Venik (venik4) wrote,

Human Rights Watch Misidentified Cluster Bomb

Human Rights Watch has published a photo of what it claims to be a Russian RBK-250 cluster bomb found in the Georgian village of Ruisi, near the border with South Ossetia. The caption to the photo published by HRW reads:

"Georgians look at the remains of a bomb dropped by a Russian aircraft on the village of Ruisi, near South Ossetia, Tuesday, August 12, 2008. Human Rights Watch has identified the weapon as a RBK-250 cluster bomb."
Below is the original screenshot from the
HRW Web gallery and here is a link to a digitally enlarged image. (If you have a higher resolution version of this photo, please send it to me.)

The moment I saw the photo, it was clear to me that this was not the 7-foot-long RBK-250. Below is a small collection of photos depicting several RBK-250 bombs. Notice the size and shape of the tail section, particularly at the point where the tailcone connects to the tail stabilizers. Also notice the round stabilizer on the tail of the RBK-250. All these characteristic design features are missing on the weapon in the photo published by Human Rights Watch. Take a look at the shape of the tail fins: the fins on the RBK-250 are longer and have a rounded leading corner.

Soviet-/Russian-made RBK-250 cluster bombs

Several types of Russian aviation bombs, including the 7-foot long RBK-250 (first from the right). The photo of a man standing next to a FAB-250 bomb (third from the left in the first photo) should give a sense of scale. As you can see, the RBK-250 bomb is considerably larger than the bomb on the HRW photo.

Cutaway diagram of a Russian RBK-250-275, showing the payload of AO-1SCh bomblets (Source: JEOD, Jane's)

Today someone took care of updating the Wikipedia "Cluster bombs" article with some relevant information about the use of such weapons in Georgia:

"According to Human Rights Watch, the Russian Air Force dropped RBK-250 cluster bombs in populated areas during the war in Georgia, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring dozens: "this is the first known use of cluster munitions since 2006, during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon" - the group said.[1] However, according to Ove Dullum, Chief Scientist of the Norwegian defence institute FFI, the photos on the Human Rights Watch web site actually showed bomblets made in Israel, as it was identical to one of the kinds of bomblets used in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. The claim came in an interview with Sveriges Radio, and was also aired on NRK radio. He told that both HRW as well as the NPA (which upon the rumours about the use of bomblets had launched a protest against Russia), had received this info from him. [2] Human Rights Watch said on September 1 that Georgia had admitted to using cluster bombs during the hostilities in South Ossetia, The Associated Press and AFP reported.[8] “Georgian armed forces have GRADLAR 160 multiple launch rocket system and rockets of MK4 LAR 160 type (with M85 bomblets) with the range of 45 kilometers,” the Georgian MoD said.[9]"

The photo published by HRW is clearly not that of an RBK-250. If you can ID the weapon on the HRW photo, let me know.


Another blogger has correctly identified the mystery "bomb" in the photo: it is the Israeli-made MK4 LAR 160 cluster rocket used by the GRADLAR MLRS. This is the same weapon used by Israel in the 2006 war against Lebanon, resulting in heavy civilian casualties. In a letter to Human Rights Watch,
Georgia's Defense Ministry has officially acknowledged using these weapons against the Russians, but now Georgia is denying its acknowledgment. Typical Saakashvili for you. Available evidence indicates that Georgian artillery used this weapon against Russian armor near the village of Ruisi, but ended up hitting its civilian residents. MLRS primarily use unguided rockets and are notoriously inaccurate. Such weapons are usually employed against large concentrations of enemy armor or personnel. The fact that the Georgians decided to use this weapon near one of their own villages is a sign of utter panic in the face of advancing Russian armor.

"A battery of Israeli-made Gradlar multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) mounted on Actros 3341 Mercedes 6x6 trucks took part in Georgia's Independence Day parade in Tblisi on 20 January. One of the vehicles was armed with 26 single-shot launch tubes for Israeli-designed 45-km range 160 mm rockets, with the remainder carrying box launchers for 40 Soviet-designed 122 mm rockets. Intended to outrange the 122 mm rockets used by Abkhaz separatists, the new MRLs join an armoury of about 16 122 mm BM-21s and a reported eight RM-70 MRLs in Georgian service. Local press accounts emphasised the availability of Israel Military Industries' Trajectory Correction System guided munitions for the 160 mm rocket, but there is no confirmation that this system is in Georgian service." (Source: "Tblisi witnesses Gradlar multiple rocket launchers on parade", by David C. Isby, Jane's Missiles & Rockets, March 3, 2008)

In the original HRW photo you can clearly see chambered tail fins characteristic of tube-launched munitions. When inside the tube, the spring-loaded fins wrap around the rocket's body and unfold when the rocket is ejected from the launcher. When the rocket approaches the target area, its external casing peals away, revealing the rotary drum with cluster submunitions. The person responsible for misidentifying this Israeli rocket as a Russian aviation bomb twice its size is Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch and former intelligence analyst at Pentagon. Back in the days Marc was one of the guy at Pentagon looking for evidence of WMDs in Iraq. I think we identified the source of the problem. The low level of technical expertise and questionable ethics of Human Rights Watch, which is still refusing to admit the mistake and to publish a retraction, will inevitably undermine its mission and raise questions among its supporters.


