obvious message meant to be conveyed.
Some people however who have developed a more bizarre focus will lose all interest in such displays of force and defiance as soon as a tube like the one above enters the scene. At least someone unable to immediately determine what model this maybe tube-type anti tank grenade launcher is.

Well, probably an exaggeration, but something definitely had to be checked since any anti tank weapons different from RPG-7s in the hands of the opposition until now has been the exception. Also it has been rumoured via photo journalist Austin Tice that shipments of RPG-29s were on their way to the opposition. This could be an indication those had actually arrived.

re-constructed side view sketch.

But no. That was not the case. Instead something equally interesting might be in the hand of that opposition fighter. The sketch above is a loosely reconstructed side-view I made using the significant details from the video-image to be able to reject Google's candidates. I have noted what I believed the components to be, but as can be seen I wasn't really sure of anything. And what really had me confused was that I didn't realize that the component close to the fighter's shoulder is a shoulder-rest and not a front grip. That kept the RPG-29 alive as a candidate for a while even if that would mean the muzzle was pointed backward in the image. But still; it just wouldn't fit.

Instead I was somewhat surprised to see that the M20 "Super Bazooka" - a model from around 1950 - and it's variants seemed to match the build of the weapon best.

In the vertical line up above it can be seen that while the RPG-29 - like what seems to be the trend among more modern models - has its pistol grip in front of the assembly of the launchers two parts the M20 has both its pistol grip and shoulder-rest on the rear part.
Still, both shape of muzzle and shoulder-rest were all wrong, and what I suspected as being the rear sight and some thin stick-like component mounted on the front part was unaccounted for as well.
But then; among the variants of the Bazooka Wikipedia mentions a Belgian development called Blindicide RL-83 (tank-killer). This model - still according to Wikipedia - was designed in the 1950s, and if its blast shield is removed it seems to have all the components placed and shaped right (see last in the line up above and also the image below).

The RL-83 in "action" without blast shield in the movie Wild Geese. Source: the Internet Movie Firearms Database.

I find this a quite convincing match, but given the quality of the material and also that my knowledge is limited to what I have been finding on-line the possibility exists that I haven't found the right model.
But since I do believe I've found the match I couldn't help noticing that the RL-83 has been among the weapons of the Israeli army. And what caused me to take special notice of this is that an Israeli version of another Belgian weapon - the FN FAL - has been spotted in the hands of Syrian opposition fighters in photos or videos in at least two or three cases.
A frame from  a report by France24. The said-to-be Syrian opposition sniper is holding a FAL in the Israeli variant.

On the Firearm Blog the Israeli FAL and what it's presence might indicate was mentioned in a post on May 30. this year:
"The modus operandi of countries supplying weapons to rebels is to supply weapons that would be associated with a third party and not able to be traced back to them. This gun was probably supplied or sold to the rebels by a neighboring Arab state from an old stockpile of captured Israeli weaponry. The FN FAL was Israel's standard service rifle during the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War." (from The Firearm Blog, May 30. 2012, via @RogueAdventurer )
A qoute like that makes it hard not to consider a similar explanation for the maybe-Belgian/Israeli maybe-RL-83 tank killer's turning up in a Damascus suburb. But of course; in both cases the numbers are fare to low to claim proof of a pattern. Still an oddity though.
* note: the location and date of the video has not been verified, but - in relation to this specific subject - as long as the video was actually recorded inside Syria within the last year or so the speculations still applies.
* note 2: ...that is of course only if the weapon is actually working and not some antiquity brought along for increased visual effect (added July 1. 2012).

Update I: Reply from the RL-83 manufacturer:
(added July 2. 2012)

Damien Spleeters (aka @damspleet ) a Belgian journalist who specializes in Belgian weapons and their proliferation took the trouble to write to the company who produced the RL-83 to ask them if the weapon in the image on top of this post could be an RL-83 Blindicide. And they answered:
"The weapon shown in the linked photograph could be a Blindicide RL-83, but it is impossible to confirm that, given the quality of the image.
We have checked all our records, going back to 1970, and we have no record of any sales of any ammunition or weapons to Syria.
The Blindicide was produced at Mecar during the 1960s and 1970s, and it was in service in a number of countries in Europe and the Middle East at that time. Apart from some training ammunition in the 1980s, there have been no major sales in the last 30 years.(e-mail from Mecar to Damien Spleeters. July 2. 2012)
Thank you Damien! And thanks also to the company for checking records and answering this quickly. That is - I've been told - out of the ordinary.

As such this post neither accuses Mecar of supplying Syria with weapons nor of having sometime in the past sold the maybe-RL-83 in the video to Syria. On the other hand I have to add a few comments to their answer:

First of all "could be a Blindicide RL-83" is I think a quite accommodating answer, and I agree that a 100% certain identification of the weapon in the video will be impossible. Something close to certainty might be achieved by analysis of the relative measures of the filmed weapon and having them matched to the blueprint of the RL-83. But surely that would be a time-consuming task, and it is not something I'm going to attempt.
Besides that the answer does actually contain some uncertainties that might or might not be relevant to speculations about how (if) an RL-83 has turned up in the hands of a Syrian opposition fighter.
However, since I'm not going to pursue this any further; if more questions are to be asked somebody else will have to do it.

