(safety section added and also some editing December 09, 2012)
Syrian air force (SyAAF) use of fuel air bombs. sometimes called vacuum bombs (or, mistakenly, thermobaric weapons).
Please notice: this is a layman's post. If you read it please don't skip the notes during and at the bottom of the post. Also before you decide what to think of my writings: please read through my latest post (plead added 03/06/2014).
On August 6th a series of videos were uploaded to talbisah's YouTube channel. They were said to be from the town Talbiseh between Homs and Rastan in Central Western Syria. Especially one of the videos in which two falling bombs can be seen got a lot of attention in the days after(see note 1). It was @felimmcmahon from Storyful who brought the videos to my attention, and I have been trying to look into what kind of bombs might have been used here.
|Left frame: the first bomb that fell. Right frame: the second bomb. Image source: video uploaded to talbisah's YouTube Channel 06/08/2012.|
|the vertical lines mark where the bombs fell. Source: same video as above, uploaded to talbisah's YouTube Channel 06/08/2012|
To be able to compare the impact positions with the blast, I have marked the paths of the two bombs with vertical lines (images above), and from that study it appears, that the main blast comes from where the bomb to the left hit. This makes me think that possibly the other bomb didn't detonate as intended.
Some of those who have seen the video have suggested that the bombs are slowed down by some kind of parachute. It is also being suggested that the bombs are so called fuel-air bombs (or vacuum bombs). From what I've read fuel-air bombs works by first spraying its explosive liquid (fuel) into the air at the target area, and then igniting it. This causes an explosion that doesn't have the initial intensity of "usual" high explosive filled bombs, but the sprayed fuel has a much larger volume when it ignites, and since it uses oxygen from the surrounding air to burn explosively, the overall effect of fuel-air bombs is larger than high explosive filled bombs of the same weight (see note 2).
I do not have the information as to how this particular model sprays its fuel, but the spraying is often done by an explosive charge placed in the central axis tube of the bomb. The ignition will typically be timed to be activated some 0.15 sec after the burst charge has dispersed the fuel (added 09/12/2012).
The images below are from a video that in my understanding should be showing the damages of the attack seen in the previous frames. I have not been able to document this, but for several reasons I find this source credible. Also since I find it documented that the video is from a war-zone, and unlikely not to be from Syria, then, even if the video should turn out not to be from Talbiseh, studying the object in the image below seems relevant.
|a frame from this video upoladed to talbisah's YouTube Channel 06/08/2012.|
Assuming it is a bomb; when comparing it to free fall fragmentation bombs like the OFAB 250-270 the tail looks different. The tail on this object looks like a large tube, and what I believe to be one of the fins can be seen to the left in the left frame below. The main body of the bomb also seems to have walls that are much thinner that the OFABs.
|three frames from the same video as above, uploaded to talbisah's YouTube Channel 06/08/2012.|
All those differences and the hollow main body of the object first made me think of a canister for cluster bombs, but that does not seem to be the case. Instead, as mentioned earlier, fuel air bombs were suggested. And when a particular model of these was pointed to as a possibility the details started to fit. The model is called ODAB-500 and can be seen in the images below.
By comparison to the video frames its overall size looks right. The tail looks right too (and the reason for it being built around the large tube is that is contains a small parachute). Also the nose has the right shape, and when looking closer it also has the same kind of metal band around the foot of the nose.
I'm not sure what the black component in the centre frame above is - or if it's even from the (supposed) bomb, but the hollow space and the thin walls of the main body (behind the black component) corresponds with the ODAB-500 too.
|mage and drawing of an ODAB-500. Image sources: Left: Wikipedia commons. Right: image posted on valka.cz. Thanks to @Jugend75 for mentioning the ODAB-500 as a possibility. * note of 17/08/2012: from what I read there are two models of ODAB-500: an ODAB-500PM and an ODAB-500PMV. In this illustration the model to the left (as I understand it) is an ODAB-500PMV with the fins of the tail exceeding the diameter of the "tail-metal-band". The drawing to the right could look like being of an ODAB-500PM with the fins circumscribed by the "tail-metal-band". The two models seems to be compared on this page.|
All in all I find this a quite convincing match. The uncertainty that remains relates to the fact that the match is made on the basis of an unverified video. I'll leave it to the readers to decide on whether or not to find it credible.
Finally a little extra detail: later in the video, with the supposed unexploded ODAB-500, some metal fragments are shown (outside in the street). These fragments could look like being from an OFAB bomb(see note 3). If that is the case they could very well be from an earlier attack, but never the less I feel like quoting something that was mentioned by Vadim Naninets (aka @Jugend75):
"during Soviet war in Afghanistan ODAB-500 were reported as one of the most unreliable munitions - due to fuze failure only 15 - 50 % of the bombs dropped detonated. Thus, the typical method was to combine dropping of 3 ODAB-500 with 1 HE bomb like FAB-250 or FAB-500 - just to secure combustion of ODABs air fuel mix. Sometimes the following plane launched several S-8 unguided rockets at ODABs impact area with the same purpose - just to secure combustion." (Vadim Naninets has told me that his source for this information is a book by Victor Markovsky with the title "Hot skies of Afghanistan")But so fare that is only a thought.
Video uploaded August 16: A collection of ordnance fragments in Tabliseh. Among many other types of expended munitions there is one that looks like from an ODAB-500.
|three frames from video uploaded to talbisah's YouTube channel on 16/08/2012. (link via @HamaEcho). - to study details use zoom (cmd +) after clicking the image.|
It could be the same as in the video uploaded on August 6th, but notice the compartmentalization of the room of the main body (centre frame). In the August 6th video it looks like the dividers have moved to the front, but I can not exclude that they have been moved back in position before being put on display for this new video.
But whether or not this is of the same bomb, this video makes it possible to - in part - find an explanation for the component in the centre frame three images up. It can be seen that it is originally placed somewhere inside the tail-tube (right frame above), and I assume its purpose is to in some way take part in the spraying or/and igniting of the explosive fluid of the bomb.
What can also be seen is some kind of electronic installation in the nose of the bomb (left frame). This could be for controlling and timing the spraying and the following ignition. (section expanded 04/09/2012 and some change made 09/12/2012).
Update August 16:
A series of tweets by
@HamaEcho: Massive bomb landed on Jabal Shahshabo,
#Hama http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4HIizbzzFU … Plain fields shelled heavily for months now, for no reason. #Syria (3:32 PM - 16 Aug 12)
#previoustweet The bombs are dropped on the fields not the villages for some reason, it's also the first area where cluster bombs were used. (3:38 PM - 16 Aug 12)
#previoustweet I think it's just for testing before these weapons are used in other areas, but why don't these f****** use empty land? (3:43 PM - 16 Aug 12)
I have taken some frames from the linked-to video:
|three frames from video uploaded to ابو رشيد 's YouTube channel 16/08/2012.|
This seemingly unexploded bomb in many ways resembles the one reported from Tabliseh, but I actually get the impression this one is of a larger model. Therefore I have made a quick search, and in this document there is a mentioning of both an ODAB-750 and an ODAB-1100(mistake!: see note 4).
I consider it a possibility that what is shown in the video is from one of these larger sizes. If so, that could be the reason for having to make tests or practice at this time(see note 5).
But - larger or not - in the frame above to the right, a component can be seen in the upper left corner. I believe this is the same type of component, that I, in relation to the August 16th video, suggest, as having to do with spraying and/or igniting of the explosive fluid. (section expanded 04/09/2012, some change made 09/12/2012).
Update August 21:
A video uploaded August 20th: this video shows an object that could - as the title says - be a thermobaric rocket. The video is blurred, and there is no objects in the frame that I am able to use as measure-references, but I will estimate the diameter of the object to be around 20 centimetres. This could make it a 220 mm rocket for the TOS-1 Buratino multiple rocket launcher. Or something similar.
* comment: the video linked to in this section has been removed by the uploader. But to clarify: this was a big maybe, and since this report, I have seen no cases of rockets larger than grads (except a more recent mentioning of a 333 mm maybe-Iranian system). At the time, someone thought the object, claimed-to-be a rocket, was instead a helicopter fuel tank, which had been dropped. The shape - In my view - didn't quite match, but the possibility, that something was being mistaken for a weapon should also be included) (comment added 04/12/2012).
Update October 19 - November 25:
|Left: releashing flares. Centre: bomb dropped (bottom of frame). Right: the falling bomb. image source: video originally uploaded to SHAMSNN's YouTube channel 17/10/2012.|
A video of an aerial attack: an Su-22 attack jet looks like it's releashing flares as it drops a bomb. The bomb looks like a parachute retarded bomb. The explosion is for the main part covered by bushes, but the flash could resemble what is seen in the video from Talbiseh.
* note: this video has since been taken down.
Video uploade September 15: fragments at 0:40 matches ODAB fragments. Location is stated as Bashqatin, about 12 km West of Aleppo (link via @Brown_Moses, added 06/11/2012).
Another video uploaded October 17: fragments that resembles those of an ODAB-500. The title states the location as Kafr Sejena in Idlib (link via @JMiller, added 30/10/2012).
Video uploaded October 30: remnants of an ODAB. The title states the location as Deir Ez-Zour, and from sampling the YouTube channel it is uploaded to it seems that the channel is based in that city. (link via @Brown_Moses, added 06/11/2012).
Photo of an unexploded ODAB-500: according to the source the location is Aleppo. Date is unknown. (added 06/11/2012).
Remnants of an ODAB including of the parachute: according to the title the location is Taftanaz, Idlib. Uploaded November 7, 2012.(link via @Brown_Moses).
Remnants of the body of an ODAB: according to title the location is Deir Ez-Zour. Uploaded October 31, 2012.
More remnants of ODABs: remains of an ODAB, laying in a room. Seemingly entered through the roof. The location mentioned in the title is Deir Ez-Zour and the upload date is November 21, 2012.
An ODAB-500 being dropped by a MiG-23: according to the video title at Darayya - a Southern Damascus suburb - on November 30, 2012.
A thought maybe-to-be a case of multiple ODABs*: Krak des Chevaliers, Homs. Videos uploaded January 4, 2013.
* note: by March 2013, I find it more likely, that the bombs used in this attack was something different than fuel-air bombs.
- Avoid the area
- Record all relevant information
- Mark the area to warn others
- Seek assistance from the relevant authorities
- Specific warning about fuel-air bombs: even if these bombs are broken and the fuel have leaked, they can still hold a deadly bursting charge as well as one or more ignition charges. Handling remains of these bombs - as seen in some of the videos of this post - is potentially lethal, and should be avoided.
The fuel if leaked or leaking also represents potential healths hazards both due to being flammable and due to unknown level of toxicology. These are additional reasons to stay away from these bombs, to avoid contact with the fuel and to avoid smoking or other use of fire anywhere near them.
The above warnings are to give an idea of the kind of dangers these bombs represent, if you should ever happen to encounter one yourself, or if you should be contacted by someone who has, please seek more guidance. Also see the below links:
- Download-link for Technical Note for Mine Action (pdf-file)
- link to print-out warning flags in English and Arabic from R.R.M.A.
* note 1: I refer to the falling objects as bombs, but this is not absolutely certain. Theoretically the video could be manipulated or the explosion that occurs as the second falling object hits could be from something else.
* note 2: the term "thermobaric" is often used to describe fuel-air bombs. But thermobaric bombs/warheads does not work in the same way as fuel-air bombs. By comparison the fuel-air bombs have their fuel spreading for a longer time before igniting it. The term "vacuum bomb" is also sometimes used. From what I've read, this term should fit better with the characteristics of the fuel-air bomb than with thermobaric weapons. This note was put in when I corrected the section of the text to match this fuel-air/thermobaric destinction (added 09/12/2012).
* note 3: after re-viewing the video material I find it less likely that the fragments shown in the street are from an OFAB bomb (but still, the information about the (un-)reliability of the ODAB-500 remains relevant to getting an idea of what kind of a weapon that might have been used here)(added 15/08/2012).
* note 4: after having looked for more information of ODABs larger than the ODAB-500, I have become uncertain if my reading of the linked to passage (that mention ODAB-750 and ODAB-1100) is correct, and I have found no other mentioning. Therefore the linked-to text can not be taken as a confirmation of my impressions. However, given the reported history, I still find the testing/practice thesis likely, but I'll not try to come up with other reasons as to why this could be the case here(added 17/08/2012).
* note 5: the tail fins of this model too exceed the diameter of the metal band of the tail, which - if it is a 500 kg model - in my understanding will make it an ODAB-500PMV(added 20/08/2012).
* general note: this is not an expert analysis, rather it's a presentation of primarily visual observations. Please apply you own judgement.
related posts on this blog:
- Syrian Airforce Unleashed
- Syrian airforce use of the L-39 Albartos
- weapons used on Homs
- mortar position, Homs
- Syria: Local photo sources
The latest on Twitter: search 'Fuel-air bombs'. search 'Thermobaric'.
NB: since January 2013 there have been a number of video-reports showing jets dropping parachute retarded bombs, that I suspect to be of a different type. However, I have not seen any identification of the bombs used in these cases. The case from Krak des Chevalier linked to further up could belong to this group (added april 10, 2013).
By April 14, 2013, a post on Brown Moses blog looks at some possible models.
- all comments and corrections are welcome - either as comments here or @ my twitter acount.