Some background info on the LAR-160 and related systems:

DATE:  01-May-1998
EDITION:  1998
VOLUME/ISSUE:  031/005
p 23

Israel Military Industries (IMI) is developing GradLAR, a variant of
its LAR 160mm light artillery rocket system that upgrades existing
Russian-designed Splav BM-21 Grad fire units so that they can
operate either type.
The company is also studying a shipborne derivative known as NavLAR.
In either case, the launcher can fire standard LAR rounds or IMI's
new AccuLAR version, which incorporates a Trajectory Control System
(TCS). The company is also studying long-range artillery rockets
using TCS as an inexpensive alternative to battlefield support
TCS remains effective at distances out to 120km (beyond which the
round's apogee is above the height at which aerodynamic trajectory
correction is effective).
IMI is developing GradLAR on behalf of an unspecified export
customer. The upgrade involves modifying existing vehicle mounts so
that they can accept either the standard Grad launcher (which
generally has 40 tubes) or a pair of 13-round LAR pods.
This allows a user to install either type as required, with LAR
providing substantially longer range (45km with its standard payload
of 104 anti-personnel/anti-materiel bomblets) than variants of the
Russian rocket. A new fire-control system can handle both types of
Alternatively, the modular design of the LAR pod (with alternating
rows of two and three tubes each) allows IMI to offer variants with
different numbers of rounds.
The company is collaborating with Elbit on studies of NavLAR, which
could arm vessels with displacements down to about 1,000 tonnes and
is designed to operate in up to sea state 4. The fully stabilized
mount combines technology from systems that Elbit has developed for
the Merkava tank turret, which provide azimuth control and mitigate
shock loading, with the elevation arrangement from the company's
Deseaver naval countermeasures launcher. NavLAR can fire a salvo of
up to 26 rockets from two watertight pods in 50s, and can be
reloaded in less than 15min.
Both GradLAR and NavLAR, in addition to existing systems, can fire
the AccuLAR trajectory-controlled round. IMI, which is additionally
working with Lockheed Martin Vought Systems and other contractors on
installing the TCS in the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS - see
IDR 12/1997, pp43-49), says that it has a large contract from the
Israel Defense Forces for develop and production of the technology.
AccuLAR retains the same maximum range (45km) as the present Mk 4
version of the free-flight round but has a claimed circular error
probable (CEP) that is one-sixth that of the basic rocket, allowing
it to compete with gun artillery in terms of accuracy. The addition
of the TCS adds only 35 per cent to the price yet, according to IMI,
allows a battery to carry out a typical mission with only one-tenth
the number of free-flight rockets that would be required. Also,
accurate control of the dispensing height permits the adoption of a
version of the bomblet containing a self-destruct fuze, without the
risk of premature detonation.
The incorporation of a TCS requires no changes to the rocket motor
or payload bay, or to the launcher. The addition of  new processors
and datalink antennas to the standard vehicle-mounted battery
command post (BCP) allows it to repeatedly interrogate the round's
onboard transponder in flight. Processing of the retransmitted
returns enables the ground-based equipment to determine the rocket's
actual position (and hence its distance downrange) compared with the
predicted value.
The forebody accommodates a small gas generator that exhausts
through opposing ports, which alternately open and close under
command from the BCP. These change the impact point by pitching the
nose up or down, using aerodynamic forces (lift) rather than thrust
to alter the trajectory. The BCP continues to measure the rocket's
position, and resets the nose-mounted electronic time fuze, with the
final update occurring only 2-3s before the bomblets are dispensed."

(Source: Jane's Information Group)

"Israel Military Industries Ltd (IMI)

Rocket Systems Division (RSD)

PO Box 1044/6044
IL-47100 Ramat Hasharon

Tel : (+972 8) 924 26 84
        (+972 8) 927 74 47
        (+972 8) 927 74 49
Fax : (+972 8) 925 28 96

Key Personnel
Marketing Director: Israel Weinreb
General Manager RSD and Vice President IMI: Nathan Wechester
Marketing Department: Rhonda Gannon

Design, development and manufacture of solid rocket weapon systems and components. Products include: rocket launchers, artillery rockets, anti-tank missiles, rocket motors, satellite launchers and fabricated composite materials and pyrotechnics. Comprised of four strategic business units: Rocket Propulsion Business Unit - provides propulsion systems for the Ofeq satellite launcher and the Gabriel anti-ship and Shafir air-to-air missiles. Also develop and produce SDIO Arrow boosters. Rocket Ordnance Business Unit - develop and manufacture Light Artillery Rocket (LAR) systems. It is developing the high-precision LAR system Accular and Shipon, an advanced personal anti-tank guided weapon. Its Trajectory Correcting System (TCS) can be used on all IMI RSD rockets such as the LAR and the GRADLAR and is being implemented on the MLRS for the Israel Defense Forces. This unit has participated in the LAROM upgrade of 122mm multiple rocket launchers in service in Romania. Pyrotechnics Plant - Develop and manufacture infra-red and chaff countermeasures products including pyrotechnic safety systems for the Arrow missile. This unit has designed a countermeasure protection for helicopters. The plant is the national source of igniter systems for infantry and artillery rockets and of safety devices for space launchers, ballistic missiles and the Arrow ABM missile. Technologies Business Unit - Supplies a range of filament-wound autoclaved and moulded products for aerospace and civil markets as well as for incorporation in rocket motors. Products include ballistic protection systems for vehicles and personal ballistic protection vests and inserts. "

(Source: Jane's International Defence Directory, October 4, 2007)


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