A new type of Volcano rocket spotted in Idlib

The above rockets, previously unobserved in Syria, appear to be variants of the "Volcano" Improvised Rocket Assisted Munition (IRAM). Note the swept, non-ringed tailfins–a feature unique to this new, possibly Iranian-manufactured Volcano IRAM. Photo caption translation: “A view of the Syrian Arab Army’s preparations in rural Idlib to face the terrorists.” Photograph source: Syria News Network.

AMMAN: Syrian army units in Idlib province are fielding what appears to be a new version of the Volcano Improvised Rocket Assisted Munition (IRAM), a short-range artillery rocket modified to deliver a larger explosive payload than typically built into conventional rocket artillery such as the 107mm Haseb or 120mm Grad, according to a photo posted by a pro-regime media outlet Thursday.

The above rockets, although evidently sharing the design of IRAMs previously documented in Iraq and Syria, have not been observed in Syria to date. They may represent a new class of IRAMs in Syria, the capabilities of which have yet to be determined, or point to a new manufacturer, perhaps outside Syria.

The undated photos appear to be taken at an unknown location, in what the Syrian News Network called the “the Idlib countryside.”

The Volcano IRAM has its origins in the Iraq War. As early as 2008, US forces documented what they called “flying IED’s”–a 107mm artillery rocket modified by the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army to carry a much larger explosive payload.

To build an IRAM, insurgents would first remove the standard warhead of a conventional artillery rocket. They would then bolt the rocket motor to a new, locally manufactured warhead up to twice the diameter of the original. Although the range and accuracy of the new rocket-propelled IED would be greatly reduced, insurgents prized the projectile’s greater explosive power.

Evidence of both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah fielding IRAM’s emerged as early as 2013, keeping with the weapon’s Iraq-established pedigree of turning up in the hands of Iranian clients.

“These are the first complete examples I’ve seen of the type of Volcano rocket with swept-back tail fins,” tweeted Eliot Higgins, an expert on weaponry used in the Syrian war, to Open Syria on Thursday

“The attachment of the rocket motor to the warhead appears to be identical to earlier variants,” Higgins added.

The new rockets, still banded to their styrofoam-packed transport crates, appear newly manufactured, and less crudely so than typically recovered examples of Volcano IRAMs. This observation suggests a more capable or at least standardized manufacturer. Note “383” painted to the warhead and motor of the foremost rocket, and “F3K-C” painted on the warhead of the rocket immediately behind it, both unknown designations.

“Syrian army Elephant rockets [referring to an IRAM variant] are copies of Iranian-manufactured rockets,” an activist from Damascus told Open Syria via Facebook on Thursday.

“Local manufacturers don’t care about the rocket’s appearance, so the clean look of this shipment suggests it was manufactured outside Syria,” he added.

Volcano IRAMs with warhead diameters measuring between 220 and 333mm are often fired from Iranian-built Falaq 1 and 2 rocket launchers. (A four-barrel variant of what may be an Iranian-built Falaq 1 launcher is visible in the photo background.)

Although the projectile’s launcher may be of Iranian manufacture, it would be a stretch at this  stage to assume the more standardized appearance of this new Volcano IRAM proves it is also of Iranian origin.

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.