Update II: A little from the archives:
(added July 5. 2012)
Today (July 5. 2012) I got a little extra note from Damien Spleeters about possible sales of the Blindicide RL-83 to countries in the region:
"on the 4th of January 1973, the Belgian government issued an export license to MECAR for the export of 4 Blindicide 83 mm to the Lebanese army."(e-mail from Damien Spleeters. July 5. 2012)
Mr. Spleeters pointed out that such a license does not prove that the sale went through nor does it tell whether more (or other) sales were made or not. And he added:
"It might probably be just a sample shipment. But I had only data for the 1969-1974 period."(e-mail from Damien Spleeters. July 5. 2012)
Thanks again. This to me is an interesting glimpse into the world of arms dealings, and while it's still important to remember that the suggested model of the weapon in the video has not been confirmed this certainly adds some perspective. And just if it wasn't already clear: it definitely makes the point that more nearby countries could have had the Blindicide in their weaponry.

Update III: A second video:
(added July 16. 2012)
frame from a video on Farouk Homs YouTube channel. Uploaded 16/07/2012. (via @markito0171)

The frame above is from a newly uploaded video with the title:

"B-10 operator Abo Al-abed - one of the members of the Al Faroug Brigade in Qusair - during the battle"(many thanks to @troublejee for help with translation)

It could very well be that the (nick) name of this man is Abo Al-abed, and it is also possible that he is a B-10 operator (several videos claim to show B-10s operated by the Al Faroug brigade) but if so; in this case he has replaced his usual weapon with something else. And this other weapon to me looks very much like it could be a Blindicide RL-83.

As such this video too is too blurred to identify with certainty what is seen(see note 3), but have a look at the odd shaped component underneath at the rear-end of the tube. From my googling I haven't seen anything like that on other shoulder held launchers. Also; the rear sight - which is blurred out in this frame - is visible during the video in a position aligned with the front grip/mono pod. And - without knowing about all existing shoulder held launchers - from the images I've seen, the concept of attaching the rear sight and the mono-pod/front grip to the same metal band appears to be another of the RL-83s characteristics.

Comparison of relative positioning of shoulder rest pistol grip and mono pod. Please notice that the lower image have been flipped horizontally. This changes the way the front and rear sights apprear. Image sources: top: video on  YouTube channel. Bottom  image from ЭНЦИКЛОПЕДИЯ ОРУЖИЯ И БОЕПРИПАСОВ.

To try to further examine this material; what I have come up with is to try to make a comparison of the positioning of the main components of the weapon (see image above). I think it looks right, but the image quality does not allow for me to say that the positioning is a match - only that this does not contradict the weapon in the video being an RL-83.
What can also be measured is that the length of the weapon is about the same as the height of the man operating it. And with a length of the Blindicide RL-83 of 1.7 meter that does not conflict either. However from the look of it; the larger Blindicide RL-100 with its 1.885 meter seems to be out of the question.

I find that these videos support each other in strengthening the case of Blindicide presence in Syria and I also think they give reason to consider if more than one are in use. But given both the quality and the sourcing of the material this still isn't conclusive.

* note 1: Qusair is placed south south-west of Homs quite close to the Lebanese border and Douma is about 10 km to the north of Damascus. The distance between these to places is about 120 km.
* note 2: ...and a distance of 120 km would mean that even if both videos are "true" they could still be showing the same weapon. (added July 17. 2012)
* note 3: Even if this YouTube video was sharp and close up on the weapon it would only suffice to - maybe - identify the weapon. If the video also included more of the surroundings the location might be verified too, but still the time would be uncertain and so would the actual allegiance of the fighters. (added July 17. 2012)

Update IV: A close up:
(added July 27. 2012)

A third video has come out with a weapon that seems to match the Blindicide RL-83. This time it was passed to me by the incredibly active British blogger Brown Moses, who keeps an eye on the development of the weaponry of the Syrian opposition fighters and continuously posts about it here.

frame from a video on Farouk Homs YouTube channel. Uploaded 27/07/2012. I have stretched the frame horizontally in an attempt to restore it to what i think is its original ratio.

The title of the video says it shows a parade in Quasir of a brigade belonging to the Al Faroug umbrella called the Al'adiats Brigade(see note 1). This would make it a brigade in the same area as in the July 16. update above. Another thing that ties this video to the previous is that the video is uploaded to the same YouTube channel.
What is different this time is that in this video the weapon passes by the camera quite closely, which makes it possible to see some of what I believe to be the unique details of the Blindicide: the front sight and the rear with the metal band-attachment of the odd looking component underneath. And the details match.

Again I can not say if this is the very same weapon as in one or both of the other videos, but given the stated locations the possibility of it being the same as that in the previous video seems obvious. If so; then - according to the July 16. video - it should be able to fire...something. The actual locations however remain unverified as do the actual dates, but in my mind only theoretical doubt exists that in this case the weapon we see is a Blindicide RL-83.

* note 1: Al'adiats is a reference to the Quran and means Running Horses (thanks again to @troublejee for translation).
* note 2: in hindsight it occurs to me that the July 16. video could give the impression of having been made to demonstrate the Blindicide rather than being recorded during an actual confrontation with government forces. But even if that should be the case the weapon would still be there.

Related posts on this blog:
- mortar position, Homs
air base missille attack

- any comments or corrections are welcome, either as comments here or to my Twitter account.

No comments: